Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced Senate legislation, the Eric Garner Excessive Force Prevention Act, which would make the use of chokeholds or maneuvers that restrict oxygen intake or blood flow to the brain by law enforcement unlawful under federal civil rights law. While some police departments have prohibited, limited or discouraged the use of such maneuvers, there is no federal ban on chokeholds, nor is there a national standard on what constitutes excessive force. The legislation comes as people across the country and globe protest police brutality and institutional racism, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, was subdued by four officers, including one who knelt on his neck for nine minutes as he repeated, “I can’t breathe.” The bill is the Senate version of Representative Hakeem Jeffries’ (D-NY) Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act, which was introduced following the death of Eric Garner in 2014. Garner was choked to death by a police officer in Staten Island, NY while repeatedly crying out, “I can’t breathe.”
“George Floyd and Eric Garner should be alive. These are just two of the countless men and women lost to our severely failed criminal justice system in America,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Institutional and systemic racism have devastated black communities since the founding of this country — we see the pain, we hear the calls for justice and accountability, and Congress must act. While we cannot repair the damage done by these horrific killings, the Eric Garner Excessive Force Prevention Act would take an important step towards ending these tragedies by making chokeholds by law enforcement a federal civil rights violation. I will fight alongside my colleagues to pass this legislation and institute meaningful change that can no longer wait.”
“There are good men and women in police departments across the nation, and there are brutal ones. Instances of police violence have undermined the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color throughout America, including in New York City. George Floyd and Eric Garner are just two examples of the deadly effects of the epidemic of police brutality, and it is time to prohibit the use of chokeholds and other brutal restraints that apply pressure to the neck and result in asphyxiation. Their use is an unreasonable measure, an unnecessary measure, an uncivilized measure–and under the Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act–it would be an unlawful measure. I thank Senator Gillibrand for introducing this important legislation in the U.S. Senate,” said Representative Jeffries.
“My father’s cries were not listened to and six years later George Floyd’s cries were not listened to. Black people throughout this country are not being listened to. Enough is enough. In this moment with so much unrest we are not hearing exactly what politicians are going to do to end police brutality. We want to hear solutions and not your condolences. I don’t want your empty regards. If you stand for Eric Garner, Andrew Kearse, George Floyd, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor, stand with me and say ‘This Stops Today.’ Pass the Eric Garner law now. I want to thank Kirsten Gillibrand for introducing the Senate legislation, the Eric Garner Excessive Force Prevention Act, which would prohibit the use of chokeholds or maneuvers that restrict oxygen intake by law enforcement,” said Emerald Garner.
The Eric Garner Excessive Force Prevention Act would define the use of certain maneuvers that restrict oxygen intake or blood flow by law enforcement as a deprivation of rights under 18 U.S.C. § 242. It would specifically cover “the application of any pressure to the throat or windpipe, use of maneuvers that restrict blood or oxygen flow to the brain, or carotid artery restraints which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air,” and would classify chokeholds as “a deprivation of a right, privilege, or immunity” and a “punishment, pain, or penalty.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are original co-sponsors of the legislation. The Eric Garner Excessive Force Prevention Act has been endorsed by leading civil rights groups including the National Action Network, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Full text of the legislation can be found here.