By Rory I. Lancman
Last month, I hosted a film screening and panel discussion at the Queens Library of “By Any Means Necessary,” a new documentary examining why police officers use chokeholds against non-violent, minor offenders.
The documentary, directed by Damian Kudelka, is an extraordinary reflection on the senseless death of Eric Garner, who died four years ago in Staten Island after a police officer placed him in a chokehold for allegedly selling a loose cigarette, and a call to action to eradicate chokeholds in our city once and for all.
I encourage everyone who is interested in criminal justice reform and policing practices to watch this powerful documentary. No parent should ever experience what Gwen Carr has experienced. Ms. Carr’s remarkable strength and persistence should inspire us all. As she told us during the panel discussion, “I am going to get out there. I am going to have my son’s name be heard.”
What compelled me to host this event was that I believed it was an opportunity for people to learn about the issue of police chokeholds in a different way, and highlight the need for reform.
Following Eric Garner’s death, I proposed legislation in the City Council that would make it a misdemeanor offense for a police officer to use a chokehold in the process of making an arrest. Police chokeholds are already banned under the NYPD’s internal rules, but certainly more needs to be done to deter the use of this dangerous maneuver and prevent another irreversible tragedy from occurring.
The mayor and Police Department have opposed my chokehold bill for years, even as police continue to use chokeholds year after year. This film reiterated my belief that my chokehold bill is needed now more than ever, and that it is past time for the mayor to commit to sign the bill.
One of the central themes of the documentary was the lack of police accountability. Eric Garner’s death was recorded on a cell phone for the entire world to see and hear. Eric’s cries of ‘I can’t breathe’ started a movement that has been a central driver of change.
However, even though we all saw the footage of that horrific moment, no one in the NYPD has been held accountable for Eric Garner’s killing. Eric’s family continues to wait for justice. This is a travesty.
It is clear that the only way we can be sure to hold officers accountable for using a banned chokehold is with legislation. With continued advocacy and attention, including from this new documentary, we can make real change.
Rory I. Lancman
City Councilman (D-Hillcrest)