“I can’t breathe” were the last words of Eric Garner, George Floyd, and countless other victims of violent police chokeholds. After public outcry, New York state enacted the “diaphragm” law, banning officers from using chokeholds.
Multiple state police unions began to sue the city, arguing that it would be impossible for an officer to know if they were compressing a person’s diaphragm. If “I can’t breathe” isn’t enough for an officer to realize something is wrong, perhaps the court’s response will help.
The court unanimously disagreed, arguing that despite a lack of specialized tools to assess one's breathing, “a trained police officer will be able to tell when the pressure he is exerting on a person’s chest or back, in the vicinity of the diaphragm, is making it hard for the person to breathe.”
It's important to remember that this ruling is ultimately symbolic. Laws won’t stop a justice system built upon the shoulders of violence, and police everywhere will still kill without consequence by choking or otherwise. Legal decisions such as this afford us some protection by law, but that is not enough.