Politics

Eric Garner’s Killing and Why the Police Chokehold is So Racially Charged

On July 19, a memorial for Eric Garner rests on the pavement near the site of his death in Staten Island. (John Minchillo/AP)
On July 19, a memorial for Eric Garner rests on the pavement near the site of his death in Staten Island. (John Minchillo/AP)

 

(The Washington Post) – Of all the tragic elements in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, perhaps the most notable is how little it offers that is new or unique. Despite bans and decades of controversy, the chokehold is still apparently in use. It’s still lethal. And it’s still as racially charged as ever.

Dozens of chokehold deaths have come across the country — from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to New York — and while most occurred decades ago, the debate over the manuever remains fractious. One camp says versions of the chokehold can be applied safely. The other condemns the practice as one of the riskiest tools in a cop’s arsenal. The conversation began when the practice was routine — and mired in allegations of racial injustice and discrimination.

In 1982, the Criminal Law Bulletin published an investigation that found the Los Angeles Police Department had used chokeholds at least 975 times in 18 months. Between 1975 and 1982, cops killed 15 people with it — 12 of whom were African American. “What’s all the fuss about?” one resident of upscale Laguna Hills wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 1978. “There’s one simple and effective way to avoid death-by-chokehold: Just don’t try to escape from the police.”

But it wasn’t so simple for 20-year-old James Thomas Mincey, an African American whose death in 1982 was a significant chapter in the story of chokeholds.

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