Chicago needs new use-of-force policy that bans chokeholds

George Floyd’s horrifying death at the hands of Minneapolis police underscores the urgent need to continue working towards reforms outlined in the consent decree at the Chicago Police Department.

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Thousands gathered on foot and in cars in south Minneapolis to protest against police violence and call for justice for George Floyd on May 26, 2020.

George Floyd’s horrifying death Monday — after repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” while a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck — highlights ongoing issues with the Chicago Police Department’s use-of-force policy as the department begins operating under a consent decree.

Chicago is ahead of Minneapolis in at least one regard: in Chicago, under a new policy implemented in February, “carotid artery restraints” and “other maneuvers for applying direct pressure on a windpipe or airway” are considered deadly force options, while in Minneapolis they aren’t. In both cities, chokeholds are ranked as deadly force — only to be used to prevent an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury.

But chokeholds have been increasingly controversial, especially since the death of Eric Garner by New York police in 2014, and some have called on CPD to ban the technique entirely. One who did so was Lori Lightfoot, back when she was running for mayor.

“Chokeholds are dangerous,” Lightfoot said at the time. “They should be prohibited pure and simple.”

Chokeholds haven’t as much of a problem in Chicago as they have been in other cities — particularly Los Angeles, where for years officers were extensively trained in using the technique as part of standard procedure, said Craig Futterman, a civil rights attorney who represents a coalition of community groups that is a party to the consent decree. One author found sixteen instances of Los Angeles residents — nearly all of them black men — dying from police chokeholds.

The chokehold should be banned, Futterman said. “It’s dangerous. It kills people. In lots of cases it’s resulted in completely unnecessary deaths,” he said. Police officers “have lots of other tools that are far less risky than choking someone.”

The first report of the independent monitor under the consent decree between the city and the Illinois attorney general, issued last November, found that CPD had met three deadlines set by the consent decree and missed sixteen related to use of force. These included commitments regarding tracking foot pursuits, training on weapons discipline and reporting gun-pointing incidents, and a series of steps regarding supervisory review of force incidents. For many of the missed deadlines, the monitor said the department would come into compliance once a new force policy was implemented.

But the monitor also criticized CPD’s community engagement process around the new policy, saying “it will be critical for the CPD to obtain and respond to community input early in the process, not as the last step.”

As Futterman describes it, the new policy was presented and “sold” in community hearings and then implemented with no changes — a process he describes as “checking the box” on community engagement.

In response to the monitor’s concerns, Futterman said, CPD has established working groups to further review its force policy. Perhaps the chokehold deserves a second look — and perhaps CPD should prohibit pointing guns at little children, while they’re at it.

A fundamental shift needed

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Chicago’s gangs have changed. Our violence intervention strategies should too.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s new police superintendent, David Brown, is in hot water due to a surge in shootings over the Memorial Day weekend.

I’m not sure that’s completely fair. The police can do only so much to prevent violence. They are largely a reactive agency — and when they try to be “proactive” with aggressive policing, they don’t seem to make things better.

Perhaps, while we’re all following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the coronavirus pandemic, we ought to heed the recommendations of a recent CDC project around preventing violence.

A 2016 report by a consortium of local civil rights and violence prevention groups highlighted the recommendations of the Prevention Institute’s project, funded by CDC, to “increase thriving youth through violence prevention.” (It also cast serious doubt on a value of locking up nonviolent gun offenders.)

The strategies are familiar: early education and support for low-income families; afterschool, youth leadership, and school-based violence prevention programs; community-based violence interruption programs; re-entry programs; and crucially, comprehensive economic development strategies.

We know these things work. The problem is that successful pilot programs are never ramped up to scale.

It is “critical to understand effective prevention as a long-term effort that requires sustained commitment, including resource commitment,” according to the program’s policy platform. “There is a need for sustained multi-sector prevention efforts, just as enforcement and suppression is continuously supported.”

With the new recession blowing huge holes in city and state budgets that were already stretched to the limit, that’s going to require federal support — and that’s going to require a fundamental shifting of national priorities, away from tax breaks for the rich and massive defense budgets. In the meantime we obviously have to do everything we can right now, particularly with sustained, coordinated community initiatives.