U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), the National Action Network and Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, announced the reintroduction of the Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act, legislation to make the chokehold and other strangulation tactics illegal under federal civil rights law. The bill, originally introduced by Rep. Jeffries in 2015, is included in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which will be considered in the House later 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 in New York City. George Floyd and Eric Garner are just two examples of the deadly effects of the epidemic of police brutality, and 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,” said Congressman Jeffries.
“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. I am proud to introduce the Eric Garner Excessive Force Prevention Act in the Senate to make the use of chokeholds by law enforcement a federal civil rights violation. 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,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) who will introduce companion legislation in the Senate.
“From the onset National Action Network has never been anti-police; we are, however, anti-police brutality. I’ve spent days and nights with grieving families who wanted nothing more but justice for their loved one who has been killed by excessive use of force. You can feel the pain and heartache. The Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act takes steps to address this national crisis. This issue is a priority for us, and we came out in record numbers in the Election and during the March on Washington last August for legislative change. Congress must act NOW on police reform, for justice too long delayed, as Dr. King reminded us, is justice denied,” said Reverend Al Sharpton, President and founder of the National Action Network (NAN).
“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. 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, and it starts with the Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act,” said Gwen Carr.
Eric Garner, a father of six, died in Staten Island as a result of a chokehold administered by Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17, 2014. Despite pleading for his life on eleven different occasions, not a single officer came to his aid. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide. Although a bystander captured the entire encounter on videotape, a Staten Island Grand Jury failed to indict Officer Pantaleo on a single charge.
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. In addition to 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.
The “Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2021,” seeks to forbid the use of chokeholds by law enforcement under 18 U.S.C. § 242, “Deprivation of Rights Under Color of 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.”