MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee's Fire and Police Commission (FPC) is set to vote on a policy change that would ban law enforcement officers from using chokeholds under any circumstance.
The vote is set to happen on May 6.
In December, the FPC passed a new use-of-force policy that banned the use of chokeholds, except for in life-or-death situations. The new policy would take away that exception.
To gain a deeper understanding of the ongoing debate surrounding that vote, TMJ4 News is going 360. We share perspective from local activists leading efforts to get the community on board with a total ban. Also, the executive director of a national police association shares the perspective that the community should have the final say on the issue but also warns of the potential dangers of a total ban. And a member of the Milwaukee Police Association (MPA) shares why the association is pushing back, saying the decision could come with some serious consequences for police.
We will start with the perspective of Danilo Cardenas with the MPA.
"A chokehold would not be one of those options that you would use simply because you fear for your safety. It would literally have to be a life-or-death situation," said Cardenas, who has been part of the MPA for more than 20 years.
He points out that chokeholds are not a technique used by officers in Milwaukee to restrain people. He supports the partial ban on the tactic and calls chokeholds 'mainly unacceptable.' However, he says taking away an officer's ability to use a chokehold in a life-or-death situation is irresponsible.
"This is not something that we take lightly by any means. The use of chokeholds would prevent the loss of life of an officer and maybe even potentially a subject because we know that using a chokehold would probably be less lethal than if I had to overcome the resistance by using a firearm. I'd like people to just consider that," said Cardenas.
Cardenas points out that state law would likely still allow for an officer to use a chokehold in self-defense.
But, if the FPC votes for a complete ban, Milwaukee Police Officers could face disciplinary action and could even be fired for saving their own lives.
On the other side of the issue is Fred Royal, first vice-president of the Milwaukee Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
"It's clearly a tactic that is unacceptable. When law enforcement says you are limiting the tools in their toolbox to utilize, I think they already have an abundance of tools at their availability - where a chokehold is not one that is required or necessary," said Royal.
He said banning the chokeholds sends two messages.
First, he said banning chokeholds is, "sending a clear message to law enforcement officers that there are some things that they’re prohibited from doing," and secondly, he said it sends the message, "that law enforcement agencies are listening to our concerns and are taking police accountability and reform seriously."
He said a vote for a total ban would also close potential loopholes if an officer abuses their power and uses a chokehold. Activist Mariah Smith with The People's Revolution agrees.
"Chokeholds need to be banned with no exceptions because officers have a plethora of excuses when it comes to someone who looks like me," said Smith.
She still leads protests regularly for Joel Acevedo, killed last year at the hands of an off-duty Milwaukee Police Officer. According to investigators, now former officer Michael Mattioli held Acevedo in a chokehold during an argument. Acevedo died from his injuries a week later.
"The FPC needs to know that the decisions that they make; they directly affect me ... they directly affect my little brother who is a big boy but would not hurt a fly. They directly affect the black and brown community severely," said Smith.
The final perspective comes from Tony Chapa, the Executive Director of the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, who says the community gives law enforcement their authority.
"Policing is a community project," said Chapa.
He believes the community should have the last word in this decision. In Milwaukee, a majority of the public comment that has been considered by the FPC has been in favor of a total ban.
But Chapa also said that 84 police officers were killed in the line of duty between Jan. 1 and April 29, 2020.
During that same time period, 62 police officers were killed in 2021.
The job is dangerous, and Chapa said taking away the exception to a chokehold could put more lives in danger.
"We want to make sure that we are not disarming or making the police department less efficient. Not just to protect themselves but to protect the people who are calling on them for help. But, we recognize that the community is the last word," said Chapa.
Three of the six commissioners who are set to vote have said they're in support of a total ban. The vote has been delayed three times over the past two months and now it's clear that the pressure is on for a decision to be made.