New Bill Would Ban Police Chokeholds Under Federal Law

NEW YORK -- Less than a year after Eric Garner died after being put into a police chokehold in Staten Island, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) is introducing legislation that would ban the often dangerous maneuver outright under federal law.

Jeffries announced his new bill, the Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act, Monday outside One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan with Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, at his side.

“The chokehold is a classic example of violent police tactics,” Jeffries said during the press conference. “It is an unreasonable measure. It is an unnecessary measure. It is an uncivilized measure. This bill will make it an unlawful measure.”

The legislation, set to be introduced in Congress Tuesday, defines 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.”

Although many police departments across the country, including in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, prohibit or discourage cops from using chokeholds, the move is not explicitly illegal under federal law.

“It’s clear that department policy is not sufficient,” Jeffries said, pointing to the over 1,000 complaints regarding NYPD chokeholds sent to the Civilian Complaint Review Board from 2009 to 2013. (Only nine of those complaints were substantiated by the CCRB, and only one officer was disciplined -- by being docked some vacation days.)

Garner, a 47-year-old father of six, died last July after being put into a chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo during an arrest for allegedly selling untaxed “loosie” cigarettes. A video of the incident shows Garner screaming “I can’t breathe” 11 times before his body goes still.

When a Staten Island grand jury later declined to indict Pantaleo, protesters across the country took to the streets.

The United States Dept. of Justice is investigating Garner’s death to determine whether Pantaleo violated Garner’s civil rights. Such DOJ investigations into alleged police misconduct, however, rarely lead to charges being filed.

Kirsten John Foy, Northeast Regional Director at The National Action Network, told reporters at Monday’s press conference that the new bill would make it easier for the DOJ to press charges in such cases because it would give the DOJ "clear authority based on this legislation to say that you violated someone’s civil rights by denying them the right to breathe."

“It makes it simple for all to understand,” Foy elaborated. “Everyone has a right to breathe. The right to breathe is not reserved. It’s not a privilege.” The bill, she added, would be a “quantum leap forward” in establishing “accountability for all.”

Carr told reporters that she’s hoping and praying the bill will pass.

“Why should any human being be choked to death, especially when he’s unarmed?” she said.

According to Jeffries, 20 Democratic representatives are co-sponsoring the bill, and its introduction Tuesday will mark the beginning of a concerted effort by members of Congress to address what he called an “epidemic of police violence.”

“Police violence in Cleveland, police violence in North Charleston, police violence in Baltimore, and police violence right here in New York,” he said. “These are just a few of the recent examples that happened to be caught on videotape, but that clearly are indicative of a broader problem that we have to address.”

Carr added that she will be voting next week in the Congressional election to replace disgraced Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island), who resigned in January after pleading guilty to tax fraud. Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, who the Garner family has said didn’t do enough to bring charges against Pantaleo, is the Republican candidate for the empty seat, and New York City Council Member Vinnie Gentile is running on behalf of the Democrats.

“He doesn’t get my vote,” Carr said Monday, adding that Donovan "should run [as] far away as possible,”

Donovan’s campaign didn’t return Huffington Post's request for comment on Jeffries’ bill Monday, but Gentile's did.

“Councilman Gentile strongly supports the ban that has been in place for more than twenty years by the New York Police Department," said spokesperson Justin Brannan, "and he would support any effort to explicitly ban this maneuver on a national level."