NYC council passes police reform package

The bills passed include one criminalizing police use of chokeholds and one preventing officers from hiding their badge numbers

Sydney Kashiwagi
Staten Island Advance

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Nearly six years after the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Bay Street and on the heels of police accountability protests across the country over the death of George Floyd, the New York City Council passed a sweeping package of police reform legislation Thursday including a bill making it a crime for an NYPD cop to use a chokehold on a civilian.

The legislation bans chokeholds and other methods of police restraint like kneeling on a person’s neck when cops conduct arrests. Any officer found guilty of using a chokehold would be charged with a class A misdemeanor regardless of any injury.

State lawmakers recently passed legislation banning chokeholds, however, the ban only applies to cases of serious death or injury.

The majority of the police reform bills, including the chokehold legislation, received the full support of just one Staten Island City Council member, North Shore Democrat Debi Rose, who called Thursday’s stated meeting the most significant in her more-than-a-decade tenure in the City Council.

The borough’s two Republican councilmen, Joseph Borelli and Minority Leader Steve, Matteo, voted against all of the bills in the police accountability package except for one that would require the NYPD to develop a disciplinary matrix outlining penalties for violations and public reporting on how that matrix is used.

“It has been nearly six years since we heard Eric Garner plead with NYPD officers, saying ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times as he was pressed against hot cement outside a store in my district after being put into a chokehold,” Rose said. “The passage of this legislation today is very personal for my constituents and for me.”

The chokehold legislation was introduced shortly after Garner’s 2014 death on Bay Street after his last words “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry for a growing, nationwide anti-police brutality movement.

Staten Island Officer Daniel Pantaleo wrestled Garner to the ground using an apparent chokehold on him before he died. Pantaleo was fired last summer from the NYPD, five years after Garner’s death.

The City Council had struggled to pass the chokehold legislation for years because Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened to veto it.

But the death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man, who cried “I can’t breathe” while a white cop kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, set off a wave of police accountability protests around the country, prompted New York leaders to quickly pass police reform measures at the state and local levels.

Despite the de Blasio administration’s attempt to make last-minute changes to the chokehold bill, the mayor said Thursday he planned to support it.

“I’ve worked on this closely in the last few days and been in constant touch with our police commissioner and I’m now convinced this is the right legislation to move forward with and I will sign it,” de Blasio told reporters during a press conference Thursday.

“When I look at the way we need to move forward in this city this legislation makes sense. It’s the right thing to do. We have to give people confidence that policing will be fair and I’m convinced this legislation will do it and I will be signing it,” de Blasio said.

Other bills in the police accountability package included legislation that would reaffirm New Yorkers’ right to film police encounters, another to prevent officers from shielding their badge numbers, and one that would require the NYPD to disclose information about its high tech surveillance technology to the public.

Another was a resolution urging Congress to pass the Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2019, which Matteo and Borelli also both opposed.

In a joint statement, Borelli and Matteo said they support “sensible measures” to improve policing in New York City, including community policing and training officers in de-escalation tactics and the timely release of body-worn camera footage.

However, they said the City Council’s bills went “beyond what is reasonable and prudent” and instead, “threaten to hinder our officers’ ability to safely and effectively do their jobs.”

“This may seem like a controversial thing to say right now, but it should not be: the NYPD is, overwhelmingly a force for good in this city. When you are the victim of crime, when you are in danger or fear for the safety of your loved ones or yourself, when you at your most vulnerable, the NYPD is there to help you,” they continued. “Our police officers put their lives at risk almost every day – but they must be confident that they are not also putting their livelihoods and their freedom at risk whenever they have to make a difficult arrest or manage a dangerous situation. And they must continue to be proactive,” the Republican lawmakers said.

“Yes, officers who betray the public trust must be held accountable. But if we want to instill more trust between officers and the communities they patrol, they must have more interaction with residents, not less. I fear many of the measures that have been rushed to implementation in the name of reform will make our officers far less likely to engage, and our city will be the worse for it,” they continued.

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