Dispatch from torture central: aka America
As people who have read this blog for years know, I've been writing about the use of tasers as torture-to-compliance tools for a very long time. I've also written about how it's used for punishment on people who have been convicted of nothing but failing to be properly "respectful" of certain men and women in uniform. This is not what I think of as freedom, but apparently many Americans think of it as comedy.
Last week there was a great brouhaha on the right over a western land stand-off with the BLM over grazing rights. Federal agents moved in and tasered some protesters who, in this case, are nice white people in cowboy hats. Republican politicians howled, calling it akin to Tianenmen Square.
But this happens every day to people all over the country who try to assert their rights to a policemen or a judge, people who are mentally ill, who legally protesting their government or other institutions, or are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is used against people who are handcuffed and on the ground, it's used against deaf people who cannot hear the policeman's command, it's used against epileptics in the throes of a seizure, it is used against bedridden 90 year old ladies suffering from delusions. It is used against people who refuse to be taken to a hospital.
And it is used against children. The New York Times raised the issue a couple of days ago with this editorial:
Federal investigators have opened an inquiry into the tragic case of a high school student in Bastrop County, Tex., who suffered severe brain damage and nearly died last fall after a deputy sheriff shocked him with a Taser, a high voltage electronic weapon.
In North Carolina, civil rights lawyers have filed a complaint with the Justice Department, charging the Wake County school system with violating the constitutional rights of minority children by subjecting them to discriminatory arrest practices and brutality by police officers assigned to schools. In one nightmarish case described in the complaint, a disabled 15-year-old was shocked with a Taser three times during an interrogation at school, resulting in punctured lungs. And in New York, civil rights lawyers have sued the city of Syracuse on behalf of two students. One was shocked three times, not for threatening behavior but for lying on the floor and crying, they say, and another was shocked while trying to break up a fight.
Complaints about dangerous disciplinary practices involving shock weapons are cropping up all over the country. The problem has its roots in the 1990s, when school districts began ceding even routine disciplinary duties to police and security officers, who were utterly unprepared to deal with children. Many districts need to overhaul practices that criminalize far too many young people and that are applied in ways that discriminate against minority children. In the meantime, elected officials need to ban shock weapons in schools.
The Taser, the most popular of these weapons, uses a powerful electrical charge to create intense spasms that drive the suspect to the ground. Police organizations view such weapons as a means of defusing violent confrontations without resorting to deadly force. But a growing body of research shows how lethal these weapons can be.
In the Texas case, Noe Niño de Rivera, a 17-year-old at Cedar Creek High School, collapsed after being shocked and struck his head on the floor. Doctors performed emergency surgery to repair a severe brain hemorrhage and subsequently placed him in a medically induced coma, in which he remained for 52 days. He now needs rehabilitation and is unlikely to fully recover.
The sheriff’s department said that a Taser was used against the teenager because he interfered while the deputies were breaking up a fight. A security video leading up the incident shows that the fight was already over when the officers arrived, and it seems to show the student backing away when one of the officers shocked him.
Civil rights groups point out that Texas has already prohibited Taser use in its juvenile justice facilities. The state should extend the restriction to its public schools. That would be a sensible start. Beyond that, school administrators need to reclaim responsibility for disciplinary matters from security or police officers, who too often treat students like criminals.
There have been reports of police using tasers to subdue school children as young as six years old. Or to simply train 8 year olds to comply with the police.
Oh, and I forgot to mention: tasers are killing people. And there's no way of knowing who they're going to kill. It depends on where the taser lands on the body, underlying health conditions, how the person falls (as one always does when hit with 50,000 volts of electricity) and just random bad luck. Unless we think that all those situations described above should be subject to summary execution, we need to rethink the use of this torture compliance weapon. It's lethal. It's also un-American -- or should be anyway.
h/t to @walizonia