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"Stay in the Streets. It's Working": Two Weeks Into Racial Justice Protests, New York State Classifies Use of Chokeholds as Felony

"Let's keep pushing, marching, organizing, and winning for our communities."

A protester is seen with a placard reading, "I can't breathe" on the fourth straight day of racial justice demonstrations in New York on May 30, 2020. (Photo: Ron Adar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Monday urged Americans to stay the course in the massive protests which have been held in cities and towns across the U.S. for the past two weeks, pointing to New York State lawmakers passing long-awaited legislation to classify chokeholds as a felony as evidence the pressure is working.

The Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act passed in the New York State Assembly with a vote of 140-3. The bill now heads to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to sign it into law. 

"Stay in the streets," tweeted Ocasio-Cortez. "It's working."

The bill was passed two weeks into a nationwide uprising over police brutality and racial injustice sparked by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other black Americans.

The legislation is named after Eric Garner, whose killing in 2014 by former NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo also sparked widespread protests. At Black Lives Matter protests since Garner's killing, many participants have chanted and carried signs reading Garner's last words as he was placed in a chokehold: "I can't breathe." The phrase was also uttered by George Floyd on May 25 when he was killed by Minneapolis police officers, sparking the most recent protests.

The NYPD banned the use of chokeholds in 1993, but there is no law holding police officers accountable for using the maneuver. The Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act will classify its use as a Class C felony, carrying a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

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The city received hundreds of complaints per year about the police chokeholds well after the practice was banned, and judges over the years weakened the definition of the term. Most reports of chokeholds happened in predominantly black New York City neighborhoods.

"We're going to make sure next time this happens in New York State, police officers will be going to jail," said Assembly Member Walter Mosely, who co-sponsored the bill. "They are here to enforce the law, not to be above it."

The New York City Council announced last week that it was also planning to vote on legislation to criminalize the use of chokeholds. 

Jamaal Bowman, a Democrat running to represent New York's 16th congressional district, joined Ocasio-Cortez in crediting protests in New York with pressuring lawmakers to pass the legislation.

"Let's keep pushing, marching, organizing, and winning for our communities," Bowman wrote.

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