Published on AlterNet, by Scott Thill, August 17, 2009.
Police officers are brutalizing innocent civilians with accelerating lunacy. How did this happen? How can we make it stop?
Technology is a double-edged sword, the cliche goes. It can save and even extend your life, but it can also kill you in new and unpredictable ways. In the several years since the Arizona-based Taser International has deployed its terminologically challenging Electronic Control Devices (ECDs), colloquially known as stun guns or simply tasers, what started out as a midrange law enforcement weapon has turned into a surreal nightmare that has gone viral from streets to screens. It’s now to the point that only a hyperreal comedian like Stephen Colbert can make sense of it …
… The disturbing developments caught the watchful eye of Amnesty International, which publicly worried that tasers were quickly becoming “tools of routine force.”
“There is plenty of evidence that the use of conducted energy devices now frequently – even routinely – occurs in situations where there is no significant threat to law enforcement officers,” Amnesty International spokesperson Wendy Gozan Brown explained to AlterNet. “Rather than being used as weapons of last resort, police employ tasers without considering the consequences. About 90 percent of the more than 350 people who have died in the U.S. after being shocked with such weapons were unarmed. And in dozens of cases, medical examiners have found CEDs to be a cause or contributory factor of death” …
… “I do believe that Taser International is partly to blame,” argued Peter Bibring, staff attorney for ACLU’s Southern California chapter. “Their marketing, particularly their initial marketing, overemphasized the safety of tasers. Taser International publishes the training used by most police departments. It deliberately cites medical research that it sponsors. If you give officers a device that is a substitute for a gun and tell them it can’t hurt anyone, they’re going to use it over and over again, in circumstances that don’t call for use of force and on potentially vulnerable populations like pregnant women, the elderly and children.”
“There’s a learning curve when departments get tasers,” Tuttle concluded. “Cops aren’t perfect. They’re human, but we expect them to be Robocop.”
A fitting description, given the fantasy of power and technology that tasers and other weaponry imbue their carriers with. Compelled by an increasingly permissive militarism that has gone supernova since 9/11 and arrmed with state-of-the-art force technology, taser-happy cops are in danger of becoming cyborgs out of step with the humanity they’re in charge of pacifying. Characterized as Heroes or elevated to the status of Robocop, without fully understanding the weapons that can save their lives, and kill those they’re supposed to protect, they’re walking a tightrope between thuggery and enforcement, and losing their balance with every bad episode.
“Tasers have been widely deployed without the benefit of rigorous, independent studies into their safety and potential health risks,” Gozan Brown asserted, echoing Bibring’s concern. “There’s no government agency that has mandated testing,” he added.
But Tuttle as the company he helped found are standing as firm as the “pinewood” taser victims turn into after being shocked. The danger for Taser is that same as it is for those suspects who won’t bend: They could topple over, or be pushed by everything from lawsuits to newer and safer tools, and not get up again.
“We stand by our technology,” he argued. “It’s a litigious country, so you’re going to have lawsuits. But we’re in the business of selling tools to law enforcement, and their judgment will always come into question.”
(full long 4-pages text).