With federal legislation pending to ban police chokeholds and other neck-restraint maneuvers of the kind that killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, it may sound redundant for Missouri to pass a state ban like the one now being proposed by a leading Democrat. But the sad fact is, Congress is more than capable of gridlocking on even such an obvious and urgent issue as this. Missouri should pursue this legislation and have it in place in case Congress fails.
Floyd died May 25 in an altercation with police, after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. Floyd’s death was similar to another highly publicized police killing of an unarmed black man in 2014: Eric Garner, who died after New York City police held him down and ignored his repeated pleas of “I can’t breathe.” Floyd would mouth the same three words six years later.
Police chokeholds and related restraint methods have finally gotten the attention they deserve, bringing to light some startling information — including an NBC News analysis that found the Minneapolis Police Department has rendered people unconscious with chokeholds 44 times since 2015. Some jurisdictions had already banned chokeholds, and Floyd’s death has prompted other jurisdictions to follow, including Minneapolis and California.
A federal police reform bill Democrats have started moving, dubbed The Justice in Policing Act of 2020, would ban chokeholds nationwide. Senate Republicans, in a dramatic ideological shift, have put forward their own police-reform measure that discourages chokeholds but doesn’t ban them.
That typical misalignment between the two parties in Congress — both of which must agree for anything to pass — increases the likelihood that the chokehold ban will end up on the cutting room floor if and when they finally come to an agreement on a bill. That would leave a gaping hole in the needed reform.
Missouri state Rep. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis, who is chairman of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, has proposed a state-level reform bill that would close that hole, banning police chokeholds statewide. “This is not an issue that should be left to individual police departments and policy manuals,” Roberts said in a statement. “It is my hope that the practice can be banned in our state and that we might never have to hear those awful words, ‘I can’t breathe,’ from someone in police custody again.”
Roberts’ measure would also mandate other officers to intervene when witnessing excessive use of force by an officer — which the backup officers on the scene in Minneapolis failed to do.
This newspaper supports federal reform legislation because police brutality is a national crisis in need of a national response. But realism dictates that putting all the eggs in Congress’ dysfunctional basket would be unwise. If what Missouri ends up with is redundant reform, all the better.
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