The death of Eric Garner, an unarmed New York man who was killed after a policeman placed him in an extended chokehold, ignited a firestorm of controversy throughout the country, sparking demonstrations that have sometimes ended in violence and unrest. Now, a New York state lawmaker wants to introduce legislation that would render chokeholds a federal crime when carried out by police officers.
U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (center) – December 2014 (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
The idea of banning the use of chokeholds by police officers has been around since at least the 1970s, when two members of the Los Angeles city council successfully outlawed the practice unless it were used in life-threatening situations. This most recent piece of legislation, sponsored by Brooklyn Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat, would target civil rights laws in order to deter the controversial maneuver on a federal level.
According to a speech delivered by Jeffries in front of the NYPD headquarters, the Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act would amend civil rights laws relating to the use of excessive force, classifying chokeholds as an unlawful deprivation of basic rights. “[The chokehold] is an unreasonable measure. It is an unnecessary measure. It is an uncivilized measure. This bill would make it an unlawful measure,” Jeffries said.
Jeffries plans to introduce the bill to Congress Tuesday. Its language categorizes a chokehold as “the application of any pressure to the throat or windpipe which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce the intake of air.” The bill, Jeffries claims, is only the beginning of an initiative to combat “an epidemic of police violence,” one that has gripped several cities throughout the country.
If the bill were to be signed in to law, courts would be able to apply a uniform set of standards to a variety of disparate police brutality cases. The Department of Justice would have “clear authority based on this legislation to say that you violated someone’s civil rights by denying them the right to breathe,” claimed Kirsten John Foy, Northeast Regional Director at the National Action Network, in a statement following Jeffries’.
So far, the bill has been co-sponsored by 20 other House Democrats, all of whom will pledge their efforts to reducing the spread of police brutality. Republican lawmakers, who hold the majority of Congressional seats, have yet to weigh in on the bill, so it is unclear how much bipartisan support the legislation will receive.