House Democrats’ police reform bill doesn’t ban chokeholds on local or state level

The Senate GOP police reform bill would impose harsher financial penalties on local police departments that do not ban chokeholds compared to House Democrats’ police reform bill

Updated: June 25, 2020 - 4:59pm

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The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on which the Democratic-led House is scheduled to vote Thursday does not ban chokeholds on the state and local level.

The bill defines a “chokehold or carotid hold” as “the application of any pressure to the throat or windpipe, the use of maneuvers that restrict blood or oxygen flow to the brain, or carotid artery restraints that prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air of an individual.”

According to the bill’s text, “a state or unit of local government may not receive funds under the Byrne grant program or the COPS grant program for a fiscal year if, on the day before the first day of the fiscal year, the State or unit of local government does not have in effect a law that prohibits law enforcement officers in the state or unit of local government from using a chokehold or carotid hold.”

The legislation prohibits federal law enforcement officers from using “deadly force against a person unless it is “necessary, as a last resort, to prevent imminent and serious bodily injury or death to the officer or another person; the use of the form of deadly force creates no substantial risk of injury to a third person; and reasonable alternatives to the use of the form of deadly force have been exhausted.”

Garner died in 2014 after a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold. 

George Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody after an officer used a chokehold on him for more than 8 minutes. The officer has been charged with murder.

Speaking on Thursday ahead of the House vote on the police reform bill, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Karen Bass said the legislation "bans chokeholds" but didn't specify that the ban in the bill applies to the federal level only.

A House Judiciary Committee Republican aide with direct knowledge of the bill confirmed that the chokehold ban in the bill is only a federal ban.

In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Republican Sen. Tim Scott argued the media has not adequately explained to the public that Congress only has the authority to ban the use of chokeholds among federal law enforcement.

“They don't ban choke holds on the local level, the state level. You know why? There's this little thing called the Constitution. They can't ban choke holds. Eric Garner's situation would not have been cured by their ban on chokeholds because their ban on chokeholds was for federal agents,” Scott said after his police reform bill was blocked by Democrats from advancing in the Senate.

Scott said his legislation, the JUSTICE Act, “instructed the attorney general to ban chokeholds for federal agents” and said it would reduce federal funding for police departments by 20% if they do not ban chokeholds, which is a harsher penalty than what’s included in the text of the House Democrats’ bill.

“They [Democrats] reduced funding by 10% so our penalty was twice the penalty of the other side,” Scott said.

The House Judiciary Committee majority staff was not available for comment before publication.