Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Taser Sales Up; Police Competence Down

The Lede has a couple of good posts today, one about the findings of the LAPD about their mishandling of a May Day protest last year, and another about everyone's favorite non-leathal weapon, the taser. Of course these postings seems natural right next to each other since it's hard to think about police brutality and incompetence and not think about tasers. According to the Lede, taser sales are going up despite the cries against it of late, especially the very public tasering of a student in Florida. According to the statistic's of the Lede's article, recent studies of tasers have shown that the weapon is as non-lethal as TASER International has avowed all along.

So, here's a question: If we presume for a second that taser are not lethal and do no serious harm to a significant portion of the population, does that justify their use? That is, if science deems tasers humane, does that change our attitude about the reasonableness of their use? It is on the strength of the argument that tasers are humane, after all, that sales are up and tasers are proliferating.

I feel that what is fundamentally at issue with the use of tasers is not the danger they pose to civilians. Yes, very few people die after being tasered; yes, most can get up and walk away (after a few minutes of utter decapacitation and intense pain). The question is whether law makers and communities feel that they help promote more humane means of policing. What the experience of the LA riots last May show is not that tasers injure people, but rather that they are a crutch on which undertrained, poorly supervised, unaccountable, and power-hungry police officers inflict pain upon civilians. It is precisely because tasers are non-lethal weapons that they can be used so widely so flagrantly against civilians. The issue isn't weather or not tasers are dangerous, but rather whether or not we want police to be given such free reign to inflict violence on the population, especially as a shortcut to adequate training.

Here's an idea: give all cops a taser, fine. But tase them first so that they remember what it feels like. That might significantly cut down on the incidence of grievous abuses of weaponry in this country.

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