The Chokehold

19 Pages Posted: 20 May 2019 Last revised: 18 Jul 2019

See all articles by Nirej Sekhon

Nirej Sekhon

Georgia State University College of Law

Date Written: 2018


Eric Garner's last words, "I can't breathe" became a political slogan for Black Lives Matter. Professor Paul Butler takes it from there in his most recent book, Chokehold. Equal parts exegesis, polemic, and self-help tract, he argues that a chokehold is more than just a brutal police tactic. It is a metaphor for a host of social practices that treat Black men as criminals. In this guise, it is not just a chokehold, but "the Chokehold." In this review, prepared for the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law's 2018 Symposium on Dismantling Structural Inequality, I suggest there is much that Chokehold gets right. The metaphor captures how feedback loops produce racially disparate criminal justice outcomes and how this, in turn, reproduces racist notions of Black male criminality. The book does so without losing sight of the very real pain inflicted upon Black men's bodies and psyches. But the metaphor has the problem of being very particularistic, returning the reader's mind to one specific police practice. Chokehold also might have done more to underscore the moral stakes in characterizing structural racism as the Chokehold.

Keywords: policing, police use of force, police brutality, police tactics, police

JEL Classification: K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Sekhon, Nirej, The Chokehold (2018). University of Louisville Law Review, Vol. 57, 2018, Georgia State University College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper 2019-09, Available at SSRN:

Nirej Sekhon (Contact Author)

Georgia State University College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 4037
Atlanta, GA 30302-4037
United States
404-413-9166 (Phone)

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