Congressman Hakeem Jeffries Reintroduces Legislation to Criminalize Police Chokeholds

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has reintroduced the “Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act”—which would criminalize the chokehold under federal civil rights law—in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rep. Jeffries joined Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, and Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in announcing the bill on Monday. 

Originally introduced by Rep. Jeffries back in 2015, the measure is now included in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021. The comprehensive legislation is intended to hold police accountable, change the culture of law enforcement, and empower communities. It will be considered by lawmakers in the House this week.

“There are good men and women in police departments across the nation, and there are brutal ones. Instances of police violence have undermined the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color throughout America, including New York,” said Jeffries. “It is time to prohibit the use of chokeholds and other brutal restraints that apply pressure to the neck and result in asphyxiation. Their use is an unreasonable measure, an unnecessary measure, an uncivilized measure—and under the Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act—it would be an unlawful measure.”

The death of Eric Garner in July 2014 was captured on cell phone video that went viral. The father of six died in Staten Island outside a store after being confronted by police, allegedly for selling loose cigarettes. Video showed multiple police officers wrestling Garner to the ground, and he was placed in a chokehold by officer Daniel Pantaleo. Garner repeatedly said “I can’t breathe,” and the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide. A Grand Jury in the case did not indict Panteleo; he was fired by the department in 2019. 

Carr supports the legislation named for her late son. She and other loved ones have tirelessly fought for his legacy. 

“Most people cannot comprehend how difficult it is to suddenly lose a loved one and then have to fight for years to get an ounce of accountability,” Carr said in a statement. “Police should never use chokeholds, and we must have a federal policy to enforce this so that no other family endures the travesty of injustice that we have. It’s not enough to talk about police reform; we must do something about it. Not all cops are bad, but to keep the good ones and sanction those who misuse their authority, we need to have federal laws in place.”

The “Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2021” would render chokeholds by law enforcement illegal under federal civil rights law. It would classify “the application of any pressure to the throat or windpipe, use of maneuvers that restrict blood or oxygen flow to the brain, or carotid artery restraints which prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air,” as a “punishment, pain, or penalty.”

The deployment of a chokehold has been banned by the New York Police Department for more than twenty years. Presently, several major police departments throughout the country prohibit, limit or discourage chokehold use. Besides New York, these cities include Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. However, there is no national standard on the excessive use of force, as guidance in restraining a suspect has traditionally been left to local law enforcement officials and municipalities.

Reverend Al Sharpton, president and founder of the National Action Network (NAN) said, “this issue is a priority for us.”

“We came out in record numbers in the [November] election and during the March on Washington last August for legislative change,” he said. “Congress must act NOW on police reform, for justice too long delayed, as Dr. King reminded us, is justice denied.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) will introduce companion legislation in the U.S. Senate. “As our country reckons with its long legacy of institutional and systemic racism, especially in our criminal justice system, we must demand justice and accountability,” she said in a statement. “We cannot erase the pain that communities of color have suffered due to these killings, but I will continue to fight alongside Congressman Jeffries and my colleagues to prevent these senseless tragedies.”

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