In the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained increasing influence and has taken great strides towards police and criminal justice reform. One such way local governments and communities have responded to the protests in recent weeks is by banning certain techniques used to subdue suspects. While this has been a concern of criminal justice advocates for years, it has recently become more prevalent in the national conversation after the entire country watched George Floyd—handcuffed and on the ground—die over the course of eight minutes and 46 seconds with a Minneapolis officer’s knee on his neck.
So, at the beginning of June, San Diego law enforcement agencies promised to stop the use of carotid restraint, effective immediately. But here’s the thing: while banning carotid restraint is a good start, it is only useful if law enforcement officers actually abide by it.
For instance, in 2013, Eric Garner was killed by NYPD officers on Staten Island after being put in a chokehold—a practice that had been banned by the NYPD since 1993. Even since Eric Garner’s death, some reports allege that about 1,000 more chokeholds have been reported in New York alone. Clearly, a good policy does not help unless it is put into practice. This is why it is important to continue monitoring our local law enforcement agencies to ensure they actually practice what they preach.
It is also important to pay attention to the language these departments are using—what exactly are they promising to ban? There is a difference between chokeholds and carotid restraints (without getting too detailed, the traditional chokehold focuses on cutting off airflow through the windpipe by applying pressure to the front of the neck, while carotid restraint is aimed at cutting off blood flow on the sides of the neck).
While the difference might seem small, the implications for officers in the field—and the individuals they encounter or arrest—can be huge. San Diego police, for example, had already done away with the traditional chokehold, but still permitted the carotid restraint in the field. So, while criminal justice reform advocates may have initially applauded the chokehold ban, excessive force by way of the carotid restraint still threatened the lives of those accused of a crime (emphasis on accused).
The bottom line is this is a promising start. But it is just a start. At the end of the day, policies are only useful if they are actually implemented and yield actual results. Unless the community remains vigilant and keeps law enforcement accountable, these promises may be mere lip service. So, let’s keep an eye out and see how this new policy plays out.
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