“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.”
It is all the rage to say we should defund the police which, some say, doesn't actually mean defund the police, but reform how policing is done. I could potentially be in favor of reforming some aspects of policing, but frankly, if you think it is a good idea to teach police to shoot people in the leg instead of center mass, you are disqualified from having an informed opinion. If you want to know why, let me take you shooting sometime and I'll show you. But, this isn't about shooting people in the leg, it's about choke holds being banned. The reason I am qualified, in part, to comment on choke holds is because I practice Jiu Jitsu. I am a purple belt and an instructor. I have competed at a high level (for old guys) and have been choked out a handful of times in training myself. I have also choked others out. By that I mean the person being choked took a short nap (it literally feels like a nap). I continue to practice and teach Jiu Jitsu 5-6 days a week. Jiu Jitsu practitioners use submission holds including choke holds to either make their opponent submit or go unconscious.
There are different kinds of chokes, there are air chokes and blood chokes. Air chokes are used, but blood chokes are more common. Blood chokes block the flow of blood to the brain by pinching the carotid artery on each side of the neck. Within seconds (if applied correctly) a person will literally fall asleep or loose consciousness. Once the choke is released a person will regain consciousness in a matter of seconds with ZERO negative side effects if the person is remotely healthy.
Now to the matter at hand. I watched the incident where two officers struggled with Rayshard Brooks before he took a stun gun, fled, fired the stun gun at one of the police officers, and ended up getting shot by one of the police officers. What I saw was multiple opportunities (at least two) for one of the police officers to apply a choke hold during the struggle prior to Mr. Brooks fleeing with the taser and getting shot. I have no idea what the rules of engagement are for police officers in Atlanta, so this not a critique on those officers. I don't know whether choke holds were allowed or taught as part of their training. What I do know, is that if they were allowed and if the officers had been appropriately trained, they might have been able to save that man's life using a choke hold. It is worth mentioning that the knee on the back of the neck of George Floyd was not really a choke hold and that is not the kind of thing I am addressing here. Yes, I am aware that it led to his death and the tactic was used in a horrible way, but it wasn't really a choke hold. A choke hold (properly applied) doesn't take almost 9 minutes to be effective. The best example and most likely to be useful for law enforcement is what is commonly called the "rear naked choke" (seen above). This choke can be applied standing as well as on the ground.
If we take away these kinds of holds as a tool from law enforcement officers, what options are they left with once an encounter turns violent? They can beat a person into submission (that sounds horrible), they can tase people (they might still need to resort to other forms of violence and tasers aren't always a good option), they might be able to use pepper spray (that might end up harming them as much as the people they are arresting), or they could shoot them. Am I missing another option? I think those are the main ones. Frankly, choke holds are a lot less violent than many of the other options. I recognize that there have been a few (very few) times that these choke holds have led to death, but we ought to also ask how many times a choke hold has saved or could have saved someone's life if it was used properly.
The answer isn't to defund the police or take away the tools they have. The answer is two-fold. First, understand that regardless of how well trained they are there will be times where violence is required, authority is abused, and the outcome is tragic. However, this seems to be uncommon (contrary to popular belief). Second, make sure that law enforcement is trained really well to use the tools they have to save lives rather than take away tools and limit their options costing more lives and damage. There are other things that can be discussed regarding reform, but taking away choke holds is a feel good move that will result in making policing more dangerous for the police and the community!
Update (9-22-20): BLM has begun changing their web site because support for the group has dropped significantly as people began to learn more about the group. So, if you go to the web site and do not find what I claim is on their web site, understand that is because they have decided to scrub their site.
Before you read the rest of the post, please keep in mind that most of this was written before the death of Rayshard Brooks (or at least before I became aware of it) and in no way is a comment about his death. Nor is it a reaction to the killing of George Floyd. It is a response to the many Christians and Christian leaders who have demanded that we must not only use the words "Black Lives Matter," but support the movement and if we don't we are living contrary to the teachings of Scripture.
Black lives do, indeed, matter. If only it was as simple as that one statement. Unfortunately, it isn't about that one phrase. Let me explain why I can't support the Black Lives Matter Movement. This isn't going to be the classical "All Lives Matter" retort. That is a platitude which will only create continued division and lacks any real power to move the conversation forward. It is worth saying again, this has nothing to do with whether or not black lives matter; they certainly do matter. Unfortunately, people often use the same words, but they are not using the same dictionary.
Black Lives Matter is an organization as much as it is a slogan. It is also a brilliant marketing strategy that has been very successful in shaping the national conversation and had a huge impact within the church. However, like virtually everything else in this world we live in, the language is loaded. When you say, "black lives matter" you might be saying a lot more than you intend to say. Let's take a look at what the Black Lives Matter (BLM) web site says about their own movement.
Some might be tempted to think that the phrase doesn't have to carry all of that extra freight, but we may not have that choice. I don't have another option for a pithy phrase that will communicate that the lives of black people matter without all that other stuff tagging along for the ride. For now, I'll have to use more words, more nuance, and hopefully build more bridges. No matter what you think about recent events, the racial divide in our culture is real. As a Christian, I want to build bridges that bring all ethnicities together, shoulder to shoulder as we kneel before Jesus who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. That includes saying the right things that promote goodness, truth, and unity, not just placating one another by using a phrase that creates some kind of false unity or false solidarity. Real unity and togetherness requires much more. I'm still figuring a lot of it out myself, I don't have all the answers, but I am quite certain hearts and minds need to be redeemed, so that's where I will start.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.