The Stephen Colbert segment from a few nights again.
I’m ambivalent about joking about tasers. When I see movies in which cops shooting people with electricity is a punch line I can’t say I find it all that funny. It’s not because I’m above slapstick humor, but because it further trivializes a coercive tool that our society is allowing police to use for trivial reasons. (And truthfully, when I see people screaming in agony, writhing spasmodically on the ground in pain, I’m afraid it turns my stomach rather than makes me laugh. I’m just funny that way.)
But this is different. It’s brilliant satire designed to expose the use of tasers for what they are. TGFC (thank God for Colbert.)
Maybe this issue is starting the seep into the mainstream. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to take the tasing of someone who important people feel is above such tactics to change things.
A classic case of what it’s like to live in today’s America:
Police in Mobile, Ala., used pepper spray and a Taser on a deaf, mentally disabled man who they said wouldn’t leave a store’s bathroom … Police tell the Press-Register of Mobile that officers shot pepper spray under the bathroom door after knocking several times. After forcing the door open, they used the stun gun on Love.
Then they tried the Crowley option: arresting him for disorderly conduct. Mercifully a judge threw the charge out. But notice the disorderly conduct charge filed even after all the facts are known. The crime – disabled while taking a shit – is just asking to be tasered and pepper-sprayed.
Bill Flanigen in Reason
Jacob Sullum in Reason:
Bill Flanigen notes that police in Mobile, Alabama, recently used pepper spray and a stun gun on a deaf, mentally disabled man who overstayed his welcome in a Dollar Store restroom, then charged him with disorderly conduct for provoking the assault. Alabama’s definition of disorderly conduct is similar to the one used in Massachusetts, and it’s not clear which part the police thought applied to sitting on a toilet too long. Engaging in “tumultuous behavior”? Obstructing “pedestrian traffic”? Making “unreasonable noises”?
Love, who has a mental age of about 10, says he was not feeling well and was in the bathroom for about a half-hour before the police “throw poison under the door.” Soon they broke into the bathroom, he recalled in an account he wrote for his family, and “the police get the tazz three strings in my stomach, chest and hand and hit my head.” Later, he says, “I saw police laugh at me.” Citing a police spokesman, the Mobile Press-Register reports that “the officers’ decision to take Love to jail—even after they discovered his disability—as well as their conduct throughout the incident is still under investigation.”
It’s not the police department’s responsibility to know that an unidentified person they’re called out to respond to is disabled. And the fact that Love thinks the devil is attacking him in bathrooms and that he is unable to cope with his surroundings is perhaps an indication that he shouldn’t be out unsupervised.
The officers in question undoubtedly acted as they were trained to do.
No, the problem, as in the Henry Louis Gates case, is a police culture that sees all non-police as potentially dangerous perps and that demands instant respect and obedience from the public. Watch any random episode of “Cops” and you’ll see outrageous police conduct by officers who know that they’re being filmed for television. Police increasingly see themselves as soldiers in a war zone and behave with an arrogant, bullying attitude toward the citizenry even in clearly non-dangerous situations.
Kelley Vlahos in TAC:
Seriously, a quick Google News search of the last month alone reveals a barrage of police tasing incidents across the country one more barbaric than the other: grandmas, grandpas, the mentally ill, teens and even children. Some of these taser victims died. One (ok, in Australia) burst into flames, another was left with burns in his anus, and yet another, a 14-year-old girl, got it in the head — running away after a dispute with her mother over a cell phone (caution, graphic).
All — in varying degrees — needed to be “subdued” by police, and were. It is, after all, a most effective tool in that regard, especially when dealing with pregnant women, 16-year-olds with broken backs and 6-year-old boys. After reading news reports dating back to 2004 about the hyper-use of these 50,000-volt zap guns, it’s not difficult to imagine what might have happened if Gates were say, in Boise, and had hurled one more insult, used a few expletives, raised a hand or moved toward Officer James Crowley in a “threatening manner,” much like this guy, who was irate and scary, but nonetheless handcuffed and shackled, when he was Tasered in a Kentucky court on July 22.
[...] So what does this mean? According to police, who, as we’ve been reminded relentlessly over the last week face constant danger, Tasers are less lethal than guns and more effective at ending violent confrontations without serious injury. Furthermore, Tasers have been credited with shielding police officers from harm in the line of duty.
Maybe so. According to federal statistics, the number of police officers shot and killed in the line of duty is at an historic low. The nationwide number actually dropped 40 percent — from 68 in 2007 to 41 in 2008. The numbers have been on a downward trajectory for years, and Tasers are in part, credited. But there are other reasons, too, like the fact that overall violent crime is down, police wear super high-tech bullet-proof vests today and some 2.3 million Americans are incarcerated and off the streets.
Meanwhile, the stats on the number of American citizens police have killed in that timespan are much more elusive. According to this 2007 report (unverified), 9,500 people were killed by cops from 1980 through 2003, an average of 380 a year, one a day. These recent DOJ numbers jibe, with 1,540 killed by police from 2003-2006. Amnesty International says 351 people have died from police Tasers since 2001.
UPDATE: Conor Friedersdorf in the American Scene