Chicago Police officers and their counterparts in public and private security would be forbidden from using chokeholds under a crackdown proposed Monday in response to protests sweeping the nation.
Last week, a New York grand jury refused to indict a police officer who placed Eric Garner in a chokehold after Garner resisted arrest for selling loose cigarettes, which are also a chronic complaint of Chicago aldermen.
The decision added fuel to the fire for protesters already upset about a grand jury’s decision in Ferguson, Mo., not to indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.
On Monday, Chicago aldermen were moved to take action.
Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) joined forces with three African-American aldermen — Will Burns (4th), Michelle Harris (8th) and Carrie Austin (34th) — on an ordinance they claim would make Chicago the nation’s first “no-choke city.”
Chicago Police Department general orders effectively ban chokeholds without using that specific term.
But the ordinance introduced at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting would spell it out in detail and rule it out among all law enforcement officers and private security guards.
It states, “No peace officer, private security contractor or private security personnel shall apply a chokehold in the performance of his or her duties unless faced with a situation in which the use of deadly force is justified under applicable law.”
Burke is a former Chicago Police officer who went through the police academy nearly 50 years ago.
“In my class, we were taught how to choke people and to choke ’em until they lost consciousness. And when they taught us how to do that at the time, we were taught to use our nightstick to choke that person,” Burke said.
“Fifty years ago, when I was taught as a Chicago cop to choke people into unconsciousness, water-boarding was being used commonly. Water-boarding is not used anymore and choking shouldn’t be used anymore.”
Austin said the back-to-back decisions by grand juries in Ferguson and New York has added to the distrust of law enforcement in general and police officers in particular among minorities across the nation.
“We put so much faith in our justice system, [but] I believe it has failed those two individuals,” she said.
“With this ordinance, we will try to assure the public in Chicago that it will not occur in this city. It puts our police officers and any other law enforcement on notice that this is a tactic that will not be accepted in our city. Hopefully, with those who are out of hand, they could use additional tools in their tool box of Tasers and anything else that would render that individual submissive besides with a choke hold which, in our opinion, is deadly force.”
Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) said the protests sweeping the nation have shined a world spotlight on the problem of police brutality.
“I would just cringe to see anyone else die at the hands of a tactic that is no longer effective, [is] destructive and would just waste lives,” she said.
“And I would hope that anyone who is in charge of law enforcement officers would not make comments that the person should have been in better health and they would have survived a chokehold. Individuals in other cities are making comments such as that it’s a disregard for life.”
As the son of a 25-year veteran police officer in Cleveland, Burns went out of his way to say that he supports police officers and the work that they do to stop gang violence and shootings in his South Side ward.
But he also called the no-choke ordinance “an important step” toward establishing “clear bright lines” for police officers to follow in their interactions with the public.