Philadelphia (September 17, 2020) –Philadelphia City Council today unanimously approved the “Let Philly Breathe” legislation sponsored by City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District).
Bill No. 200368-A prohibits the use of restraints or other physical contact that present a substantial risk of asphyxiation by a peace officer to detain someone. Prohibited restraints include chokeholds, hogtying, and placement of body weight on the head, face, neck, chest or back.
“My ‘Let Philly Breathe’ bill specifically outlaws physical contact by law enforcement officials that can make it difficult or impossible for a citizen to breathe,” said Johnson, Vice-Chair of Council’s Public Safety Committee and Chair of Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention. “What happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis and others around the nation should never have happened and we want to be on the forefront to make sure that it doesn’t happen here in Philadelphia.
“When we talk about the issue of police reform and smart policing, we want to make sure the public has the utmost confidence in our law enforcement community,” Johnson continued. “I also believe that the ‘Let Philly Breathe’ bill will go a long way towards building trust in the Philadelphia Police Department and our law enforcement community, which goes a long way towards the issue of public safety.”
When the legislation was first introduced back in mid-June, internal police policy in Philadelphia prohibited some types of holds, but did not prohibit the knee-on-the-neck hold that led to the death of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis on May 25. Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Other officers were on Floyd’s back as well. The Hennepin County (Minn.) Medical Examiner has ruled Floyd’s death a homicide.
Floyd’s death sparked massive protests and civil unrest nationwide, including Philadelphia.
The legislation is supported by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel and Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal, among others. The Philadelphia Police Department has already revised its internal policy to align with the Let Philly Breathe bill, as promised at a committee hearing in June.
The “Let Philly Breathe” bill was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Curtis Jones, Jr., Cherelle Parker, Mark Squilla, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Bobby Henon, Allan Domb, Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier, Isaiah Thomas, and Derek Green.
The legislation now goes to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney for his expected signature. The bill would go into effect immediately once signed into law.
The approval of the “Let Philly Breathe” bill continues Johnson’s work on police reform in Philadelphia.
Councilman Johnson sent a letter to Mayor Kenney in June, supported by 13 other members of Council, with a specified set of recommendations for policing reforms. Mayor Kenney responded to Johnson’s letter by committing to working on police reforms.
City Council this summer also introduced legislation that requires city residency for new police recruits before hiring (Bill No. 200363), establishes a police civilian oversight commission that voters will consider in November (Bill No. 200367 and Resolution No. 200377), and requires public input before any collective bargaining agreement is reached with the city’s police union (Bill No. 200364-A). Johnson is a co-sponsor of all of the legislation.
The residency requirement ordinance (Bill No. 200363) requiring all applicants for civil service – including the police force – to be residents of Philadelphia for at least one year before hiring became law when Mayor Kenney returned the bill to Council this month without signing it.
Bill No. 200364-A, requiring public input before any collective bargaining agreement is reached with the city’s police union, was approved by City Council at today’s session. The prime sponsor of the bill was Philadelphia City Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At Large).
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, a former Pennsylvania State Representative, represents the 2nd Council District, which includes parts of Center City, South Philadelphia, and Southwest Philadelphia. He is Chairman of City’s Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention.