JEFFERSON CITY - Legislation proposing to ban police chokeholds in Missouri is heading to the House chambers. Local activists are reacting with mixed feelings to the bill's passage in the senate.
Senate Bill 53 passed 30-4 in the Senate on Monday. It passed on the same day of opening statements for former police officer Derek Chauvin's trial in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged with the death of George Floyd, which sparked the national Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.
The police reform section of the bill bans chokeholds "unless deadly force is authorized under the law." Democratic sponsor of the bill Senator Brian Williams explained what deadly force would mean.
"It would be a situation if there's an officer where they feel that they're not able to detain someone," Williams said. "What happened in Minneapolis with George Floyd, he was on the ground and clearly detained so there was no reason to use deadly force."
Williams was elected to the Missouri Senate in 2018. He is the first Black state senator to be elected in two decades. He explained what happened with George Floyd in Minneapolis could have been avoided.
"George Floyd should still be alive today," Williams said. "We can't bring him back but we can ban chokeholds to make sure that deaths like his do not happen in Missouri."
Roy Lovelady is the founder and president of People's Defense in Columbia. He explained the bill isn't enough to make change happen.
"I think that this is a way to pacify citizens," Lovelady said. "I do not think that this is a real chokehold ban, because as long as you are presented with an 'unless' clause, everything that was written before it has cancelled out."
In addition to a state-wide chokehold ban, the bill also endorses a prohibition on police officers using sexual misconduct on suspects. It classifies the act as a class E felony under Missouri law.
Kendra Jackson-Thorton is the treasurer of Race Matters, Friends. She explained how if the bill passes in Missouri, it could make an impact in Columbia.
"I think that what it does is it starts moving the need and people start seeing that this is a problem," Jackson-Thorton said. "Once people start doing things to prevent some of the tactics that officers are using, which are predominantly hurting Black people, then our local police will use different measures are starting building those relationships with the Black community."
Jackson-Thorton explained the bill's passage in the Senate is a step in the right direction for Missouri, but there is still more to be done.
"This is a great start, it's awesome because this is something that definitely needed to happen," Jackson-Thorton said. "But that clause in the bill is still putting it at the officer's discretion in that moment. I feel like that there still needs to be some structures or some other procedures around that for them to use a different technique."
The City of Columbia voted against a chokehold ban in January. The current law bans any chokehold or neck restraint unless deadly force is approved. The Senate bill moving to the House follows the same provisions.
"I think that chokeholds should be banned in all capacities," Lovelady said. "That 'unless deadly force' clause leaves it to the discretion of the police officer. So what constitutes me actually being put in a chokehold? What actually is deadly force? Because passing this bill still presents the opportunity for me to be choked."
The Senate bill is paired with Republican backed initiatives, which makes Senate Bill 53 a collaborative effort in congress. Republican Senator Tony Luetkemeyer sponsored a provision that would improve background checks on police officers.
"My colleagues and I got to a place where we recognize that Missouri needs to be a leader around these reforms and ensure that what happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Michael Brown should not be happening moving forward," Williams said.
The bill would ban police chokehold use throughout all of Missouri, unless deadly force is necessary. Williams explained the bill is important to the Black Lives Matter movement in Missouri.
"This is the first time since the death of Michael Brown that we've had legislation that truly proves Black Lives Matter in Missouri," Williams said. "We'll continue to ensure that we push the needle to make sure that we're protecting our communities and also building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve."
Senate Bill 53 is currently being sent to the House. If passed in the House chambers, it will be presented to Governor Mike Parson to sign into law.