Democratic Rep. Leslie Herod had no luck persuading her colleagues in the Colorado legislature to ban police from using stranglers after the death of a 23-year-old black man in the suburbs of Aurora in 2019.
She could not garner enough support to even introduce a police reform bill that included a ban. That changed when George Floyd died after being trapped under the knee of a Minneapolis cop, and the video sparked a summer of protests against police murders and racial injustice.
Less than a month after Floyd’s death, Colorado lawmakers took the step they avoided following the death of Elijah McClain and approved a strangulation ban as part of broader reform legislation of the police. The law overrode more limited strangulation restrictions that had been put in place four years earlier.
“Making it clear that it is completely forbidden under all circumstances has the potential to save lives,” said Herod, who is black.
Colorado has been one of several states to ban or severely limit the use of choking and neck straps by police during the year since the world watched Floyd plead for air while he was stuck under the knee of former officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter last month.
At least 17 states, including Minnesota, have passed legislation to prohibit or restrict the practice, according to data provided to The Associated Press by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Before Floyd was killed, only two states, Tennessee and Illinois, prohibited law enforcement techniques that restrict airways or blood flow to the brain when pressure is applied to the neck.
The majority of bans enacted over the past year are in states controlled politically by Democrats, like Colorado. They include California, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, and Virginia, among others.
Last week Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a sweeping legislative package that will implement a host of police accountability and reform measures, including an outright ban on chokes and hose clamps.
The efforts also generated support from some Republicans. Bans or restrictions have been signed into law by GOP governors in Massachusetts and Vermont, which have Democratic legislatures, and have been passed in states fully controlled by Republicans such as Indiana, Iowa and Utah.
Just a month after Floyd’s death, Utah lawmakers voted to ban knee-neck chokes, though legislation was passed before all types of neck bands were banned. The bill was sponsored by Democratic Representative Sandra Hollins, the only black member of the Utah Legislature.
“Our community doesn’t feel safe,” Hollins said at the time. “That’s why you attend the demonstrations. They are afraid for their lives. This bill sends a very strong message as lawmakers saying, “We hear you and we are going to do something about it”. “
Many of the new laws provide criminal penalties for officers if a strangulation or restriction of the neck results in death or injury, unless they can demonstrate that it was necessary to protect their life or that of someone else. ‘other. In Vermont, officers face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $ 50,000.
These consequences are important to achieving compliance, said Lorenzo Boyd, director of the Center for Advanced Policing at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.
“If we say strangles are prohibited, the police will continue to use strangles,” he said. “If we say, ‘Strangling is now a crime and if you use a strangulation we can now sue you,’ I think that would change the narrative.”
Floyd’s death was not the first police case involving a neck restriction to gain public attention.
In 2014, a New York City police officer put Eric Garner in what appeared to be a strangulation and arrest on suspicion of illegally selling cigarettes on Staten Island. On the amateur video, Garner can be heard saying “I can’t breathe.”
While the city had previously banned strangulations, no statewide legislation followed Garner’s death. It wasn’t until Floyd’s murder that the New York legislature passed a bill to effectively ban the use of strangles by police and make it a crime.
The lawmaker pushing the ban said a similar bill introduced in 2014, shortly after Garner’s death, failed to gain traction.
“When I came to the Senate, I came to get this bill,” Senator Brian Benjamin said of the legislation he introduced in 2019. “But it wasn’t until the murder of George Floyd happened as the global and national energy around “We ‘I have to do something’, really changed the dynamic in New York. “
When asked to speculate on why the Legislature failed to act after Garner’s death, Benjamin said there was room for critics to give the officer the benefit. of doubt. He said what happened in Minneapolis was different.
“With the Floyd video, there is absolutely no wiggle room of any kind around the perversity of what was going on there,” he said.
Legislation relating to neck chokes and restraints is part of a larger effort in many states to address police procedures, training, and discipline since Floyd’s death.
Since May 2020, at least 67 police reforms have been enacted in 25 states related to specific topics analyzed by the National Conference of State Legislatures at the request of the PA. In addition to neck ties and chokes, the laws deal with body cameras worn by police; disciplinary and personal files; independent investigations into the conduct of officers; restrictions on the use of force; qualified immunity; and no-go warrants.
According to NCSL data, at least 13 states have adopted restrictions on the use of force by officers and at least eight have implemented laws strengthening officer reviews and investigations.
While Floyd’s murder spurred reform in many states, legislatures elsewhere either took no action or went the other way and gave the police even more authority. The city police and county sheriff’s departments also have a lot of leeway in setting many of their own rules, including with regard to the use of force.
A number of major cities and police departments have banned or restricted the use of chokes even before Floyd was killed. But agents have always used the technique and used it disproportionately against black men, said Paul Weber, former federal prosecutor and author of the book, “Chokehold: Policing Black Men.”
“Even in jurisdictions where restrictions and chokes are prohibited, in practice there is no consequence when officers engage in these bad practices,” Weber said. “A statewide ban would apply to more departments – but again, policies won’t be more effective than enforcement.”
Associated Press editors Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Sophia Eppolito in Salt Lake City contributed to this report. Amiri, Eppolito, and Fassett are members of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on secret issues.