Thursday, November 11, 2010

Taser Madness


The first time I heard about stun guns it was from a student of mine, a long time ago. In fact, the student is now a retired Lieutenant General of the US Army. He enthusiastically described how they could be used in hostage situations, where you wouldn't want to use a gun -- that is, the kind that fires slugs -- for fear of hitting the hostage.

I just noticed on the Wikipedia page for tasers that the original inventor was motivated by the shooting deaths of two friends. He wanted to help prevent such things in the future.

On the continuum of violence -- from least to most violent means of physical force -- tasers were originally meant to substitute for more violent methods. That is not the way they are being used by police today. Police are applying these weapons as if they were at the low end of the continuum of violence, similar to pepper spray, baton use, or striking nerve centers. Because they are in fact more violent than that, this means the introduction of these weapons has resulted in a dramatic, massive increase of police violence against the citizenry in recent years.

Among the justifications for taser use I have heard in particular cases are the following:

He was being snotty.

He was giving us trouble.

He was disrespecting the officer.

He wouldn't calm down.

He was being belligerent (ie., loud).

We warned him we would taser him.

Indeed, in the famous "don't tase me Bro" incident, the victim's apparent offense was to say "I'm not resisting" in a tone of voice too loud to suit the university police who were removing him from a lecture hall.

Isn't it obvious that none of these justify administering a devastating electric shock? Indeed, in many cases the cops seem to be using tasers as a form of summary punishment -- something that is not only illegal but unconsititutional.

We need clear rules specifying justified taser use and reining this craziness in.

There are so many videos on Youtube documenting excessive taser use that it is difficult to select one or two. The following are taken almost at random.

Here is one in which the police apparently are using a stun gun as a form of summary punishment (I like the narrator's comment on America's foreign policy at the end!):

This one is for those who doubt that tasers are a particularly violent form of physical force (warning -- graphic image):

Oh, and here's one I just found. It is so egregious that, unlike the overwhelming majority of cases, it did result in some (apparently very mild) disciplinary action against the cops involved.

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