In 1993, TASER International’s founders, brothers Rick and Tom Smith, developed devices that use “proprietary technology to incapacitate dangerous, combative, or high-risk subjects who pose a risk to law enforcement officers, innocent citizens, or themselves in a manner that is generally recognized as a safer alternative to other uses of force.” The website claims that the TASER technology “saves lives every day, and the use of TASER devices dramatically reduces injury rates for police officers and suspects.”
Hmm. If that is true, then why has there been an increase in the number of deaths and serious bodily injury to people who have been tased? Where are the lives being saved? Where is the evidence proving that the use of tasers reduce injury rates for police officers as their website asserts?
Don’t even get me started on the question of whether officers are properly trained on how and when to use these weapons.
So, a few years ago, when I worked at the Ella Baker Center, directing the Police Watch program, I had the opportunity to get a personalized demonstration of the Taser by an Oakland police officer, and let me assure you, I quickly opted out of trying it out on myself! I chose to merely watch and I will explain why. The Taser uses compressed gas to fire two small darts-attached to copper wires- which shoot painful jolts of electricity into your body, throwing your muscles into incontrollable spasms. And let’s not forget to mention the burn marks the darts leave on your body. Need I say more?
Interestingly enough, there are countless people who have been and continue to be harmed by this dangerous weapon, who do not fit into the “dangerous, combative, or high-risk” category, yet time after time police officers choose to use this hazardous device when there are more appropriate tools at their disposal. For example, a 72 year old woman was tased after she was stopped for a traffic violation. A 10 year old girl was tased because she was acting “unruly and refused to take a shower”.
Now granted, in the last case, the parent actually allowed the police to tase her daughter… Yep you read that right. (Please, don’t get me started on faulty parenting because that’s a whole other talk show). Back to that case, the little girl was not injured, and was sent to a youth shelter, so you might wonder why I even brought it up.
Well, I brought it up because we need to address the issue of what this says about us as a society. I mean, do we deem it proper to tase children because we have lost control and lack the ability to parent? Are we now enlisting the help of the police department to aid us in disciplining our children? Where do we draw the line? We can only fault the officer to a point. After all, the child’s mother allowed this to happen. But what if the little girl had been injured? Who would be at fault? The mother? The officer?
Ahhh… But I digress…
The question that I pose is this: are we as a society becoming numb to the atrocities suffered by our community at the hands of law enforcement? Do we turn a blind eye when our young men are merely tased and not shot to death? Are those the only choices we realistically have when it comes to our young men and women?
What we need is a guarantee that those officers who patrol our streets will do so with no malice and will access a situation properly before reaching for their taser gun and deciding to shoot first and ask questions later.