Bill to ban police chokeholds shows promise in Missouri

Associated Press
The Rolla Daily News

COLUMBIA — A proposed ban on police chokeholds is gaining traction in the Republican-led Missouri Legislature despite years of inaction on police accountability following Michael Brown's death in Ferguson.

Republican Rep. Shamed Dogan, a leader on criminal justice policy, said he's partnering with a top Senate Republican, Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, and Democrats to outlaw police chokeholds and ban police from having sex with people in police custody. 

"This year I think we do have a good opportunity to pass some police accountability legislation," Dogan said. 

Bipartisan support for those policies represents a rare chance for so-called police reform bills in a state known for its distrust between Black communities and law enforcement. 

The NAACP in 2017 issued an advisory warning Black travelers to be cautious in the state, in part citing decades of data compiled by the Attorney General's Office showing Black drivers are significantly more likely to be pulled over by police than white motorists.

Missouri for a time was synonymous with Ferguson, where unarmed, Black 18-year-old Brown's fatal shooting by a white police officer in 2014 led to months of protests. 

Other states put stricter limits on police use of force or required at least some law enforcement to wear body cameras in the years since then. 

In Missouri, "we really haven't seen anything in that area," Dogan said of police accountability laws. 

Continued protests against police mistreatment of Black Missourians also have led to backlash against the protesters from state lawmakers, primarily Republicans. This summer was marked by protests throughout the state in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which were sometimes violent. 

This year, bills have been proposed to temporarily take away unemployment help for people convicted of rioting. Another bill would exempt drivers from civil or criminal liability if they believe they're in danger and run over someone while trying to get out of a riot.

It's unclear whether those bills will go very far. The Republican sponsor of the legislation didn't immediately return Associated Press requests for comment.

Fervent support for law enforcement in the Missouri Legislature makes the prospect of an achievable police accountability bill even more significant. Bills to ramp up penalties for shooting or otherwise injuring police surged in the years following the Ferguson protests. One bill proposed this year would mark the first Friday in May as Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. 

Kansas City Democratic Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, who leads the Legislative Black Caucus, said she's unsure about the chances of reaching a consensus on police accountability when so many lawmakers either believe all police must change or resist even the idea of reforms. 

"So many people are divided," Bland Manlove said. 

Still, she's throwing her support behind a ban on police chokeholds and is among several lawmakers sponsoring bills to ban them. Bland Manlove, who served in the Missouri National Guard, said chokeholds are used in the military. 

"You shouldn't be using that on someone on American soil," she said. 

Chokeholds have been used for decades, Bland Manlove said. But the tactic fell under greater scrutiny after a white Minneapolis police officer last year pressed his knee against the neck of Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, until he stopped breathing. Video of Floyd's death sparked outrage and months of protests. 

Possibly complicating debate over police accountability in Missouri is reaction to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump angered over his election loss. 

The actions of the day raise troubling questions about the treatment of mainly white Trump supporters, who were allowed to roam through the building for hours, while Black and brown protesters who demonstrated at the Capitol last year over police brutality faced more robust and aggressive policing. 

Republican and Democratic elected officials in Missouri have condemned the rioting.