According to the Hennepin County, Minn. criminal complaint, On May 25, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. As Floyd desperately pleaded for his life, Chauvin continued to kneel. Floyd drifted into unconsciousness and Chauvin did not remove his knee for 2 minutes and 53 more seconds. Paramedics arrived. Still, Chauvin knelt.
While Floyd’s brutal death, captured on video from multiple angles, was viscerally disturbing, police officers across the country saw nothing unusual about it. Chauvin’s savage restraint technique is something Minneapolis cops have seen dozens of times. In fact, law enforcement personnel often use this type of immobilization tactic on suspects without giving it a second thought. It was a terrible thing for us to see.
For police officers, it was routine.
NBC News reports that Minneapolis Police Department officers have used neck restraints 237 times since 2015, including 44 times to render people unconscious—a rate of 16 percent.
And according to the MPD’s use-of-force data, while the city’s population is 18.8 percent black, about 60 percent of the victims who were choked out by Minneapolis cops were black, meaning black Minneapoleans were six times more likely to be rendered unconscious by a police officer’s neck restraint.
“Police define neck restraints as when an officer uses an arm or leg to compress someone’s neck without directly pressuring the airway,” NBC reports,
The MPD’s online policy manual permits the use of this kind of force. Although it hasn’t been updated for eight years, the online manual defines a neck restraint as a “non-deadly force option” (In case you were wondering, yes there is a “deadly force option”) defined as “compressing one or both sides of a person’s neck with an arm or leg, without applying direct pressure to the trachea or airway (front of the neck),” with two options:
Conscious Neck Restraint: The subject is placed in a neck restraint with intent to control, and not to render the subject unconscious, by only applying light to moderate pressure. (04/16/12)
Unconscious Neck Restraint: The subject is placed in a neck restraint with the intention of rendering the person unconscious by applying adequate pressure...
A. The Conscious Neck Restraint may be used against a subject who is actively resisting. (04/16/12)
B. The Unconscious Neck Restraint shall only be applied in the following circumstances: (04/16/12)
- On a subject who is exhibiting active aggression, or;
- For life saving purposes, or;
- On a subject who is exhibiting active resistance in order to gain control of the subject; and if lesser attempts at control have been or would likely be ineffective.
C: Neck restraints shall not be used against subjects who are passively resisting as defined by policy. (04/16/12)
This policy does not seem to be exclusive to Minneapolis’ police department. Apparently, for cops nationwide, neck-kneeling is a longstanding law enforcement tradition.
If Alanis Morrissette ever records an updated version of her hit song “Ironic,” she can save money by setting her ditty to footage from this weekend’s protests in Seattle, Wash. On Saturday night at the protest against cops kneeling on people’s necks, journalist Matt McNight recorded someone who was either a police officer or a Derek Chauvin cosplayer executing the heinous move on a protester as bystanders begged the officer/Chauvin stan to stop.
James Medina, a Denver, Colo., police officer was fired after he was caught on surveillance footage with his knee on the neck of a woman who was incarcerated in the city jail.
Well, actually, that’s the short story.
Medina held his knee on the woman’s neck until she passed out on the jail floor for several minutes. Medina didn’t call for medical assistance. After the department’s Tactics Review Board also reviewed the videotape they said Medina used “appropriate force” against the woman because she displayed “active aggression” toward him. Then they found a doctor to say the same thing before Denver’s Deputy Director of Safety ordered Medina’s termination, explaining that the cop used “egregiously disproportionate” force.
Medina appealed the decision.
He got his job back with back pay.
On August 22, 2014, Denver, Colo. officer Chad Sinnema wrote in his police report that he placed his knee on the “back of his upper shoulders” to restrain a subject. The bodycam footage was sent to be reviewed by the city’s independent monitor after the suspect accused the officer of excessive force.
“However, the video seems to show that for several minutes, Sinnema actually had his knee on the man’s neck,” reports CBS4 Local. “At one point on the video, the suspect shouts ‘I’m trying to breathe…trying to live…trying to breathe.’”
After the independent review board saw the footage, they recommended that Sinnema receive “significant discipline.”
He was suspended for four days.
Newark, NJ’s guide for police officers categorizes the move as “deadly force” permitting “a hold with a knee or other object to the back of a prone subject’s neck” in extenuating circumstances. Many agencies explicitly ban the deadly practice, including the police department in Sarasota, Fla., that made the proactive move to outlaw the technique after watching the current protests grip the country, as WTSP reports:
The chief of the Sarasota Police Department has released a memo prohibiting vascular neck restraint. This memo overrides a policy that is part of the department’s standard operating procedure.
“Chief Bernadette DiPino felt it was vital to review this level of force and pulling the VNR use at this time was necessary and a review of the practice and policies was timely” a spokesperson for the department told 10 Investigates. “While the incident in Minneapolis was not an officer from the Sarasota Police Department, Chief DiPino said reviewing incidents like this and recommitting ourselves to being better, doing what is right and being proud of our actions is important and valuable.”
Days before Floyd’s death, Jackson County, Mo., prosecutors indicted two Kansas City Police Department officers for kneeling on the neck of 30-year-old Bryan E. Hill, an indictment local Fraternal Order of Police leaders called a “politically motivated prosecution.”
Last year, the Union-Tribune reported that San Diego police officers used some form of a chokehold 574 times between 2013 and 2018. While the city is 6.5 percent black, 26 percent of the people placed in a chokehold by SDPD officers were black.
George Floyd was not available for comment.