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We've only regressed since the NYPD banned chokeholds in 1993

Kena Betancur/Getty Images

On November 24, 1993 a reporter named Ian Fisher wrote a story for the New York Times headlined "Kelly Bans Choke Holds By Officers."

The story says that Raymond Kelly (who was police commissioner before Rudy Giuliani replaced him with William Bratton, and then was commissioner again under Michael Bloomberg before Bill de Blasio replaced him with William Bratton again) had issued a new order "banning the use of choke holds, the restraining maneuvers that cut off the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain." The reason given was that it turns out that when you cut off the flow of blood and oxygen to a person's brain, he sometimes dies.

The order came in the wake of the now-forgotten death of a man named Federico Pereira who died of asphyxiation after "one officer had choked the 21-year-old man in Queens on Feb. 5 as he lay face down with his hands cuffed behind his back." Pereira was apprehended after having stolen a car. Four other officers involved in the arrest were also deemed complicit in Pereira's death by the Queens District Attorney, John Santucci. But Santucci retired before the cases ever went to trial. His successor dropped charges against the other four officers and reduced the main complaint to manslaughter. Nonetheless, the officer was acquitted.

Nonetheless, the chokehold ban served as a kind of testament to Pereira's life and death.

The 1993 ban was described at the time as a clarification and enhancement of an earlier, 1985 rule against choke holds. As Fisher explained, however, that rule had "an exception when an officer's life was in danger and the choke hold was the 'least dangerous alternative method of restraint'" while "the new policy allows no exceptions." The NYPD's union opposed the chokehold ban at the time, and Fisher rather presciently cast some doubt on the question of whether it would even be followed.

"It's not a good regulation," said the officer, who like the others spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We need all the means necessary to defend ourselves. I was trained to use it and based on my training it would be difficult for me not to use it. Then again, we'll try not to use it."

A bit less than 21 years later, a police officer choked Eric Garner to death in broad daylight — on video no less — on the streets of Staten Island. This time, there will be no indictment. No trial. Despite the video. Despite the ban on chokeholds. It's easy to see this as a frustrating lack of progress. But the frightening reality is that it's more like regress.

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