Letter Re: NYC Chokehold


The man resisted arrest. Do you think he was right to do that? Don’t you agree he had other options, like complying, and he exercised a poor one? Is it the officer’s fault he’s obese and at great health risk before he was contacted? Do you or anyone else expect any officer intending to make an arrest to change their mind because you disagree? The suspect, God have mercy on him, did the wrong thing. When you do the wrong thing, you end up with undesirable results. Those officers effected the arrest of a much larger man by the means available.

He was given opportunity to comply. He refused and physically resisted.

They were under no obligation, while making the physical arrest, to be “fair” or make themselves vulnerable to assault. If he had complied, he’d be alive and able to appeal his arrest. Make your case of police abuse somewhere else. There are certainly better examples. I hope you don’t hold this suspect and his actions out as some sort of example to be followed.

Hugh Replies: There is a greater issue at stake here than just this one man’s experience. Non-violent civil disobedience has a longstanding tradition in the United States as a valid form of resistance to effect change of public policy. I would point you to the Civil Rights Movement in which citizens disobeyed laws in order to lay claim to rights that were being denied to them. While those who participate in civil disobedience often expect to be arrested and maybe even beaten, death is usually not an expected outcome, especially in the United States of America.

In addition, when you are the guardian of a minor, there is a certain expectation of protection of that person’s well-being, even when you are disciplining them. Though this person was not a minor, when the government decides to place you under arrest, they place themselves in the position of guardianship over the person being arrested, and they assume the responsibility for the well-being of that person. There is reasonable expectation that they will act only with the appropriate amount of force in order to affect the desired outcome. When a person is resisting arrest, there is an expectation of escalating, but still appropriate, force. There is no reasonable expectation that death should be the outcome of a non-violent resistance. Contrary to your statement, they do indeed retain the obligation to be fair and reasonable, because they are asserting themselves as “guardian”.

In any case, even if the alleged “chokehold” was necessary to take the person down, they are still on the hook for his health and well being. When the person claimed he couldn’t breathe, they were obligated to make sure he could. When he quit resisting because he went unconscious (due to their direct actions), they were obligated to begin lifesaving measures. CPR is a basic skill and is tough to do wrong. The responsibility to provide life-saving CPR, which all LE are trained in, is an aspect of this situation that I can’t imagine anyone defending these officers for denying.

This, of course, brings to the forefront the greater issue of why non-violent offenders are treated, arrested, judged, convicted, and incarcerated as if they are extremely violent. Our legal and penal systems are choked by this lack of differentiation, and we are creating “hardened” criminals by the thousands because of this.