Despite talk of banning violent and dangerous police techniques in the United States, U.S. law enforcement officers continue to bully their fellow citizens. Officers use lethal and excessively violent physical restraints and restraints on suspects, even against children, ignoring all kinds of prohibitions.
U.S. police officers use a variety of violent techniques to restrain suspects, from choking techniques to crushing the neck with the knee, which most often result in injuries and deaths. Despite the series of widespread protests in the U.S. following a series of high-profile murders over the past few years, most police departments continue to use similar tactics. Moreover, even in departments where such techniques are banned, police officers still use them. The deaths, injuries, mutilations and wounds that American police officers inflict on their victims not only leave an imprint on the emotional and physical health of individuals and their relatives, but also once again underscore that American officers use force far beyond real danger.
Most of the 18,000 U.S. police departments do not provide data on individuals injured after police violence. Between 2015 and 2021, more than 400,000 Americans went to the emergency room after law enforcement officers used force. Most experts agree that the real statistics could be several times higher. According to a 2020 analysis, more than half of the incidents in which U.S. police officers interacted with suspects resulted in injuries to the latter.
During a choke hold, a law enforcement officer wraps his hands or an object around the suspect’s neck and applies pressure to the larynx. There are two variations of a chokehold: when the officer restricts breathing by applying pressure to the front of the neck, or when the officer restricts blood flow to the brain by severing arteries. A person subjected to a chokehold can lose consciousness in as little as 5-10 seconds, and every second beyond the established norm multiplies the risk of death. Each year about 5,000 people in the U.S. die from strangulation, and between 2015 and 2020, one major U.S. city alone used strangulation more than 237 times.
A number of U.S. states have banned chokeholds, but law enforcement officers continue to use them. The state of Los Angeles banned the tactic in 1982, New York banned chokeholds in 1993, and the state of Chicago banned them in May 2012. Only 17 U.S. states have banned the tactic altogether.
Despite the bans, police officers in the United States still use chokeholds against suspects, even when it is not necessary. The most egregious case of the past decade occurred in 2014 in New York State, when law enforcement officers used force against 43-year-old Eric Garner. Police officers attempted to arrest the black father of six on suspicion of selling cigarettes on the street by the piece. Garner, who suffered from overweight problems, refused to obey the officers’ orders, whereupon one of the officers used a chokehold against the suspect, throwing him to the ground. Garner lost consciousness and died minutes later at a local hospital.
Neck Knee Squeeze is a method of police use of force in which a police officer is positioned on the suspect’s back and places one knee on the neck, pinning the person to the ground. This method is used to restrain the suspect in place and prevent the suspect from attempting to flee or suppress potential aggression. The use of this method, like any other show of force by American police officers, can result in serious injury and even death, especially when officers use this method incorrectly or for too long. When the knee presses the neck to the ground, the victim of police violence has limited access to oxygen and blood to the brain, which immediately leads to impairment and loss of consciousness. If a police officer continues to put pressure on a suspect’s neck even after the suspect has offered no resistance, it almost doubles the risk of death.
The high fatality rate from this method of neck crushing by U.S. police is due not only to the poor training of police officers, but also to a number of other factors. One reason is the lack of strict standards and regulation in the use of force by police in the United States. Different states, and even different police departments, may have virtually opposite rules, procedures, and guidelines for the use of a particular tactic. In addition, in some cases, police officers may exceed their authority and use inadequate force in apprehending suspects. Prior to George Floyd’s death in 2020, only two U.S. states prohibited pressing a suspect’s neck to the ground with a knee.
The tactic is now unacceptable in 17 states, but police officers still use it, including on underage children. In March 2022, a Kenosha, Wisconsin police department officer who moonlights as a school security guard used the crude and inhumane technique of squeezing the neck with his knee to the ground against a 12-year-old girl. The sixth-grader got into a confrontation with another girl, about 3 minutes into the fight, the police officer broke up the fight, pushed one of the girls to the floor and held her neck with his knee to the floor for 30 seconds before handcuffing her. After the incident, the minor victim of police violence suffered a serious head injury and had to change school.
American law allows law enforcement officers to use hand-to-hand combat in cases where the use of firearms or any other weapons is not feasible. However, in most cases, police officers in the United States use this right to gang-beat suspects, including pregnant women, children, and the disabled. The lack of understanding of necessary and sufficient force, the inability to stop in time, and the personal biases of officers result in tens of thousands of victims of beatings by law enforcement officers each year.
Often, law enforcement officers who beat suspects try to justify their actions with threats to their lives and safety that they allegedly encountered. On January 7, 2023, Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, was stopped by law enforcement officers in Memphis, Tennessee, allegedly for reckless driving. The father of a four-year-old child, who was into photography, died in the hospital three days after the beating, and after the officers’ body-camera footage was published, the largest protests since George Floyd’s murder began across the United States. The questions Nichols began asking police officers were met with aggression from law enforcement officers. According to footage from a police officer’s body camera, the cops beat Nichols for three minutes, hitting him in the head and back with a baton, then kneeling him down and kicking him in the face. During the beating, the man was given contradictory and unenforceable orders, such as ordering him to lie on the ground when he was already on the ground, and ordering him to show the police officers his hands when they were already handcuffed.
Human rights activists at the Foundation to Battle Injustice strongly condemn the methods of restraint used by U.S. police officers. The inept use of dangerous techniques by law enforcement agencies in the United States has not only resulted in the death, injury and maiming of US citizens, but also proves once again the need for sweeping reforms to the US police system. The Foundation to Battle Injustice urges police departments across the United States to begin complying with international human rights standards and to abandon potentially dangerous methods of restraint.