As passive outrage online shifts from Eric Garner to Charlie Hedbo and Boko Haram, a disturbing tradition continues to thrive among the NYPD. According to a recent story in the New York Times, chokeholds are still a preferred tactic among police officers despite their illegal status.
It’s not difficult to see why this type of deadly force is preferred by law enforcement:
- Chokes serve the short and long term goals of the officer using the technique (See Who Watches the Watchers?)
- Chokes are an effective means of achieving those goals. It is difficult to physically or verbally challenge someone when you have no blood and/or air going to your brain.
- The likelihood of meaningful punishment for officers who use the chokehold is low. See Eric Garner and Anthony Baez before him.
The technique isn’t designed to kill, but it can lead to death, especially in the middle of a violent uncontrolled confrontation. But in the collective mind of the police the potential for a suspect’s death is not a justification to abandon the technique, because the antagonistic relationship fostered between elements of the police and elements of the community creates an environment where lethal compliance is easy to rationalize. When the police feel justified in turning their back on the mayor and are willing to manipulate arrest rates to make a political point, the subculture of policing threatens the health of the city. Chokeholds are only a symptom of the disease. (See Police Departments and Power Games)
Chokeholds may be illegal, but laws on their own are not the key to improving society. (See Laws Don’t Improve Society, We Do). Improvements in police/ citizen relations will come on an individual level, encounter by encounter, block by block. Until then, the Moscow Rules and a bit of luck might be our only protection for surviving a police encounter. (See Women, Minorities and the Moscow Rules)