Police brutality is a problem we will always have to deal with as long as we have police. When you have people in a position of power and authority, some of them will always overstep their boundaries and fail to uphold their duty and responsibilities. Even the best law enforcement officers are still flawed human beings like you and me. They may act cool and professional while in uniform, but that is their job. In difficult situations where emotions run hot, and circumstances become dangerous, it is extremely difficult to keep cool and take the correct course of action. If we want a police force to serve and protect us, this is something we have to accept.
Now, I’m not trying to make an excuse for the police here. I firmly believe that any officer who is found to have acted inappropriately should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Whether they shoot, beat, tase, arrest, detain, grab, touch, or even speak inappropriately, they should face consequences for those actions. Nobody should be above the law, especially not those who swear it is their duty to enforce said law. We need to let out government know that we will absolutely no tolerance for police officers who act out of line. I might even go so far as to say we should have a zero tolerance policy for law enforcement officers who are found guilty of overstepping their bounds. We should permanently suspend them from the force in addition to any normal legal consequences after just one strike.
The issue of the day, though, is the taser. The taser is a device which makes it easier for officers to subdue other individuals. It inflicts a relatively large amount of pain, while having a very low (but non-zero) chance of inflicting any lasting injury. Also, tasers provide much more safety for the officers than alternatives. They can stay well out of range of say, a knife-wielding individual, and subdue them with much lower risk of being stabbed. There are two conclusions to be drawn from these facts.
First is that the taser is not perfect. It hurts a lot to be tased, and that is not as humane as we would like. Also, it does have a chance of permanently injuring some people who have weak hearts, or other medical problems. It is often difficult or impossible to ascertain whether or not someone is likely to be permanently injured by a taser prior to tasing them. This is a risk we must acknowledge and mitigate. Knowing this, we must continue to search for newer and better technologies than the taser. Ideally we will develop a weapon that can subdue individuals 100% of the time, with extremely low risk of danger to the officer, causing no pain, and having no chance of causing any lasting injury to anyone.
The second conclusion to draw is that the taser is currently the best we have. Go back in time before videos of police activity were routinely posted on the YouTube for everyone to see. Back in those days, there were no tasers. You are fooling yourself if you think police brutality started with the taser. Police have been subduing people, appropriately and inappropriately, for as long as they have existed. It’s just that now we are increasing exposure of these incidents that we see the truth that was always there. So how did police subdue people before tasers? Simple, they would beat the crap out of them with night sticks/billy clubs. I don’t know about most people, but I’m personally glad that the police have switched from billy clubs to tasers. If you would rather be bludgeoned into submission, be my guest. The taser is not perfect, but it is the best we have, and it is far superior to what we used in the past.
I have one more thing I want to discuss. Judging by the popular opinion on the web, as I see it in the comments of sites like Digg, pretty much every instance of tasering is considered police brutality. This is not the case. If you actually examine the situations closely, some of the videos you see are clearly cases of police acting out of line, and others are not. In either case, it is always unpleasant to watch another human being in pain. All of the videos, even the ones where the police are in the right, are unpleasant to watch. These unpleasant feelings are the reason there is outrage, even when there is no cause for it. Let me use some examples to show when tasing is appropriate and when it is inappropriate.
Let us first use the obvious example or Mr. don’t tase me bro! Here you have a student, and regardless of his opinions, he was very “excited”. As he was up at the microphone asking his question, he had not yet done anything wrong. If the police had tased him at that point, it would clearly have been a case of brutality for which there is no excuse. But that is not how it happened. In the video the police clearly ask him to leave, and he clearly refuses. At that point he is trespassing. Still, someone trespassing is not enough cause to use a taser on them. Now that he has refused to leave, the officers attempt to forcibly remove/arrest/detain the individual. He actively resists, and is beginning to get out of control. What options do the officers have at this point? They could beat him with clubs like the old days, some taser haters seem to really like this option. They could physically overwhelm him and drag him out kicking and screaming in handcuffs. That might seem better for the individual, but it puts the officers at a much higher risk of injury. Generally, I think, police policy should prioritize the safety of the officers above that of the criminals. The final option, is to use the taser.
They warn the student loudly and clearly several times that if he does not calm down and stop resisting he will be tased. They warn him loudly, clearly, and repeatedly. He does not calm down, and he does not stop resisting. If anything, he resists more and clams down less. The officers are left with only one option. They tase the dangerous, trespassing, resisting, individual. They then easily and safely remove him and diffuse the dangerous situation. It is a painful video to watch, yes. But when you carefully consider the circumstances there was no better option.
Let us look at one more case of the grandma on the lawn in the wheelchair. Here you have a case of a mentally disturbed individual acting in a very dangerous manner. She was wielding knives and other dangerous weapons and causing a disturbance. The police were called, and it is their duty to remove the danger from the situation. Despite the fact that the woman is wheelchair-bound, no officer can be expected to approach her while she is wielding a deadly weapon. Even the option of beating her with a club the old fashioned way is out of the question. You could shoot her with a gun, but I think we would all agree that is out of the question. You avoid the use of deadly force unless you have absolutely no other resort. What option do police have? Yet again, the taser comes into play. They can tase the woman from a distance to subdue her. This will make it safe to approach her and diffuse the situation. Yes, she is elderly, and has a higher risk of the taser causing permanent damage or killing her, but the taser is still the best available option until we develop new technology.
Here’s where things go horribly wrong. It should only take a few seconds of tasing to subdue this woman. One officer properly discharged their taser for only a few short seconds, but evidence seems to suggest that another officer discharged their weapon for an inordinately longer amount of time. From what I can tell from the news article, it is my opinion that tasing the woman was the appropriate course of action. However, the tasers were used in an improper fashion, and that improper usage was a significant factor in the woman’s death. This is clearly a case where the officers were in the wrong, and should be held responsible for their actions.
Tasers are the best technology for subduing dangerous individuals that our officers have available to them today. They are extremely preferable compared to the bludgeons of yesteryear. More and more officers every day will arm themselves with tasers because of their effectiveness, and more and more instances of people being tased will occur. More and more of those instances will appear on the Internet in video or story form thanks to our amazing information society. As painful as it is to hear about, and watch, many of these situations, we need to keep a level head. Sometimes when a taser is used, it is the appropriate course of action for the officers to follow. Sometimes when they are used, it is blatant police bruality. Next time you watch a video of someone being tasered, have some empathy for the police officer. Consider what you would do in their situation, take all factors into account, and then decide for yourself. Is this a time to be outraged, or is this a time to be glad the police have an alternative to bludgeoning people with sticks.
Stop being outraged by sensationalist headlines on blogs, and think with your own head.