How should the police handle a large man who won’t comply?

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

So, how should the police handle a large man who won’t comply at all with their orders?

He’s not violent, but he won’t do as they say, and he’s big enough that they can’t make him do anything without themselves getting violent. In this case, a smaller cop used a headlock to pull the big man down.

He briefly turned the headlock into a choke as he went to control Garner’s free hand. When you’re arresting a criminal, should you loosen your grip when he says, “I can’t breath!” How about, “You’re hurting my arm!” Do you think anyone has ever, oh, I dunno, fibbed to the police about such things before? And then hurt a cop or got away?

As an experienced grappler, I can say with some authority that someone being choked out can’t say, “I can’t breathe!” — not loudly and clearly, certainly. On the other hand, a large man, with many men holding him down, whose heart starts to give out…

In fact, it’s not clear that he was choked much at all, and he’s saying “I can’t breathe!” after the medium-sized cop released his headlock, and a large cop stepped in to hold Garner’s head and shoulder down.

The negligence comes in when they treat an obese potential heart attack victim like a sparring partner who has been choked out and will come to any second now.

(You’ll notice, by the way, that the witnesses have a clear point of view that doesn’t seem connected to events: “All he did was break up a fight!”)


  1. Handle says:

    What the cops did in this case is fine 99.9% of the time, because the guy doesn’t have a heart attack and die. I’m not sure whether any other compliance technique has a significantly lower unintentional death rate — maybe Tasers.

    But it’s clear that death of an unarmed black man is this hard line that is going to cause a firestorm every single time it happens, no matter what the facts or circumstances.

    Chiefs will probably put out policy and guidance to try and avoid those situations, and cops on the their own will not want to be caught up in it and avoid them on their own or use different techniques. Big-guy petty scofflaws will notice this and become more brazen, since they’ve got less to worry about in an escalation and might be left alone or given a warning and allowed to walk away.

    If public security deteriorates, then the cops will be under pressure, and they’ll have to respond in indirect ways. Maybe they have face-recognition on their phones or the block’s security camera, and they match the identity and address and send a fine in the mail like a ticket. Don’t pay the ticket, then a warrant for arrest goes out, or you can’t get a job or loan.

    There were some articles about how many tickets and fines are issued to black men in places like Ferguson, but it’s pretty clear that it’s for, “Let the formal paperwork system catch up with this joker later and break contact and disengage this potentially dangerous encounter now.”

    My preferred solution relies on noticing that all these guys have cell phone plans and rely on it and pay it before anything else. You’re a total loser scrub if you ain’t even got no phone.

    That’s inelasticity of demand, and so if you’re going to get someone where it ‘hurts’ — but not physically — then that’s what you go after.

    So, use the phone company as an escalating-penalty fine system. You walk up to a big guy giving you trouble, and you use your face-recognition, identity-matching system (or maybe some cell phone detecting system) to reference his account.

    “Step over here” or “Put your hands up”.


    “No? Ok [tap tap], you just got ticketed ten bucks on 123-456-7890. Want to make it $20 more?”

    All of a sudden the guy know if he doesn’t pay the fines, his account goes into indefinite suspension. Every time he says no or fails to comply, he is paying a big price for it, and if he blows it off, he’ll feel it right away. Most of the time, they’ll back down.

    Of course, he could always try to abandon the phone and the company and start fresh, but you could always make the system more robust if no other carrier will issue him a plan so long as he’s got an unpaid phone-lien on his identity. It’s harder to get anonymous prepaid gophones these days, and it’ll probably become impossible or illegal soon enough.

  2. Alrenous says:

    Cops often try to force physical compliance because warrior status hierarchy demands it, not because it’s necessary to uphold the law. Handle’s suggestions sound plausibly effective to me, but there’s several similar methods, and cops aren’t jumping to use any of them.

    The upside is cops are remarkably calm in the face of any kind of words you throw at them. Can you imagine an SJW with a badge?

  3. Barnabas says:

    Not to make light of things, but when I’m wrestling with my kids and I’m getting the upper hand, they always pull the “I can’t breath” or the even more effective “I’m going to pee!” and renew their attacks with increased ferocity when I loosen my grip.

  4. Spandrell says:

    A consistently enforced total ban on phones and internet would be extremely effective. You’d probably only need to jail total psychos; who else can live without facebook?

    The Garner thing is a total PR fiasco. It just looks awful on video. No amount of sense can beat the Youtube debacle. People today spend more time watching internet videos than reading.

  5. Devin says:

    I don’t understand how Garner actually died. The reports of the medical examiner results are all saying stuff like: “Garner was killed by neck compressions from the chokehold and ‘the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.’ Asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors in the death of the 43-year-old Garner, a 6-foot-3, 350-pound father of six.” That’s not really saying a whole lot. How did he actually die? Asphyxiation? If so, was it from his prone positioning while being pinned down, or was it from having his windpipe crushed? Or was it a heart attack from the shock of the whole thing?

    The media reports are saying that kind of choke-hold is against police rules. Does anyone know what the authorized, kosher way is of arresting a giant man who is resisting being cuffed? Or maybe there are no realistic authorized technique, hence police have to wing it, and then they end up in this kind of hot water?

  6. Isegoria says:

    Garner did not have damage to his windpipe or neck, so they concluded he was not “choked” to death, but that’s not how a typical choke hold works. A typical choke doesn’t prevent breathing; it prevents blood from flowing smoothly to and from the brain. (It’s rather complicated actually, since the pressure on the carotid arteries doesn’t physically shut off the flow but instead signals the body that something’s wrong, and it reacts by dropping the pressure and thus the flow.)

    It looks like the morbidly obese Garner had all kinds of health problems. I’m guessing that it was a heart attack that finished him, and it’s not hard to see how arguing, then wrestling, then being stuck underneath a dogpile could precipitate an event.

    There is, of course, no acceptable way to arrest a giant man who resists, until he crosses the line into outright violence. “Stop! Or I’ll say ‘stop’ again!”

  7. Isegoria says:

    Boing Boing just posted a “chilling” video of police telling the crowd to make way for the help that’s coming, Garner getting attention from an EMT — who seems to be getting (quiet) responses from Garner? — the police explaining to onlookers that Garner is not getting CPR because he’s breathing, the police struggling to pick up the massive Garner to get him onto a gurney, etc.

    Again, the narrative from the person taking the video seems only tenuously connected to what’s happening.

  8. Sam J. says:

    The real problem is, from Wikipedia,”…NYPD officers approached Garner on suspicion of selling single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps. After Garner told the police that he was tired of being harassed and that he was not selling cigarettes, the officers went to arrest Garner…”

    So suspicion means they should throw you on the ground. All arrest these days they throw you on ground. If you don’t throw yourself on the ground you’re not complying and then they beat you or choke you or whatever. Sometimes they shoot you. They’ve have completely become carried away with this trying to “suppress” everyone for even the littlest things. If he was selling cigarettes, and they didn’t prove this, then give Man a ticket and go on your way. Should you be thrown on the ground and arrested for selling cigarettes????. This all about harassing people and nothing to do with the enforcement of laws. All this talk about chocking is beside the point. If they had evidence they should have arrested him but they didn’t.

  9. Slovenian Guest says:

    I still can’t fathom how Garner had 30 prior arrests. That’s more than all the people I ever met combined!

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