Oakland – Oakland’s Police Commission late Thursday night unanimously enacted the strongest language in the nation banning the use of neck holds and protecting individuals from asphyxia (when someone is deprived of oxygen) in encounters with police.
The policy comes in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, who died of asphyxia due to a brutal and prolonged restraint by police. The case sparked national protests and increased awareness over the dangers of police restraints, including asphyxia, that prevent people from breathing.
Oakland has the strongest independent community oversight in the United States with the ability to write policing policy, discipline officers, and fire the police chief. This policy can now only be overturned by a majority vote veto from the city council which is not expected.
Although “chokeholds” are banned in Oakland, the use of the carotid hold which cuts off the flow of blood to the brain, is considered to be lethal force and was still allowed. The asphyxia language in this policy is unprecedented in protecting residents in interactions with police.
Nationally, deaths by asphyxiation are often misreported as inconclusive or attributed to other causes such as underlying medical conditions and the pseudo-medical term “excited delirium,” which are cited by police to avoid blame and are disproportionately used against Black people.
The importance of enacting a protection for asphyxia was underscored by the killing of George Floyd. The county coroner initially reported underlying conditions as well as “excited delirium” as the cause of death, only making the correction to asphyxia following widespread public attention.
In the Police Commission meeting on June 25, alternate Police Commissioner David Jordan shared his own experience as a 14-year-old. “I had a full-grown man with his duty belt and his armor kneeling on the back of my head and kneeling on my back. I could not breathe and I was inhaling the dirt from the ground. He held me there for, honestly, who knows [how long]. We know it is happening to others all around the country. I know that there are people dying. We need to take immediate steps,” Jordan said.
In addition to the ban, there will also be a new protocol that prohibits officers from “piling on” to people held on the ground, as occurred with George Floyd.
New protocols will also require officers to monitor a restrained person’s well being and recognize signs of distress, an important safeguard due to a common, dangerous misconception that if the person is able to talk, they are able to breathe.
The Oakland Coalition for Police Accountability (CPA) is made up of organizations and individuals representing over 10,000 Oaklanders dedicated to ensuring safe and constitutional policing for all residents.
This post based on press release from The Oakland Coalition for Police Accountability to Zennie62Media, Inc.