Chokeholds by law enforcement now illegal in Delaware

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House Bill 350 creates the crime of Aggravated Strangulation as a Class D felony. Under the legislation, a chokehold is only justifiable when a law enforcement officer reasonably believes deadly force is necessary to protect the life of a civilian or an officer.

WILMINGTON (DE): George Floyd, a 46 year old African-American man died after being taken into custody by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Monday May 25, 2020. Footage of the arrest shows a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he was pinned to the ground by Chauvin and three other officers. All four officers were fired a day after Floyd’s death. Chauvin, 44, has since been charged with third degree murder and manslaughter.

George Floyd was a regular at Cup Foods. He was a friendly face, a pleasant customer who never caused any trouble, the store owner Mike Abumayyaleh told NBC News.

Following Floyd’s death, citizens all across America began protesting. While most protests were peaceful, some turned violent that led to rioting in some cities. In response to protests, some local governments and law enforcement agencies have stepped up and began making change, but all can agree, the change is coming too late as thousands of people of color have already died while in police custody around the country.

In Delaware, on May 11, 2020, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki acted swiftly to release the Wilmington Police Department’s Use of Force Policy for public review. The Mayor was joined with Police Chief Robert J. Tracy to initiate an ongoing process for public review of policing policies—an effort to create more transparency and understanding of policing and therefore promote more support and cooperation between City police officers and residents.

“Wilmington has heard the voices calling for change and reform,” said Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki on May 11, 2020. “The massive worldwide movement to eliminate egregious police actions against people of color will continue until there is more respect and understanding for each other through policies and actions that produce racial justice. No person of color should ever have to fear a police officer or expect anything but equal treatment and justice. Wilmington’s policing policies are open for review, and while we have already implemented widely accepted policing standards, we will continue to make additional changes as needed.”

Following in Wilmington’s foot steps is the Dover Police Department. Police Chief Thomas A. Johnson Jr. held a press conference to announce a series of actions and initiatives to increase the accountability of the Dover Police Department on Thursday afternoon.

Governor John Carney also announced he would sign an executive order banning choke holds. The announcement came at his weekly covid-19 update.

“Next week, I will sign an executive order to ban the use of choke-holds at the Delaware State Police and Capitol Police, and require additional de-escalation training. We will stop posting mugshots of children, mandate participation in the national use-of-force database, and increase crisis intervention training and mental health services for police officers.”, Carney said. “These are first steps that we can take administratively to improve the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color.”

Carney added, “Talk is cheap. We are committed to moving forward productively – and in good faith – to make real change in Delaware. That starts with recognizing our shared history, and learning the lessons of the past.”

Carney, a man of his word, did not hold back when signing House Bill 350, which bans the use of chokeholds by all law enforcement agencies in Delaware on Thursday.

Representative Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Senator Elizabeth Lockman are the prime sponsors of the legislation. The legislation is part of the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus’ ‘Justice for All’ agenda, which was introduced following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“We have heard the voices calling for change and we are focused on taking meaningful action in Delaware,” said Governor Carney. “This legislation is an important part of a broader effort to improve the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color following the brutal and senseless killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I want to thank members of the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus for their leadership on issues around racial justice and law enforcement. Our work together will continue.”

House Bill 350 creates the crime of Aggravated Strangulation as a Class D felony. Under the legislation, a chokehold is only justifiable when a law enforcement officer reasonably believes deadly force is necessary to protect the life of a civilian or an officer.

In June, Governor Carney banned the use of chokeholds at State of Delaware law enforcement agencies by executive order. Governor Carney’s Executive Order #41 also requires additional de-escalation and implicit bias training; prohibits law enforcement from sharing mugshots of minors; increases the availability of crisis intervention services for officers; and requires transparency around use-of-force protocols.

“Aggravated strangulation is a crime when it causes unjustified physical harm or death. This new law is extremely needed given the pulse of our state and nation; it recognizes and embraces this very pivotal moment in our history to address systemic failures. Delaware will hold law-enforcement officers to the high standard in which they have been trained in police departments throughout our state,” said Representative Nnamdi Chukwuocha. “This is an effort to save lives, and prevent potentially lethal interactions with law enforcement, thus providing greater security to our communities. House Bill 350 lays the foundation for broader reforms to advance systemic change; ensuring that ALL Delawareans are protected lawfully.”

“We hear far too often about ‘a few bad apples’ in our police agencies. And, far too often, we have seen those ‘few bad apples’ go unpunished, even when their actions result in the deaths of the very citizens they are sworn to protect,” said Senator Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman. “Every time that happens, we are sowing the seeds of fear, hatred and mistrust. Communities of color and our allies, both here in Delaware and across the country, took to the streets after George Floyd’s death, specifically to demand an end to those injustices. This legislation makes it clear that these chokeholds are illegal and we will hold the officers who use them accountable in a court of law.”

“Nobody should be above the law; but neither can anyone be beneath justice,” said Attorney General Kathy Jennings. “This is a real step forward for accountability in our state—one that codifies good work done by the Governor in his executive order and one that we owe to so many, including the sponsors of this bill and the advocates who have called for this reform and many others. We still have work left to do, but I am heartened by the progress we are making in Delaware and grateful to those who helped make it happen.”

In this year alone, 598 people have been killed by police and according to EVERYTOWN, The rate of fatal police shootings of Black Americans is 6.2 per million (247 victims per year on average), and for white Americans it is 2.3 per million (453 victims per year on average), Everytown analysis of Mapping Police Violence 2013–2019 and U.S. Census Bureau, “National Population by Characteristics, 2010–2019.”

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Delaware Newsline is a digital Delaware News Organization that provides local and national breaking news content to its Delaware and U.S. audience, by utilizing multiple platforms including web, social media, and video.

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