I imagine you’ve been following the controversy surrounding the death of Robert Dziekanski and police use of Tasers. From what I can tell, many things went went wrong in the case of Mr. Dziekanski. Like most people, I’m outraged and ashamed that he got lost in the airport and paid for his confusion with his life. However, I am not writing about that particular travesty, but rather about about Tasers in general.
The usual sales-pitch for why our police should carry stun-guns is that it gives them an alternative to deadly force. This makes the deployment of such weapons sound like a very good idea: it is certainly better to zap someone with electricity (even with all the attendant risks) than to shoot them.
However, the sales-pitch doesn’t seem consistent with how Tasers are used in practice. Police use them to arrest non-violent persons, like Robert Dziekanski, or even as a “tool of compliance” on persons already under their control. To whit:
Student Tasered at John Kerry forum for taking too long on the mic. I lost any respect I had left for Mr. Kerry after watching this video: he should have intervened.
Student Tasered for not leaving the UCLA library. In this case he was lying on the floor when he was Tasered, and repeatedly told to “get up or we’ll zap you again”.
Taser used on sleeping man. How was he a threat to anyone?
Meanwhile, in life and death situations, police still reach for their firearms.
The Taser has been sold to us as one thing and used as another. I think the real question we should be asking, as we ponder our policies in the wake of Robert Dziekanski’s death, is do we want our police to have a 50,000 volt “compliance tool”? We don’t tolerate it when our police beat people in their custody, why are we happy to let them inflict pain through electricity instead?
Since when is “cooperate with me or I will hurt you” consistent with our values?