Police departments across the country are on the defensive today more than any other time in recent history.
From Ferguson, Missouri, to New York City, there are calls for police officers involved in two unrelated deaths of African American men to be criminally charged.
Many believe the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner were racially motivated. The racist few that commit civil rights violations must be held accountable for their crimes.
Most police officers, however, are not racist. Most police officers want to serve and protect.
Before an officer gets his badge, hits the streets, and carries out his official duties, he must be trained properly, from knowing how to shoot a gun to performing a proper takedown. Without proper training, unintended injuries and deaths will continue to occur.
On July 17, 2014, NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo approached Eric Garner for selling "loosies" on the street. During a verbal confrontation, Pantaleo placed Garner in a chokehold. A bystander's video reveals a subdued Garner saying, "I can't breathe." Garner quickly slipped into unconsciousness and did not receive resuscitative assistance by the officers. Within minutes, Garner was dead. Internal, civil and criminal investigations are pending.
This isn't the first time someone died following an officer's use of a chokehold.
In 1991, Federico Pereira died of asphyxiation after he was hogtied and placed in a chokehold during a fight with five NYPD officers. One of the officers was tried for manslaughter but acquitted. Charges were dropped against four other officers.
Just two years later, in 1993, then-NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly banned the use of chokeholds.
Despite the ban, NYPD officers allegedly still use the chokehold: Between 2009 to mid-2014, the Civilian Complaint Review Board has received 1,128 chokehold allegations, according to its chairman, Richard Emery. It is not unreasonable to believe other officers throughout the U.S. also use the chokehold.
The chokehold, deriving from martial arts, comes in different forms: air choke, blood choke, rear naked choke, triangle choke, and gi choke. A chokehold prevents blood or air from moving out of the lungs, through the throat, and out of the mouth. Within seconds, a person will either give up in a struggle or lose consciousness. A chokehold is very effective if it is properly used. User beware: The front of the neck and trachea are extremely fragile; a misused chokehold can cause sudden death.
Many boys (and girls) learn the chokehold in their youth, whether it's during playful wrestling with friends, competing on the school wrestling team, or learning Ju-Jitsu, Judo or mixed martial arts.
These boys and girls eventually grow up and some decide to become police officers, a very noble job.
Officers-in-training must attend a police academy. They are taught proper arrest techniques from a simple pat-down to using a firearm. As part of the training, some academies teach the chokehold. Others do not.
According to a retired law enforcement official who attended police academies in both Illinois and California, all states and departments have different training standards.
In the '70s, he attended an Illinois police academy. Chokeholds were not taught or even discussed. At that time, the most preferred form of a takedown was with the use of a baton.
In the '90s, the official attended a California police academy where he was taught proper chokehold. It was not encouraged but they were told, "If you must apply a chokehold, apply it in this exact manner... If you do it the wrong way you'll cut off the windpipe, the person will panic and may become more combative," the officer said.
Rob Pincus, owner of I.C.E. Training, a company that provides defensive training to police officers and civilians supports chokehold training. "Police officers today aren't being taught to control combative subjects efficiently. Teaching proper use will help prevent officers from misapplying force to the throat when they are struggling in the midst of a fight and improvising techniques," he said.
The NYPD did not respond to calls and emails for information regarding training officers on the chokehold. According to NYPD police union president Pat Lynch, police aren't even trained to perform CPR.
Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (NY-9) and many others fail to focus on training. Instead she wants police to video every single interaction with citizens. "Cameras will not only allow us to determine whether any misconduct occurred, but also to prevent misconduct before it occurs," she said.
A camera does not protect the officer or the civilian. Recording every confrontation does not solve the problem that an officer may not be properly educated at every step, from the stop the the arrest.
If officers were taught how to apply a proper chokehold and educated about the fragile anatomy of the neck and throat, Pereira and Garner may still be alive today. If officers were taught the proper chokehold, they may avoid criminal charges related to deaths that occurred during their arrest.
This is not about supporting a department's policy of using chokeholds. Still, even a department bans the method, it must initially educate officers on the proper method. Otherwise, officers may continue to use the same chokehold during an arrest thay they used as kids when they were wrestling with their brothers on the living room floor.
If we want our officers to make the right decisions, we must educate them first.