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Carney signs bill to ban chokeholds by law enforcement

The bill sprang from the "Justice for All" agenda of the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.

Chokeholds are now banned for all law enforcement agencies in Delaware.

The ban, approved Thursday by Gov. John Carney, is part of the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus’ “Justice for All” agenda, introduced following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The virtual signing ceremony featured Carney; Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, the bill’s prime sponsors; Attorney General Kathy Jennings; and Nathaniel McQueen Jr., the new secretary of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

In the ceremony, Carney cited two attributes of the bill: it’s “impactful … for banning something that wasn’t good policing practice in the first place” and “symbolic in confirming our commitment to criminal justice reform.”

He continued: “We have a long list of things to do,” later referring to the need to “repair the relationship between law enforcement and communities.”

State Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton
Steve Smyk

Rep. Steve Smyk, a Republican and retired Delaware State Police trooper who represents the Milton-Lewes area, called the bill “pure politics. It means absolutely nothing.” 

That’s because “it’s never been a problem and doesn’t occur. It’s disingenuous to say police officers are doing this when it’s not taught in Delaware.” 

It’s setting the wrong precedent by limiting the bill to law enforcement agencies, and not the general public, he said in an interview, and any similar behavior is already covered in use-of-force regulations.

The Justice for All agenda seeks to provide “legislative redress to institutional racism and systematic inequities,” said Chukwuocha, a Democrat who represents the Wilmington area. The new law will prevent what happened to Floyd from happening in Delaware and “unlawful abuse of power,” he said.

McQueen said he thought that the “most effective change will come from law enforcement leaders when they take a proactive stance to change what they can.”

Jennings said that reform is welcome in Delaware. “We are already seeing police departments in our state implementing reform unilaterally,” she said.

House Bill 350 creates the crime of Aggravated Strangulation as a Class D felony. Under the legislation, a chokehold is only justifiable when a law enforcement officer reasonably believes deadly force is necessary to protect the life of a civilian or an officer.

In June, Carney banned chokeholds by state law enforcement agencies. That executive order also required additional de-escalation and implicit bias training; prohibited law enforcement from sharing mugshots of minors; increased the availability of crisis intervention services for officers; and required transparency around use-of-force protocols.

The chokehold bill is part of a lengthy Justice for All agenda. Other goals include a ban on knee holds and an amendment to the Delaware Constitution that would make protection against discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin a fundamental right.

The eight-member caucus also asks for two task forces, one to propose remedies to address disparities experienced by people of color and another to consider other issues “regarding the use of force, civil rights protections, transparency and community policing.”

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