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Hullabaloo


Thursday, November 05, 2015

 
Dispatch from taser nation

by digby

It's good to see the major media finally waking up to the fact that police are using tasers as torture devices that are killing a fair number of unarmed citizens. This story in today's Guardian goes in depth on the killing of nearly 50 people just this year with tasers:
Calvon Reid writhed in pain before he died. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” the 39-year-old screamed. Reid, an African American father of two, was held face-down by two police officers on a grassy lawn inside a predominantly white, gated retirement village in the south Florida suburb of Coconut Creek in the early hours of 22 February.

Moments before, two officers, standing 10ft away, had deployed their weapons in tandem. Not guns, but Tasers. The barbs struck Reid in the chest, according to eyewitnesses, unleashing 50,000-volt shocks to his body. Reid stopped breathing within moments; two days later, he died in the hospital.

“The whole thing seemed brutal,” 58-year-old locksmith John Arnendale told the Guardian from the ground-floor apartment at Wynmoor Village retirement homes where he watched Reid lose consciousness for the last time.

It is not clear why the officers were trying to arrest Reid in the first place. He was not accused of any crime. Though police say he was acting aggressively, other witnesses have disputed this.

“They didn’t have to use a Taser to stop him,” Arnendale said. “There were four of them and he wasn’t huge or particularly athletic. They certainly didn’t choose the least harsh thing to do with him. They were kind of punishing him.”

While deadly police shootings in the United States have gained international attention this year, Reid is one of 47 lesser-known people who lost their lives after law enforcement officers deployed a Taser, according to The Counted, an ongoing Guardian investigation documenting fatalities that follow police encounters.

Reid’s case is, in many ways, tragically typical of the other deaths following the use of a Taser by police in 2015: he was unarmed, as in all but three cases. Like nearly 40% of the victims, he was black. And as in at least 53% of such cases, the suspect was displaying signs of intoxication before his or her death. As with many of these incidents, Reid died following shocks administered seemingly in violation of national guidelines, by officers belonging to a police department with lax rules on how these less-lethal weapons should be used.
There's much more at the link.

Police often use tasers to exact street justice on people whom they feel disrespect them. It's so common that people don't even comment on it anymore. And Americans accept this as a perfectly normal police tactic. After all, it doesn't leave marks like a baton beating would so it's no big deal. Unless you fall head first and knock your teeth out. Or hit the curb and get a concussion. Or die.

This is not the only big story about tasers in recent days. This one from the LA Times about taser torture on the border is astonishing, even to me and I've been following this stuff for too long:

Searching for a way to curb fatal border shootings, Border Patrol leaders decided in 2008 that their agents needed a new weapon on their belts.

The agency began to supply Tasers, a hand-held device that delivers a paralyzing electric charge, as a way to end confrontations quickly and safely.

But in scores of cases along the border, the Tasers became instruments of excessive force, a Los Angeles Times analysis found.

The Times examined 450 uses of Tasers from 2010 to 2013 that were documented by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

At least 70 times, agents fired the devices at people who were running away, even though there was no struggle or clear indication that agents were in danger, according to use-of-force reports. At least six times, agents used the weapons against people who were trying to climb over the border fence back into Mexico.

Two people were shocked while they were handcuffed. Two were hit with five cycles of the weapon, even though the agency's policy says no one should receive more than three.

Three people died after being hit by Tasers wielded by border agents or customs officers. In one episode, 24-year-old Alex Martin, who had led agents on a car chase, burned to death after a border agent smashed his car window and fired a Taser inside. The device ignited an explosion and fireball.

Others were seriously hurt. Jose Gutierrez Guzman, a 45-year-old Mexico native who grew up in Los Angeles, was struck with a Taser in 2011 as he sprinted away from officers at an Arizona border station. He fell on his head and suffered permanent brain damage, according to a pending lawsuit he filed against the federal government.

Investigations found no wrongdoing in either case.
Using tasers in lieu of guns wherever possible should be a no-brainer. But in none of the above cases can you say that the officers would have had to fire their guns if not for the taser. They are clearly being used as legal torture devices to coerce compliance --- and as a method of punishment.

What's interesting about both of these articles is that it's finally becoming clear to people that tasers are tools for police brutality and are being commonly used for that purpose. They cause great pain and trauma and sometimes kill people. They could be useful if used with discretion. But too many police do not see them as a replacement for the gun in cases where their lives or the lives of others are not in immediate danger but simply as pain compliance --- a euphemism for torture.

It's long past time our society took a long hard look at these devices. For too long tasers were seen as  funny, slapstick comedy. (The still are by Hollywood, which really needs some education on this subject.) And that's no less creepy than laughing at police delivering a beatdown to a citizen on the side of the road. I'm glad to see that the press is finally taking up the subject and seeing it for what it has become.

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