US Justice Dept restricts use of chokeholds, 'no knock' entries

US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced new policies on the use of chokeholds and 'no knock' entries by federal law enforcement agents. ©AFP

Washington (AFP) - The US Justice Department on Tuesday prohibited the use of chokeholds by federal law enforcement agents except in rare circumstances and imposed tight restrictions on so-called "no knock" entries.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the new policies were intended to "improve law enforcement safety and accountability."

"Building trust and confidence between law enforcement and the public we serve is central to our mission at the Justice Department," Garland said in a statement.

The use of chokeholds and 'no knock' warrants -- when law enforcement enters a premises unannounced -- have featured in several recent cases in the United States involving the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police.

Eric Garner, a Black man, died in New York in 2014 after being put in a prohibited chokehold by police seeking to arrest him for illegally selling cigarettes.

Another African-American, George Floyd, died in May 2020 when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 10 minutes, a case which sparked protests against racial injustice and police brutality across the United States.

And a Black woman, Breonna Taylor, was killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky, in March 2020 in a botched raid on her apartment.

The new policy prohibits using chokeholds or "carotid restraints" unless deadly force is authorized, defined as "when the officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person."

"No knock" entries will only be allowed in situations "where an agent has reasonable grounds to believe that knocking and announcing the agent's presence would create an imminent threat of physical violence to the agent and/or another person," Garland said in a statement.

The Justice Department policies come as Republicans in the Senate have been blocking passage of a police reform bill.

The "George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021" has already been approved by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

The Act would ban the use of chokeholds by the 18,000 police forces in the country, many of which have already unilaterally done so.

According to the Police Use of Force Project, which has reviewed use of force policies in 100 of America's largest police departments, 71 now prohibit chokeholds, up from 28 before the death of George Floyd. 

There are more than 130,000 members of federal law enforcement, according to Justice Department figures, and more than 460,000 on the state and local level.

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