Dispatch from torture nation, year end wrap up
I've been writing for a long time about "compliance" and the idea that police have a right to inflict terrible pain in order to make people instantly obey their orders. I think there's something wrong with this. I understand that we have given police he authority to arrest people and sometimes that requires them to physically restrain non-compliant citizens. But what we've been seeing in recent years is the idea that anything but instant obeisance is cause for the use of tasers, many times under the bogus rationale that an officer "felt" he or she was in danger. To fail to instantly respond is taken as a threat requiring pain compliance.
The problems with this attitude have been well documented here and elsewhere. Elderly people with dementia are being killed with electro-shock. Small children are being disciplined with electro-shock. The mentally ill, the deaf and those suffering from epilepsy are being tortured because they cannot understand, hera or respond to police orders. Average citizens are being tortured on the side of the highway, in their homes, everywhere for failing to understand that when a police officer stops them they are not allowed to speak or react in any way lest they be shot through with electricity.
All these people live under the assumption that their rights exist whether they are talking to a police officer or are in custody. This is not true in any practical sense. When a police officer stops you in America they believe you must submit immediately --- and if you feel your rights were violated you can get a lawyer and take it up with a judge. In that moment they do not exist. (And needless to say, the way police are coddled by the justice system your chances of getting justice in any altercation with them are fairly nil.)
This is the way police are behaving toward citizens of all races throughout America. Police are torturing citizens into compliance.
But too many young black men do not even get the taser. They are just shot dead. And in circumstances where the taser, if it were used for something other than torture, was supposed to be used --- where the alternative would be deadly force.
This is a piece I wrote in the aftermath of the Michael Brown and Kajieme Powell shooting:
This is what tasers are good for
A couple of days later:
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.
If tasers aren't for use in place of deadly force what are they for?
I've written a couple of things about tasers this week, one on Salon in which I questioned their use as torture devices for cops' convenience and one here where I explained why I don't think they should be banned. I explained that while they are often misused, if they were deployed only in situations where lethal force would be the only other option, they would be a very useful tool in the toolbox. I raised the Powell killing in St. Louis as an example of how they should be used.
Well, I think I'm changing my mind. From what I gather on the internet, a lot of police and other experts believe that tasers cannot be used in situations where a citizen is wielding a knife or otherwise seems violent because there is no guarantee that a taser will stop them. Therefore, the protocol is to use deadly force in any situation where they feel threatened. The St. Louis police chief was quoted on CNN saying "Tasers aren't 100%. That's what guns are for."
And that means the only use for tasers is to force compliance of unarmed citizens with the use of 50,000 volts of electricity --- which is torture. Like this:
In police reports and in the document charging Hulett, the officers said they told Hulett he was under arrest on the bus before hitting him with the Taser. But in a video of the incident, no such statement can be heard.
Schiano said he reviewed all the available evidence, including the bus video, but found nothing to corroborate the officers' statements that they told Hulett before tasering him that he was under arrest.
"I listened closely and I didn't hear it," [District Attorney]Schiano said outside the courtroom. "I can't speak for them. That's for them to answer."
Hulett was charged with disorderly conduct by intending to cause annoyance and alarm by obstructing vehicular traffic.
"He wasn't obstructing any traffic," Schiano said. "He was on the bus. As I see the video, he was just trying to go home or wherever he was trying to go."
And if there was no disorderly conduct, there was no reason to arrest him, Schiano said. So the resisting arrest charge was also improper, he said.
The video, taken from a security camera above the driver's seat, shows the officers lifting Hulett's shirt then hitting him with the Taser after warning him that it's coming.
Hulett then falls as the officers, Sgt. William Galvin Jr. and Officer William Coleman, move him off the bus. They drag Hulett away from the bus and one of the officers stands over him as Hulett lies on the pavement.
Hulett, who says a back condition makes it difficult to sit while riding a bus, suffered a broken hip in the incident, according to hospital records.
"You want it again?" the officer yells repeatedly at Hulett in the video.
Galvin then grabs Hulett's right foot and drags him about 10 feet along the pavement.
Hulett, 35, suffered a broken left hip in the incident, according to medical records from Upstate Medical University.
In his news release today, Fitzpatrick said he was concerned about the timing of a use of force report filed by the police department. It was dated Aug. 1, three months after the incident and just hours after a story about the case was published in The Post-Standard and on Syracuse.com.
That report said the officers were justified in the force they used.
McFarland hurt himself June 30, 2009, in a fall at his Woodacre home. His wife called 911, but when paramedics arrived, McFarland refused to be taken to a hospital and signed forms declining medical assistance.
Sheriff's Deputies Justin Zebb and Erin Mittenthal arrived at the home shortly thereafter "without consent and without a warrant," said McFarland's suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Deputies are automatically dispatched to most medical calls.
County officials said McFarland made a comment to the deputies about shooting himself. His attorneys have said an embarrassed McFarland was joking about his fall.
After McFarland ordered the deputies to "get out of (the) house," Zebb pulled out his Taser and told McFarland to come with him to the hospital, the suit said.
When McFarland got up from his sofa, the deputy shocked him several times.
Marin County paid that man over a million dollars in damages. Most people, however, don't have these altercations filmed and even if they do cops are usually found to be justified. This man had the means to get a good lawyer.
The only good reason for cops to have tasers is to use them in place of lethal force. If the only legitimate use for these weapons is to torture citizens into compliance then they need to be banned.
Update: For a thorough rundown of everything done wrong in the Powell shooting this piece gets to it all. Yes, they could have tasered him.
I bring all this up again because I think that it's all related to the militarization of police. Instead of billy clubs we rely on "antiseptic" hi-tech weapons which, instead of replacing deadly force as they are allegedly designed to do, are legalizing and sanctioning torture as a legitimate police tactic. Meanwhile, the killings continue.
This is not freedom.