In an ongoing effort to appear woke and relevant, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed into law a controversial measure that has police unions ready to revolt. It is now a crime for police officers to employ tactics to render folks unconscious such as kneeling on necks, backs, or by chokehold. As written, the law makes clear compressing the windpipe or diaphragm in any way, shape, or form will be a misdemeanor and carry disciplinary and fiduciary punishments.
A coalition of unions has filed suit against the law passed in June by council members and signed by the mayor in July. One judge, in agreement with the lawsuit, temporarily blocked the City’s request for police disciplinary records in concert with the new edict. In part, the police union suit claims:
“This punitive municipal law threatens police officers with fines and imprisonment for doing their jobs in good faith with no intent to harm a suspect, nor even any requirement that a suspect suffer injury.”
De Blasio was initially opposed to this legislation championed by councilmembers over the death of Eric Garner. Yet, the mayor gleefully signed the new law in front of yet another Black Lives Matter mural in progress near the Bronx Hall of Justice. Ah, symbolism.
But alas, de Blasio’s grandstand is a day late, and an Executive Order short as the President issued a police reform order in June. As Liberty Nation’s Graham J. Noble points out: “The order demands revised training standards for police officers, including an emphasis on de-escalation methods and use-of-force guidelines. Specifically, the use of ‘chokeholds’ is not sanctioned unless lethal force is an officer’s only option.”
But New York City’s new law is teeming with punitive measures and overreach – an impulsive reaction to a city in chaos since George Floyd’s death while in police custody. According to NYPD:
“Between June 1 and June 30, there was a 130% increase in the number of shooting incidents across the City as the number of shootings rose in every borough of New York. The number of people murdered city-wide increased by 30% for the month, while the number of burglaries increased to 118% citywide.”
The NYPD banned chokeholds outright in November 1993, but it didn’t stop officers from using the technique to restrain a suspect. After yet another death in 2014, a Civilian Complaint Review Board released a report with alarming numbers: From July 2013 through June 2014, the CCRB received 219 chokehold complaints. Obviously, not all ended as horribly as those that make the evening news cycle and inspire riots. Nevertheless, it does demonstrate that some NYPD higher-ups may happen to look the other way in violations of their policies.
By creating a law that will punish law enforcement officers and open up internal disciplinary files, is the city declaring open season on the NYPD? A spokesperson for the coalition of unions believes as much and cries foul. As Hank Sheinkopf stated: “The Mayor and the City Council took a big gamble with this law. It was pure politics.”
Perhaps it is exactly the sort of pandering politics that de Blasio tends to utilize in his quest for greatness. Or maybe, it is simply time to formalize and legitimize NYPD policy into something more transparent and controllable by citizens and administrators alike.
Most innocent people minding their own business never experience a takedown by law enforcement professionals with a chokehold. Most criminals caught in the act of committing a crime do not experience the practice of subduing with a chokehold. But apparently, when other attempts made by police officers – such as politely asking someone to calm down – the chokehold is often the go-to non-invasive deterrent to further bad behavior.
For the time being, police are under even more negative scrutiny in the Big Apple while politicians pose for photo-ops with people of color.
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