A Reasoned Approach to Neck Locks

Del. Carroll Foy and the Democratic id.

by James A. Bacon

Democrats may control both the state Senate and the House of Delegates, but it is increasingly apparent that there are significant differences between the two chambers. The House, to borrow Freudian symbolism, reflects the id of the Democratic Party, the subconscious urges welling up from the reptilian brain. The Senate functions as the ego: the conscious, thinking part of the personality that moderates between the id, the superego (internalized values and morals), and reality. As a consequence, some of the crazier legislative ideas emanating from the House have been killed or watered down in the Senate.

A case in point is the initiative to ban the police use of chokeholds.

In a response to the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, the House passed a bill, HB 5069, which declared that any police officer in Virginia using a “neck restraint” in the performance of official duties was guilty of a Class 6 felony with provisions for increase in periods of imprisonment.

This was a Pavlovian, id-like response to a tragic killing (which may have been a murder, although that has not been determined yet). I am willing to lay long odds on the fact that the bill’s author, Del. Carroll Foy, has never herself been faced with a situation in which had just managed to wrestle an adrenaline- and meth-fueled criminal suspect to the ground.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Ms. Foy was a police officer who had failed to subdue the miscreant with a taser. And let’s assume that she did not want to shoot her gun. Further, let’s assume that the gentleman in question was continuing to struggle violently against restraint. What would one do in such a situation?

I am not an expert in the kinds of restraints that police officers are taught, but I did study martial arts for 16 years. I know from first-hand experience, having been on both the delivering and receiving end, that there are multiple ways to restrain someone. In one technique that I recall as being exceedingly effective, I wound up prone, face grinding the ground, my arm lifted behind my back, and my wrist in a lock. I wasn’t going anywhere. All it took was a slight increase of pressure on my wrist, and I’d be begging for mercy. In an ideal world, such a restraint would be used in all cases.

The problem is that when you are grappling with someone who is resisting, your adversary may not present his arm in such a way that you can force him to the ground in the manner just described. In the heat of the moment, you grab whatever you can, and you do whatever works. That’s why martial artists practice literally dozens of techniques. Sometimes, you find yourself in a situation in which, given the configuration of bodies and limbs at that moment, the only practical hold available is a neck lock.

Foy’s bill would eliminate a means of restraint that is likely non-lethal about 99.9% of the time.

The Senate was more cognizant of the difficulties police officers experience. In the Senate version, reports the Virginia Mercury, (1) police should be allowed to use neck restraints as a last resort, and (2) there was no need to create an additional felony charge.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, argued that strangulation is already a felony and that in many cases it would be harder to pursue criminal charges than administrative penalties in cases of wrongdoing. And he said that while the House’s proposed ban sounds stronger than the Senate’s language, there would be no practical difference because common law establishes a right to self defense, meaning an officer could use a chokehold when they believe it’s necessary to protect themselves regardless of any prohibition to the contrary.

“We don’t need to muck up our criminal code anymore with a new felony on the books,” he said.

I don’t know if I’d equate neck locks with “strangulation,” but his comments are informed by reason. Surovell was the “ego” reconciling the urges of the Democratic “id” with reality. Police groups — and most Republicans, I’ll wager — preferred no legislation at all. But Surovell’s version is one that most people will find acceptable.

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22 responses to “A Reasoned Approach to Neck Locks

  1. The problem we have is trying to figure out how to make what was done to George Floyd – so illegal that would-be violators would be stopped by other cops and if not, then he/she would face serious jail time.

    No one should lose their life that way – laying there , no longer struggling, peeing in his pants and asking for his Mother as his life was snuffed out.

    Further, we would not know the graphic nature of how his life ended if it were not for citizens capturing it – we’d certaintly not get that from most police forces and we know on most forces the other cops would not stop it either.

    We do not seem to have that problem in Virginia – but we also do not seem to have a way to keep it from happening if a rogue police actor chooses to do it.

    It’s too late when someone is dead and we’re arguing technicalities in the law.

    I wish our elected representatives had the ability to see this when they are arguing over what to do or not and in the back and forth descend into technicalities and end up with flawed legislation that doesn’t satisfy anyone.

  2. The difference between the George Floyd case and many others with which certain people would like to equate it, is that Mr. Floyd was already in handcuffs. There is no reasonable argument for using a choke-hold or strangulation-restraint on a man who is in handcuffs.

    In cases where an arrestee is unrestrained, still flailing around and/or fighting, I am in agreement with Mr. Bacon regarding how things [may] need to be handled. In cases where the arrestee is in handcuffs lying face down on the pavement, anyone who chokes the life out of said arrestee is guilty of murder as far as I am concerned.

  3. “We do not seem to have that problem in Virginia – but we also do not seem to have a way to keep it from happening if a rogue police actor chooses to do it.”

    Nor do we have a specific and precise way to keep police officers from using a flamethrower to barbeque innocent puppies. Are you seriously contending that we need to preemptively make double-extra-felonious-illegal any dangerous or horrible act that police commit anywhere in the world?
    We may indeed need new laws to respond to widespread outrage about particular police behavior, but let’s be honest– the need is political, not criminal. The need is to ensure public trust in the police. As Surovell rightly says, “We don’t need to muck up our criminal code anymore with a new felony on the books,” which is to say, we don’t need to invent new crimes.

    • I’m saying that we have a problem with people of color not trusting the police and for good reason given the events seen.

      How would we build trust?

      You do that with transparency and safeguards for the types of things that can happen.

      We don’t have a “common” flamethrower problem as far as I know but we do have a problem with African Americans trusting law enforcement over traffic stops that subsequently escalate into more serious incidents.

      If you think fear of the police by black folks is a “political” thing, you might need to take a closer look and actually talk to black people:

      when you see this – does it affect the way you think and feel?

  4. If you kill someone with a chokehold or headlock then you have committed manslaughter, the same as if you pummeled the victim to death.

  5. Where are the Dems in the House with respect to Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, whose failure to identify and remove cops with bad records, such as Chauvin and Thao, despite countless promises to do so? If Frey had done his job, George Floyd would be alive today.

  6. It’s the rule of 3s. Three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without air.

    These victims are being murdered if they are being strangled. You cannot watch a 20/20, or a Nightline in which some guy strangles his wife or girlfriend and provides the courtroom defense that he didn’t intend to kill and every last prosecutor times it out for the jury.. tick…tick…tick… THREE MINUTES.

    Do it. Wrap the crook of your arm, or hands, around a liter Coke bottle and squeeze for three minutes.

    Properly applied, a chokehold renders the victim unconscious in 20 seconds. If the cop cannot tell the difference between 20 seconds and 3 minutes, he probably shouldn’t be a cop.

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3572335/

  7. If Virginia is intent on passing legislation “because of what happened to George Floyd,” it seems to me we should at least familiarize ourselves with what happened in that case.

    “Why Derek Chauvin May Get Off His Murder Charge”

    “A deeper look at the policies behind the death of George Floyd”

    https://medium.com/@gavrilodavid/why-derek-chauvin-may-get-off-his-murder-charge-2e2ad8d0911

    • What this points out is that Chauvin did not violate any existing policies.

      Yes, he had prior complaints but few, if any, that were on the order of this case.

      • It highlights much more than that. Perhaps you should read it again.

        Mr. Floyd was in need of medical attention, and until he received it, he was a danger to himself. In spite of the handcuffs, he had to be restrained in some fashion until the paramedics could get there to help him.

        “A careful examination of the evidence points to the procedures and rules of the MPD, rather than the police officers following these procedures and rules, as the real killers of George Floyd. If anyone murdered George Floyd, it was the MPD and the local political establishment. This is why Attorney General Keith Ellison has expressed how difficult a conviction will be.”

        It’s quite possible to change those procedures, but the outcome may end up the same. Fatality rates for people suffering from excited delirium syndrome are very high.

        • I saw that also but it’s not like this type of thing has not occurred in other locations – and not all of those victims had medical issues so I think relying on that is a bit of deflection from the core issue which involves people who are not having medical issues.

          This is a fairly widespread issue involving policies that basically allow police to kill others without being indicted or charged – even by law – beyond police policies.

          And seems like in most of the cases, other police did not intervene and stop the guy doing the killing…

          Beyond that – without citizen videos, a lot of this would never be really known by the public. No videos = police report written by guys involved in the killing.

          I understand the position that police are put into when having to use force. They don’t have the luxury of saying ” this guy is ill and I’m going to back off and call a medical professional”.

          At the same time, it’s obvious to me we have a problem and never more so when the police refuse to provide complete information, body-cams, internal reports, etc… they just refuse and totally back the cops – because – in reality – they are defending their policies.

          It has to change. It won’t stop all deaths but what we have now is unacceptable to many. You’ve got an entire race of people who fear and loathe the police as an institution.

          • Deflection?

            From the article:

            “In a response to the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, the House passed a bill, HB 5069, which…”

            And you say it’s a “deflection” to talk about the specifics of the Floyd case? Someone is deflecting here, but I don’t think it’s me.

          • yes. How many of the police killings across the country had that complication?

            If you want to discuss overall police policies – then how many incidents where force is involved – are medical – as opposed to the others that are not?

            Even in the Floyd case – it’s crystal clear when Floyd died that he was no longer struggling , peeing in his pants and asking for his mother, and the knee stayed on the neck. That’s not a medical issue – that wanton and cruel behavior – which one has a reason to suspect might be used in other incidents.

            that’s a bigger issue than medical.

            If you’re going to make changes – you’d only do so for the medical ones and not the others?

            That’s why I say to bring up the medical as a “reason” why the case is not so clear cut – is a distraction – when looking at all the other cases that are not medical.

          • If the legislation is intended to solve systemic problems in Virginia, why aren’t they siting the specific cases that require this legislation?

            And in this forum, you are the one claiming widespread systemic problems. What specific deaths in Virginia would this legislation have prevented?

            I responded to what was written in the article.

            “In a response to the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, the House passed a bill, HB 5069, which…”

            If you are saying its something else, then you provide the examples.

          • I don’t see the legislation as aimed at “systemic” problems which sounds a lot wider and deeper than “specific” problems.

            But I do think that the “neck’ technique is involved in more than just people who have medical issues and so it needs to be broad enough to deal with issue of using neck techniques in general.

            George Floyd showed how deadly it can be but he was not the only one – with or without medical issues.

            So I don’t think legislation that singles out neck techniques for only medical or vice versa, excuses it when there is medical – is a good approach.

            And I’ll allow that there are lots of different opinions – even among the legislators who are trying to find law language that is acceptable to enough of them to vote it.

            I don’t 100% agree with everything the Va GA has done. They may have gone too far and will need to back up – we’ll see but I think convincing ourselves that we can find enough extenuating circumstances to justify doing nothing is not good either.

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