One Lakewood Progress: Will The Street Accept Inaction On Chokehold Policy?

It has been two months since George Floyd was killed after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for 8 ½ minutes using a chokehold-like restraint. The public uproar surrounding his death has led to widespread, continuing protests amid cries for changes to use of force and biased policing policies across the U.S. This was no different in Lakewood. The July 13th Public Safety Committee Meeting continued the discussion on possible amendments to Lakewood’s policing policy, specifically calls from the community to ban the chokehold as a form of restraint on a suspect.

Major police departments have already banned the chokehold. Austin, Chicago, Denver and Minneapolis are some of the newest cities to either pass legislation, or rewrite policing policy, to ban the restraint. 

The Public Safety Committee meeting featured strong objections from Lakewood Police to any ban whatsoever of the use of the chokehold in addition to any ban on shooting at moving vehicles. 

During the meeting, Lakewood Police representatives talked about the continued use of force-training employed by the Department. It was stated that Lakewood’s officers are highly trained and are discouraged from using the chokehold when apprehending an individual. It was also expressed that training available to Lakewood police would more than adequately address any issues that could be brought forth by the public regarding excessive use of force or de-escalation. Police representatives say that banning the chokehold would limit the ability of officers to protect themselves if in danger.

Lakewood Police Department is not without its own history of racially-charged, biased policing. In 2016, two black children were sitting inside Lakewood Public Library’s Madison branch watching a movie, when a Lakewood Police officer unreasonably seized and used excessive force against a 17-year-old girl without provocation. The girl was told to get her feet off a couch, an order which video of the incident clearly shows she complied with. The officer “grabb[ed] her, pushing her neck, shoving her into a book cart, put... her in a full nelson, and slamm[ed] her to the floor under...substantial body weight. [The 17 year old girl] suffered a dislocated jaw along with head and knee injuries,” and did not receive first aid from backup officers arriving at the scene. Then, too, did Lakewood Police cite in a statement they released after the incident, the abundance of de-escalation training provided to officers.

The issue here is not the absence or abundance of police training. Obviously, incidents like those leading to the deaths of George Floyd and Eric Garner, as well as the racial profiling of thousands of black and brown citizens every year, happen despite some of the best training available to law enforcement.  

No one would deny, or argue against, the self-preservation tactics of police officers whose lives are legitimately in danger. Police officers are essential to the public safety and welfare of any city and we need to do everything possible to protect their physical and mental health. 

The public isn’t asking police not to protect themselves, but rather to put safeguards in place to protect the public when an officer oversteps their bounds, and to combat a racial divide that persists in spite of the best efforts of good officers. 

Lakewood is not immune to racism. No city is. And, framing the narrative surrounding use of force accountability as an us vs. them argument grossly simplifies the seriousness and common ground needed to positively address this issue.

Banning the chokehold in favor of an alternative restraint, or perhaps restricting its use to narrowly defined life or death circumstances and then writing this into policy would signal to the community that Lakewood is sensitive to the fact that this restraint can be deadly, and that officials are actively looking for solutions and alternatives that prevent unnecessary and unjust loss of life. 

It would also signal sensitivity to the experiences of black and brown communities all over the country where officers have wrongly overestimated the threat present because of the color of a person’s skin.

Lakewood City Council can choose to establish a ban on the use of the chokehold, overriding current police policy. If this issue is important to you, please contact your local Councilperson and think seriously about attending an upcoming Public Safety Committee meeting. You can find council contact and meeting info at www.onelakewood.com, or call Lakewood City Hall at (216) 521-7580.

Laura Rodriguez-Carbone was a candidate for Lakewood City Council, Ward One. She is a community leader and advocate with nearly 20 years of experience in the federal and non-profit sectors in, community engagement and advocacy, and cultivating and expanding multi-sectoral partnerships. She has been a Lakewood resident for 5 years and owns her home on McKinley Avenue.

Laura Rodriguez-Carbone

Laura Rodriguez-Carbone was a candidate for Lakewood City Council, Ward 1. She is a community leader and advocate with nearly 20 years of experience in the federal and non-profit sectors in, community engagement and advocacy, and cultivating and expanding multi-sectoral partnerships. She continues to give of her time through service on several public, non-profit, and national boards. Laura works for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services working to advocate for the care of dialysis patients in three States - Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. 

She has been a Lakewood resident for 5 years and owns her home on McKinley Avenue.

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Volume 16, Issue 15, Posted 4:08 PM, 08.05.2020