The activist we wrote about after last week’s climate protest, whose arrest involved what looked like a chokehold, says he felt “a small amount of constriction” on his neck during an encounter caught on film by a Voice contributor.
Elliot Hughes, a 25-year-old from St. Paul, Minnesota, was arrested at the “Flood Wall Street” demonstration on September 22.
Chokehold allegations also figure prominently in this week’s cover story, here.
In a video preceding the arrest, Hughes can be seen perched on a bank of pay phones, leading the crowd in a chant; a narrative accompanying the video, posted on a union website, says Hughes was engaged in a “declared act of civil disobedience” before he was taken in. Hughes himself declined to discuss details, and refused even to call it an act of civil disobedience, as he’s still facing legal charges for disturbing the peace and resisting arrest.
After a few minutes speechifying atop the pay phones, Hughes can be seen running from police before his arrest. He breaks into a sprint around the 9:45 mark.
The camera loses Hughes during the chase, but Voice contributing photographer Timothy Fadek caught the final moments, wherein an officer appears to tackle Hughes with an arm around the neck.
We asked you what you thought of the image — chokehold or no chokehold? — and about 63 percent of you said it looked like a chokehold, while around 20 percent said it didn’t. Another 14 percent said it fell right in the middle. Out of a total of 143 responses, a few wrote in their own verdicts, including one reader who said “it takes longer to pick your nose. Really, now we are grasping at straws.”
I might be a highly skilled picker, because I can definitely pick my nose in less than two seconds, which is how long the hold lasted, according to time stamps on the photographer’s camera. But the question of what, exactly, constitutes a chokehold is something that a lot of people are grappling with these days.
A long-awaited report leaked this weekend from the Civilian Complaint Review Board — the city agency tasked with reviewing allegations of police brutality — says both its investigators and the NYPD have been using inconsistent definitions of the banned maneuver. And part of the confusion centers on what we at the Voice might now start calling the nose-pick test — how long is too long?
Chokeholds have been formally banned by NYPD rules for more than 20 years. And while the definition contained in the department’s official patrol guide seems pretty clear —
Members of the New York City Police Department will NOT [emphasis in original] use chokeholds. A chokehold shall include, but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air.
— some CCRB investigators and officials within the department have been fuzzy on whether any “pressure” to the throat is enough to qualify, or if that pressure also has to “hinder breathing,” which would presumably take more than a couple of seconds. The CCRB appears to favor the literal definition in the patrol guide; any pressure, no matter how brief — even if it’s not enough time to mine a boog — is apparently a chokehold, in its view.
Hughes’s case might be one of the tricky ones the CCRB has been seeing a lot of lately. The agency received 1,128 complaints about chokeholds between 2009 and 2013, but confusion about the definition meant that at least 156 allegations that should have been categorized as chokeholds weren’t recorded that way, according to its draft report, detailed here.
Hughes says he’s not sure yet if he’ll file a complaint over the incident, explaining that his political beliefs don’t give him much faith in the justice system. (He also asked the Voice to put scare quotes around the phrase justice system, because, in his words, “there is no justice.”)
“I’m an anarchist,” Hughes says. “I mean, is it worth two years of my life, when in actuality I think the whole system is racist and brutal? Any amount of compensation that they can give us isn’t justice, because it’s happening to people all over the country.”