Following pressure from the NYPD, the New York City Council seeks to rework portions of a law signed last month criminalizing chokeholds by police officers as a way to subdue someone.
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson confirmed that talks on revising the bill have been raised with Black and Hispanic Council lawmakers. Council members are now looking to update the law's language that details consequences an officer would face if found using a chokehold or kneeling on someone's back to restrict breathing to the diaphragm.
They also seek to speak with police reform activists, including Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, the Black Staten Island man choked to death by former police officer Daniel Pantaleo in July 2014.
"The issue is about continuing to ensure that chokeholds are illegal and that officers can't use them. But there was language that was put in related to the diaphragm. And that it, right now, seems subjective, and it's not clear," Johnson told said on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC on Wednesday. "And that's a conversation that I think the Black, Latino and Asian caucus has to have inside the Council and I want to follow their lead and make sure that anything that has to happen, goes through again, a public process, and we're following members of color who were really the catalyst behind the chokehold bill and have come forward saying they want some clarification on it, given that people are saying it is a little unclear in the way that we passed it."
It's unclear what new language would be incorporated into the bill. Under the current law, officers found guilty of applying illegal chokeholds face up a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
The news comes amid claims of a work slowdown by police officers hesitant to do their jobs, fearing their actions can lead to legal consequences. No evidence has been provided over such a slowdown, though many have pointed to a spoke in shootings as a direct result of it. Councilmember Donovan Richards, who is sponsoring the bill, told NY1 last week that he'd consider revising the measure if it meant officers would get back to work.
Johnson could not say whether such a slowdown exists, though he said other forms of fighting crime holistically should be considered.
"We need to bring together community leaders and violence interrupters to fight this holistically, and we need to account for the physical, mental, and financial health strains caused by COVID-19, and every level of government needs to do more to get to the root causes of crime like poverty, and unemployment," said Johnson.
"There is a national spike in violent crime, not just in New York City. Our country has been in turmoil with what's happened with COVID-19, and the relationship between police and communities experienced violent crime has been badly frayed, because of the killing of unarmed Black people across America."
The news also follows rhetoric from NYPD unions, and the top uniformed officer, Chief of Police Terence Monahan, calling the bill "dangerous."
"Any cop who's ever fought with someone on the street, trying to get him into cuffs, there's a great possibility that your knee is going to end up on that individual's back, and now this new law is criminalizing it," Monahan told PIX 11 News in July. "We try to avoid that, but in the midst of a fight, it's pretty hard to make sure that doesn't happen."
In a statement about the possibility of a revised bill, Police Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch said the actions don't go far enough.
"Nothing short of a full repeal can repair the damage from this insane law. That won't happen, because the mayor and City Council have no intention of actually fixing this problem," said Lynch. "They are content to blame cops for the mess they created. If they wanted us to be able to do our job safely and effectively, they would never have passed it in the first place."
The bill, signed in July by Mayor Bill de Blasio years after resisting calls to sign such a measure, was inspired from the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which led to massive protests in New York City over the issue of racist police brutality toward Blacks and Hispanics.
A similar law was already on the books on the state level, where Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a set of bills that included a chokehold ban in June. Even after the law went into effect, there were instances of police officers caught using a chokehold to control New York City residents suspected of a crime. In Far Rockaway, NYPD officer David Afanador was suspended without pay in June—just days after the state bill was signed—for putting Ricky Bellevue, a Black man, in an illegal chokehold
No firm date has been set on when a hearing on revising the bill would happen. However, Councilmemer Rory Lancman, who sponsored the original 2015 chokehold ban bill, feels any changes to the law would be a mistake. He said on Twitter: "My statement on amending Chokehold Law adding recklessness & injury to ban on sitting/kneeling/standing on suspect's chest: 'it will eviscerate not just the law itself, but the rule of law and the legitimacy of the City Council as an institution capable of overseeing the NYPD.'”