George Floyd was not the first person to lose consciousness after a Minneapolis police officer put him in a chokehold.
In fact, Minneapolis cops have rendered 44 people unconscious with neck restraints since the beginning of 2015, according to an NBC News analysis of police records. And three-fifths of them were black.
The Minneapolis police define “neck restraints” as any time an officer uses an arm or a leg to press someone’s neck without directly pressuring the airway, more commonly referred to as a chokehold. And Minneapolis police subdued people this way at least 237 times in the past five years, and 16% of these incidents led to the suspects and other individuals losing consciousness, according to the department’s use-of-force records.
Among those who passed out from this submission tactic, three-fifths were black, about 30% were white, and almost all of them were male. Three-quarters of them were age 40 or younger. Almost half of those who fell unconscious were injured, but the reports did not specify the extent of those injuries.
On Friday, negotiators for the city of Minneapolis agreed with the state to ban the use of chokeholds by police . Moving forward, police will be required to report and intervene any time they see another officer use unauthorized force. The agreement also requires authorization from the police chief or a designated deputy chief to use crowd control weapons, such as chemical agents, rubber bullets, flash-bangs, batons and marking rounds, that have been used in many of the protests following Floyd’s death. It also demands more timely decisions on disciplining officers.
While it’s hard to compare this data to other police departments because there is a lack of publicly available use-of-force data, several police experts told the Comcast-owned /zigman2/quotes/205900788/delayed AT:CMCS +0.84% news organization that this number of neck restraints leading to unconsciousness appears to be unusually high. One called it “extraordinary.”
National use-of-force expert Ed Obayashi, an attorney and the deputy sheriff in Plumas Country, Calif., called this tactic “a self-fulfilling tragedy.”
“Any time you cut off someone’s airway or block blood flow to the brain, it can lead to serious injury or death as we have seen in so many of these tragedies,” he said.
Most recently, the Memorial Day death of Floyd has stoked worldwide outrage. Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was caught on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as three other officers stood by. Floyd was pronounced dead soon after the incident, and Chauvin has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
More than a dozen police officials told NBC that kneeling on a suspect’s neck is not taught or sanctioned by any police agency, and a Minneapolis city official said that this is not permitted by the city’s police department. Indeed, many major police departments highly restrict such chokeholds.
But the Minneapolis Police Department’s policy manual that is available online has allowed the use of neck restraints to render suspects unconscious. The policy reads: “The unconscious neck restraint shall only be applied … 1. On a subject who is exhibiting active aggression, or; 2. For life saving purposes, or; 3. On a subject who is exhibiting active resistance in order to gain control of the subject; and if lesser attempts at control have been or would likely be ineffective.”
It does not appear to have been updated in more than eight years, even though the death of Eric Garner after an NYPD officer put him in a chokehold, which sparked nationwide protests, happened just six years ago. While a state grand jury and federal prosecutors both declined to bring charges against officer Daniel Pantaleo, who held Garner in the chokehold, the Garner family later settled a lawsuit against the New York City for $5.9 million.
Garner’s words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for protestors around the country. Floyd said the same thing while Chauvin knelt on his neck, and those words have been echoed by protestors around the world over the past week.
Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Attorney General tapped to handle the investigation into Floyd’s death and pursue any prosecutions, said Monday on NBC’s “Today” show that a quick resolution to the case should not be taken for granted.
The Minneapolis police data reportedly shows that most of the cases where an officer used a neck restraint that led to someone losing consciousness involved a suspect fleeing on foot or tensing up as they were arrested. While five neck restraint instances that resulted in unconsciousness involved assaults on officers, and several involved domestic abuse or domestic assault, most did not record an underlying violent offense.
The Minneapolis Police Department did not immediately respond to a MarketWatch request for comment, and it also did not respond to NBC.
This article was first published on June 1, and has been updated with Minneapolis agreeing to ban choke holds.