It took six years for the City Council to pass the Eric Garner anti-chokehold bill, but it may only take a month for the chamber to amend it.
The legislation, signed into law July 15 as part of a six-pronged NYPD Accountability Package, makes police use of the restraint, as well as other forms of potentially deadly force, by arresting officers a criminal offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The NYPD chastised the bill, with Police Commissioner Dermot Shea calling it “insane” and “crippling” to police officers. Now, officials are looking to revise the language in an effort to make it more clear.
The amendment, introduced by Public Safety Committee Chairperson Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), would add the word “recklessly” to the provision that states: “This bill establishes a misdemeanor for restraining an individual in a manner that restricts the flow of air or blood by compressing the windpipe or the carotid arteries on each side of the neck, or sitting, kneeling, or standing on the chest or back in a manner that compresses the diaphragm, in the course of effecting or attempting to effect an arrest.”
Mayor de Blasio said Aug. 26 that the amendment would be in response to a surge in shootings and gun violence — the city clocked in 955 shootings incidents so far this year, an 87 percent increase from 2019.
“Clearly the crucial reform in the original legislation continues. Chokeholds will be illegal no matter what. As I understand the focus here is just on some clarification on the issue of diaphragms,” he said.
Though De Blasio also denied rumors that officers have been purposely slowing down arrests as a form of protest to the legislation, NYPD data shows that arrests for the year as of mid-August were down by nearly 40 percent. City Councilmember Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), the original bill’s sponsor, said amending the legislation would be a clear concession to the officers’ refusal for reform.
“We can’t get the cops to go out and do their job, so it doesn’t take any deep insight to understand why this amendment is being moved forward — it’s in order to get the cops back on the street to do the job that they’re paid to do,” Lancman said Aug. 27 as a guest on “Inside City Hall.”
Lancman argued against adding language to his bill, which passed 47-3, claiming that it was already constructed directly out of the NYPD Patrol Guide that discouraged officers from using the maneuver. The chokehold, used on Garner in 2014, was banned by the NYPD in 1993, but there were little repercussions for officers who still employed it.
“It is an enormous loophole and ... for all practical purposes is the loophole that allowed the Federal Department of Justice to not bring criminal charges under the Federal Civil Rights laws against Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner on video for all of us to see,” continued Lancman. “So why would we import the same legal standard from the Federal Civil Rights law that’s already failed us into this new law which we passed in New York City to protect people from chokeholds or from being asphyxiated from someone sitting, kneeling or standing on their diaphragm?”
The police union itself does not support the amendment, claiming that it doesn’t go far enough.
“Nothing short of a full repeal can repair the damage from this insane law,” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said in a statement. “That won’t happen, because the mayor and City Council have no intention of actually fixing this problem. They are content to blame cops for the mess they created. If they wanted us to be able to do our job safely and effectively, they would never have passed it in the first place.”
The City Council has not yet scheduled a hearing for the amendment, though its next stated meeting is scheduled for Sept. 16.