NYC’s Flawed Chokehold Ban Law

Since the murder of George Floyd, we’ve been seeing many calls for action to address mistreatment of citizens by law enforcement agencies, including calls to defund the police, disband the police, and the most recent chokehold ban law that NYC’s Mayor Bill De Blasio signed into law. I won’t address any political stances here as those are well beyond the scope of this post. However, the NYPD chokehold ban that De Blasio recently signed into law is one that I find extremely disturbing, and that is what I’ll address here.

The Details of the New Law

The new chokehold ban makes it a criminal offense for any NYPD officer to use chokeholds in all situations, and bars officers from sitting, kneeling, or standing on a suspect’s chest or back during an arrest, even if the action is unintentional.

Why the New Law is So Concerning

While this law is likely a direct response to recent events and is a well intentioned move to curb tactics used by some members of the law enforcement community which may be harmful for citizens facing arrest, I believe that this law will actually put both citizens and law enforcement in greater danger and will likely result in more injuries and possible deaths.

The banning of chokeholds is understandable considering the amount of training time many officers have with these techniques. However, if by “chokeholds” we actually mean “vascular neck restraints”, then there’s no reason why they can’t be employed as an extremely safe measure to subdue a resisting suspect. One problem here is that the terms “chokehold” and “vascular neck restraint” are often used interchangeably, which can lead to confusion. While the use of a chokehold which block the suspect’s ability to breath may be a questionable technique, a vascular neck restraint is extremely safe and very effective.

Vascular neck restraints are used everyday by thousands and thousands of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners, and rarely, if ever, result in any injury whatsoever. When applied properly, they simply block blood flow to the brain, resulting in temporary loss of consciousness. In BJJ, we tap to indicate that we’ve been caught in the submission, and in the self defense curriculum of BJJ we’re taught to use such submissions not until the attacker passes out, but merely as a means of subduing them. In other words, tighten the neck restraint when the attacker resists, but loosen it as they comply. The objective is to control the attacker and not to make them pass out, unless that’s the only way to control them.

Unfortunately, not everyone trains in the use of chokeholds on a regular basis, and that does present an issue. An improperly executed chokehold can easily evolve from a blood choke to an airway choke, causing damage. However, this can easily be avoided by regular training. Banning the use of chokeholds in lieu of extra training is a possible compromise, though still a flawed approach.

As for applying pressure to the suspect’s chest, abdomen, or back, these are standard control techniques which are all part of the basics of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. They’re extremely safe, easy to learn, incredibly effective, and used thousands of times every single day by Jiu Jitsu practitioners worldwide. I know from personal experience of having been held in the mount or knee on belly position by many of my opponents that while these positions do cause some minimal discomfort, they rarely (if ever) cause injury, even if performed on an opponent who weighs considerably less.

The issue with the new chokehold ban law is twofold. First, it eliminates safe options for the officer to use while subduing a suspect before necessitating reaching for their utility belt. If an officer can safely and effectively subdue a suspect by using basic grappling skills, it makes the officer far less likely to have to utilize strikes, a baton, a taser, or a firearm. But if an officer realizes that using such safe and effective techniques such as knee on belly, mount, or a rear naked choke can likely result in a criminal charge, it will only force the officer to escalate the use of force to an unnecessarily high degree, thus making the situation considerably more dangerous for both the officer and the community being served.

Second, by criminalizing techniques such as knee on belly, mount, and the rear naked choke, we are now asking the officers who serve our communities to second guess safe and effective techniques which many have spent years acquiring. In an effort to avoid a criminal charge, NYPD officers will now have to insert an extra step in the decision making chain, possibly leading to a hesitation or lack of decisiveness which can result in grave harm to the officer either in the form of physical danger or the aforementioned criminal charges.

I predict that as a result of this misguided law, we’ll see many more unnecessary injuries (and possibly fatalities) on the part of both suspects and NYPD officers.

What is the Solution?

I propose that rather than calling to defund the police or banning certain techniques we instead invest more in these exact same techniques. Officers should be given the option of training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu combatives either at their precinct or via a tuition reimbursement which they can use to train at their BJJ academy of choice. As NYC is now home to many A-list academies and teachers such as Vitor Shaolin Ribeiro, Renzo Gracie, John Danaher, Marcelo Garcia, and many others, it’s incredibly easy to find a reputable place to train regularly.

By learning new techniques, perfecting the old ones, and by sparring regularly, officers will be empowered to be able to subdue suspects with greater ease, will be far less likely to have to reach for their utility belt, and will have access to an activity and lifestyle which can be profoundly effective for staying in peak physical condition and for reducing stress.

During his brief presidential campaign, Andrew Yang even suggested that all law enforcement officers should be at least a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. While this standard is unrealistically high, Yang’s intentions are in the right place. In truth, having the skills that a high level white belt or new blue belt practitioner possesses would likely be sufficient provided the officer trains regularly.

A recent Gracie Breakdown video sums up the flaws in the new NYPD chokehold ban law extremely well, as well as offering a strong argument for encouraging departments to embrace offering training in Gracie Combatives.

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