The death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25 sparked protest around the world against the maltreatment of African-Americans in the hands of white races, leading to a fierce debate on whether or not the use of knee-on-neck restraint should be deemed by the country legal or banned.
The same incident happened at the Eiffel Tower in France—albeit months earlier than Floyd’s death—when officers on duty arrested a 42-year-old delivery man named Cedric Chouviat for road violations on January 5, 2020.
It can be recalled that during the incident, three police officers stopped Chouviat for allegedly looking at his mobile phone while on his scooter, for being disrespectful, and for driving with a dirty licence plate.
Chouviat who resisted arrest was applied with a knee-on-neck restraint by police—one of the most-questioned techniques to restrain a criminal—until the victim pleaded suffocation. He was rushed to the hospital after losing his consciousness and died from asphyxiation two days later.
A report by the National Gendarmerie Institute for Criminal Research which was tasked to probe into the incident suggested that the exchange between the authorities and the victim were correct, albeit officers may have mistakenly taken the victim’s actions as provocative.
In June last year, an 18-year-old Moroccan teenager named Ilyas Al-Tahiri died in the hands of authorities guarding the detention centre he was put into for a suicide attempt. Leaked footage showed he was tied up to a bed at the Tierras de Oria detention facility in Almeria City which was denounced by rights groups as dangerous.
The video, which was leaked to Spanish newspaper El Pais, showed six men roughly wrestling the victim on to a bed face-down, while one was kneeling on his buttocks to tighten the strap, eventually realising he was no longer breathing. No act of violence was shown from the victim which would be a requisite for the police to resort to such restraint.
While footage already revealed that Al-Tahiri was suffocated, a court judge dismissed the case and ruled that the teenager was not killed but had died accidentally. Since then, the young man’s family had filed an appeal and is undergoing hearing.
According to the legal authorities, Tahiri, “a troublesome child who had previously been in several juvenile detention centres”, had to be applied with a knee-on-neck restraint by the centre’s security guards following a suicide attempt.
Knee-on-neck restraint is a technique to compress one or both sides of a person’s neck with an arm or leg without the need to apply pressure to the airway. This is only allowed in order to control someone with light to moderate pressure, “with the intention of rendering the person unconscious by applying adequate pressure.”
The latter is only mandated for use to protect the lives of police on duty but only on occasions when a suspect is acting aggressively and cannot be controlled by lesser methods.
Officers should even only use this method as the last resort to arrest someone.
It was even French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner who admitted that the use of the technique was “dangerous.”
“I hear the criticism, I hear a powerful cry against hatred,” Castaner was quoted as saying, referring to large Black Lives Matter protests that took place in several major French cities last week.
He added that racism “has no place in our society, not in our Republic.”
Whatever happened to Castaner’s views, as what could be the end of a harmful technique in France was only short-lived when the government immediately decided to reimpose the restraint following complaints from authorities.
Globally, police departments discredit the use of knee-on-neck restraint, partly acknowledging the cries of the people to reduce issues of abuse by police officers. Others admitted that the restraint was harmful and should only be executed by trained authorities.
Having been a subject of controversy for years, there is an urgent need not just for European countries but the global front to revisit rules and review whether or not chokehold technique should already be deemed illegal or highly-regulated.
For one, it could cause a chronic injury. Depending on the way someone’s head is positioned and the weight of the person applying the pressure can cause long-term damage that would incapacitate a person for life.
Secondly, only a small percentage of the police population gets trained to perform knee-on-neck restraint.
And lastly, a great deal of weight and pressure on a suspect’s neck can cause fatal damage, such as what happened to Floyd, Chouviat, and Al Tahiri. Not only does it potentially fracture or claim one’s life, but it also violates a person’s rights to be heard in court and freed.
PHOTO BY FLICKR