This is what tasers are good for

This is what tasers are good for

by digby

I've written many, many posts about the dangers of tasers being used as a torture device to obtain instant compliance as a convenience for the police. (I just wrote one today for Salon.) But I have been reluctant to call for the total banning of tasers for one reason: if they are used as they were designed to be used, that is, in place of bullets in cases where officers might otherwise use lethal force, they would be an extremely useful tool in the law enforcement toolbox. Unfortunately, they are far more often used simply as a "clean" way to inflict pain on subjects who are arguing or ignoring police orders. That is not a life and death situation and impatient cops casually using electro-shock, usually within no more than a few seconds, is an authoritarian control mechanism not a life-saving alternative to deadly force.

This is what tasers are supposed to be used for:

We may never really know what happened in the three minutes between when Michael Brown was stopped for jaywalking and when he was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson.

But we do know what happened on Tuesday during the 23 seconds between when St. Louis police arrived and when 25-year-old Kajieme Powell was shot and killed on Riverview Blvd. We know because police released the video. Powell walks around the sidewalk and a small grass embankment. He ignores police warnings to drop his knife. He advances on police at a normal speed, his arms swinging at his sides. And he is shot nine times, including while on the ground.

I forced myself to watch it even though it makes me sick. And this situation was an excellent example of where police could have used the taser gun instead of a real gun. He was close enough to hit easily and he had a knife which would have required him to be a lot closer to the police to inflict harm on them. That is a situation in which it makes sense to use a taser.

It's harder to say in the Michael Brown case because the accounts we've heard indicate that the stop was for something very minor from which the officer could have just moved on instead of escalating it. Common sense says that the confrontation should have never happened at all. But even if it had been a reasonable confrontation and Brown went for the weapon, the fact that he had walked away and was unarmed argues for the use of the taser over the gun.

Tasers should be a very useful tool. But until police agencies start putting them in the same category as a deadly weapon (which they can be) and train officers to use them only in cases where they would otherwise feel obliged to use a gun, tasers are going to be used as torture devices rather than replacements for the use of guns in self-defense.

With the proper training police wouldn't be torturing and killing citizens with tasers. But they could have been used in the Powell case for sure and probably in the Brown case and two young men would be alive today. It's not the tools that are the problem. It's the way they're used.