As the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer accused in the killing of George Floyd captures the nation’s attention, a Tulsa lawmaker wants to know why the Oklahoma Legislature won’t even talk about a proposal to ban choke holds on suspects.
Former Officer Derek Chauvin is on trial for second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges in connection to Floyd’s May 25 death. He has pleaded not guilty.
Video and testimony at the trial shows that after a struggle with Floyd, Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck while Floyd pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” Court filings say Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than seven minutes while other police officers didn’t intervene. Floyd’s final moments, recorded on video, led to widespread protests against police brutality and racism as well as incidents of unrest.
House Bill 2915, written by Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, says “under no circumstance” shall a police officer or corrections officer be authorized to use a choke hold. After Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis City Council banned choke holds. Similar bans are in place in Denver, Dallas, Houston and Washington, D.C., as well as California and New York state.
But the Oklahoma Legislature won’t even talk about it. Goodwin’s bill didn’t get a committee hearing, one of five police reform bills she offered this year that didn’t get any consideration.
Other proposals that never got heard include a requirement that police body cams not be turned off to prevent the creation of evidence, creation of a statewide database and report on police use of force, putting police officer discipline issues outside collective bargaining agreements, and removal of qualified immunity as a defense for police officers liable for violating civil rights or failing to intervene when they see other officers violate civil rights.
“Accountability, fair application of law for all and proper consequences for actions for both the police and public is my goal,” Goodwin says. “Why is a bill banning an air choke or blood choke difficult to hear and harder to pass? Why knock against the requirement to have law enforcement properly use body cams that are already in inventory?”
Those are very good questions, which deserve an answer.
Goodwin’s proposals are neither radical nor unreasonable, and they deserved more courtesy from the legislative process. Refusing to give the bills any consideration won’t make the issues go away.
Goodwin’s bills will be waiting for lawmakers next year. They deserve a fair hearing, debate and a recorded vote.