John W. Whitehead
The Rutherford Institute
April 7, 2008
In George Lucas’ film THX 1138 (1970), the police in a futuristic state make citizens compliant by shocking them with “pain prods.” After seeing the movie, I remember thinking that if the police were ever allowed to use implements such as these, we would rapidly move into a police state. This has now happened with tasers.
Tasers are electro-shock weapons that are currently used by more than 11,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. Designed to cause instant incapacitation by delivering a 50,000-volt shock, tasers are hand-held electronic stun guns that fire two barbed darts. The darts, which usually remain attached to the gun by wires, deliver a high voltage shock and can penetrate up to two inches of clothing or skin. The darts can strike the subject from a distance of up to 35 feet, or the taser can be applied directly to the skin. Although a taser shot is capable of jamming the central nervous system for up to 30 seconds, it can disable the subject for even longer. And because tasers can be aimed anywhere on the body, they can immobilize someone more easily than pepper spray, which must be sprayed in the face.
Taser manufacturers and police agencies insist that tasers are a safer alternative to many conventional weapons typically used to restrain dangerous individuals. This may be true in situations where tasers are used as an alternative to other impact weapons that can cause serious injury, such as batons or lethal force. However, research shows that in many police departments, officers routinely use tasers primarily as a substitute for low-level force weapons such as pepper spray or chemical spray. Tasers have become a prevalent force tool, often used against individuals who pose no serious danger to themselves, the officers or others.
Amnesty International reports that in instances where tasers are used, 80% of the time they are used on unarmed suspects. In 36% of the cases, they are used for verbal non-compliance, but only 3% of the time for cases involving “deadly assault.”
Since 2001, over 300 cases indicate that tasers exacerbate health issues and accelerate death. In November 2003, a mentally disabled man was tasered by Georgia police a total of six times for violating a home detention order. Hours later, he died in jail.
Incredibly, police officers have tasered pregnant women, even when they are fully aware of their pregnancies. In 2001, Cindy Grippi was tasered in the back for entering her house against the instructions of police officers, despite the fact that she was not engaging in any truly disruptive or criminal behavior. As a result, Grippi fell onto her stomach and recounts that she “felt a sharp pain in her abdomen as the taser struck her.” Hours later, doctors diagnosed Grippi with “fetal demise,” and she delivered a stillborn child. Tianesha Robinson was tasered by police officers in 2006 for resisting arrest during a traffic stop. Days later, she suffered a miscarriage.
In Colorado, a man was repeatedly tasered in the genitals for “resisting” after being handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car. In 2003, an imprisoned African-American woman was asked to remove all her jewelry. When she asked for a mirror to help remove her eyebrow ring, she was pepper sprayed and tasered. The tasering caused her to “fall to the ground and lose control of her bladder. While on the ground, a male officer forcibly removed her eyebrow ring with pliers. She was left in her urine for several hours without being given anything to clean herself with.” In August 2007, a man was tasered while holding an infant–causing him to drop the child on its head.
Police using tasers are supposedly trained to press the trigger lightly to guarantee that the shock lasts no longer than five seconds. However, there are numerous cases in which police officers have continued to press down on their triggers in hopes of elongating the shot and maximizing pain. In other cases, police officers have continued to shock individuals repeatedly, despite the fact that the first shock achieved their goal of thoroughly immobilizing the target. In 2003, an elderly blind woman, who was also extremely hard of hearing, was struck by a taser three times for failing to respond to police officers. As a result of the taser shocks to her back and the pepper spray to her face, the woman’s prosthetic right eye was ultimately dislodged from its socket.
The use of tasers by police raises a number of concerns for the protection of human rights. Portable and easy to use, with the capacity to inflict severe pain at the push of a button without leaving substantial marks, tasers are obviously open to abuse by officers. Their use often violates standards set out under the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, which requires that force be used as a last resort and that only the minimum amount necessary be used.
Taser International, the company that manufactures and sells the stun guns, has sold them primarily to law enforcement agencies. The company has sold several hundred thousand to such agencies nationwide. However, since 1994, slightly less powerful tasers have been sold to the general public.
This development is truly alarming. Silent and instantly crippling, the taser is an ideal weapon for criminals to assist them in robbery, rape, abduction, etc. An attacker can now carry his own personal victim-paralyzing device, powerful enough to instantly incapacitate the victim and give the attacker complete control.
Tasers are also ripe for sadistic use. For example, in January 2008, a man in Albany, N.Y., was sentenced to 46 months in prison and 24 months of probation for using a 30,000-volt stun gun on his 18-month-old son during a game of peek-a-boo. He claimed that he “wanted his child to be tough…to be the toughest cage fighter ever.” It is impossible to remain untroubled by these words, as well as the image of a father purposefully torturing his defenseless child. The Social Services caseworker who investigated the situation said, “The look in the child’s eyes will not easily be forgotten.”
Clearly, the use of tasers should be suspended immediately–or at least until a comprehensive medical study can be conducted proving they are safe to the general public when used by police officers. And the police must by law be severely restricted in their use. Otherwise, we are opening the door for rampant abuse and police state tactics.
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