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H.R. 4408 (116th): Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2019

Named after an African-American New York City killed in 2014 after asphyxiation by white police officer Daniel Pantaleo, the Eric Garner Excessive Force Prevention Act would make chokeholds or other oxygen-hindering maneuvers illegal under federal civil rights law.

The House version numbered H.R. 4408 was previously introduced in September 2019 by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY8). The Senate version numbered S. 3895 was introduced on June 4 by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the chokehold and other similar physical moves have no place in our society, and we see the results with examples such as Garner, Floyd, and others.

“The overwhelming majority of all police officers are hardworking individuals who are on the job to protect and serve,” Rep. Jeffries said in a 2015 press release upon the bill’s original introduction. “Yet it is undeniable that our country is in the midst of an epidemic of police violence that has badly damaged the relationship between law enforcement and communities throughout America, including in New York City,”

“The chokehold is a poster child for violent police tactics,” Rep. Jeffries continued. “It is an unreasonable measure. It is an unnecessary measure. It is an uncivilized measure. The [bill] will make it an unlawful measure.”

“George Floyd and Eric Garner should be alive. These are just two of the countless men and women lost to our severely failed criminal justice system in America,” Sen. Gillibrand said in a press release. “Institutional and systemic racism have devastated black communities since the founding of this country — we see the pain, we hear the calls for justice and accountability, and Congress must act.

What opponents say

Officials, such as some police officials, counter that — while any death by police is tragic — a nonlethal chokehold or similar move is sometimes necessary and shouldn’t be taken off the table.

Christophe Rouget, a police union official who briefed lawmakers for their deliberations in March about the proposal to ban suffocating techniques, said if officers don’t draw pistols or use stun-guns then immobilizing people face-down is the safest option, stopping suspects from kicking out at arresting officers.

“We don’t have 5,000 options,” police union official Christophe Rouget told the Associated Press, in an article which noted that “Immobilizing people face-down [can be] the safest option, stopping suspects from kicking out at arresting officers.”

“These techniques are used by all the police in the world because they represent the least amount of danger,” Rouget continued. “The only thing is that they have to be well used. In the United States, we saw that it wasn’t well used, with pressure applied in the wrong place and for too long.”

Odds of passage

Months after namesake Garner’s death, a 2015 House version attracted 21 Democratic cosponsors but never received a vote in the Republican-controlled chamber. A subsequent 2018 version received a smaller 17 Democratic cosponsors, but again didn’t receive a vote in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Now with Democrats now controlling the House, plus the issue receiving much more attention, the September 2019 version has attracted 97 cosponsors, all Democrats. 68 of them have signed on since George Floyd’s death. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

The Senate version has attracted three Democratic cosponsors, and awaits a potential vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Odds of passage are low in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Last updated Jun 10, 2020. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Sep 19, 2019.

Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2019

This bill modifies the criminal civil rights statute that prohibits the deprivation of rights under color of law.

Currently, the second prong of the prohibition bars the application of different punishments, pains, or penalties based on an individual's alien status, color, or race. This bill specifies that the application of any pressure to a person's throat or windpipe which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air (e.g., a chokehold) constitutes a punishment, pain, or penalty.