Restraint by Pressure on the Neck

The murder of George Floyd by maintained pressure on the neck begs an examination of the law enforcement practice of immobilization by this technique.

Neurologically, if our structural organization is sufficiently compromised, our musculoskeletal system enters a state of “freeze”. Freeze is an innate mechanism that expresses the function “the presenting motor function information is so garbled – do not move.” The quintessential experience of this is when we have broken a bone and reflexively totally immobilize. This innate protective mechanism evolved in animals long before conscious, intentional movement to prevent us from further injuring ourselves. The study of Thanatosis, as well as this writer’s section of papers on Protection, explores this subject. It seems apparent that the efficacy of sustained neck pressure stems from its utility in triggering this reflexive reaction and, consequently, its acceptance as a policing tactic.

Our neck is both extraordinarily complicated and delicate. It plays a role in visual and auditory processing, our sense of balance and postural reflexes, delivers oxygen to the brain, senses our blood pressure and blood oxygen levels, connects our autonomic nervous system (Vagus Nerve), and other functions. A challenge to the neurophysiology of the neck challenges any one of, or simultaneously all of these systems. In Manual Therapy, it is common to encounter psychological, neurological, or musculoskeletal issues apparently remote from the anatomy of the neck, relieved by releasing restrictions in neck function.

The assault of prolonged compression of the neck, therefore, shares some of the same liability issues as the application of the Taser. Whereas the Taser delivers a discrete immobilizing burst1, neck compression can be maintained over time, in the case of George Floyd, for many minutes. It is highly probable that when George Floyd said, “I can’t breathe,” he was stating a fact irrespective of whether his airway or Carotid Artery were impeded. The explanation for this statement rests on the complex neurophysiology of the neck, and our innate defensive mechanisms (Thanatosis).

Underlying comorbidities exacerbate this protective freeze reaction. A healthy, well developed 20 something police academy cadet with no prior neck trauma may adequately tolerate this technique in a training exercise. In contrast, a 46-year-old man with possibly multiple prior neck traumas2 and other health issues neurologically or physiologically collapsed. Viewed from an understanding of and respect for the complex neurology and physiology present in the neck, with its intrinsic role in our core functionality, it is apparent the policy that neck restraint is a viable policing tactic is flawed. The use of this tactic for a few seconds to control a subject while they can be safely immobilized appears at least uninformed, and likely negligent. Using this tactic for 8 minutes and forty-six seconds seems, in this writer’s opinion, is categorically within the bounds of intentional murder.

1 Whereas as the Taser affords ongoing research on safety and efficacy, neck compression does not meet the guidelines for Protections for Human Subjects in Research, thereby eliminating the possibility of it even being studied. This writer should note that he believes the Taser, as well as neck restraint, violates the 8th Amendment’s stricture on cruel and unusual punishment and the 4th Amendment’s right to due process and is a proven form of deadly force. The Taser, at least, has been studied.

2In my Manual Therapy practice, I cannot recall ever working with an adult without some form of neck restriction. 4/5 cases, this is not apparent to the client, but they always seem to feel better once the restrictions are resolved.