Strange Taser Demonstration Leaves More Questions Than Answers
In the face of growing concern over the use of tasers and other so-called "less lethal weapons," police officers and weapons industry shills have been conducting what can only be described as one of the strangest PR campaigns ever mounted. They have been "demonstrating" tasers by shooting them at each other, and at hapless volunteers in incongruous settings during family-friendly public gatherings. The message is supposed to be simple and easily digested: "See? Tasers can be fun." One such demonstration took place at the Columbia County Fair over the weekend. It was a bizarre spectacle that surely must be reminiscent of what Rome was like shortly before it fell.
TORTURE DEVICE BRANDED "FAMILY FUN"
I could scarcely believe my eyes. Amidst carnival rides, cotton candy, and colorful balloons, camouflaged police officers smiled and postured in front of the smiling, festival-going families of my community. While one uniformed officer made jokes into a microphone, three others in what looked like battle fatigues set up a mat behind him and solicited ..."volunteers." Three burly men stepped forth from the crowd. Because I live in this community, I recognized one of them as, coincidentally enough, the son of the local police chief. I do not know who the other two were, but one would not be too far off, I think, to suspect that they, too, had connections with the police state. Who else, I wonder, would have any interest in being shocked with 50,000 volts in order to sell a device of torture to popcorn-munching fair goers, who might otherwise find such a thing frightening and distasteful? This had to be one of the weirdest and most insidious marketing ploys I have seen yet.
In any event, I watched in open-mouthed horror as smiling Officer Friendly explained to children eating caramel apples how nice tasers are, because they don't really hurt anyone and the effects are "only temporary." Meanwhile, behind him, the "volunteers" donned protective goggles and took their places, one by one, at the mat.
For good measure, Officer Friendly held a microphone up to one of the tasers, so that we could all listen to the happy, crackling sounds of electricity, building up frenetically within the plastic guns. Near me, two children mimed the act of tasing each other, and laughed. Tension mounted, I'm sure, for the volunteers. "Being tasered," offered Officer Friendly, "Allows the bad people to get back up again eventually."
"Except the ones who die," A woman had the good grace to shout from somewhere in the audience. These words seemed to fall on deaf ears, though. A few people turned idly to see who had so rudely interrupted this friendly police man. Others stared tight-lipped and close-mindedly ahead, ignoring the interruption and concentrating instead on the spectacle in front of them. I have rarely been so ashamed of the people in my community as I was at that moment, as it dawned on me that to say any more -- to mention the relevant statistics, to bring up uncomfortable facts, to question the officers' words and intentions -- would have brought on glares, alienation, and possibly even open hostility. But the woman who had spoken those words stood straight and glared levelly at the officers, who nervously scanned the crowd to get a bead on who had been so bold. Who knows. Maybe she wasn't alone out there. Maybe there were others who felt the same way, but were afraid to voice their objections.
I feel compelled to add, here, that people are actually dying from taser attacks by police officers, all over this state and all over this nation. The use of tasers is not a substitute for deadly force, as we are so often given to understand during demonstrations like this one. Rather, tasers and other "less lethal" weapons are used in places where it would never have been legal to pull out a gun. The people who would be shot by police officers are still being shot by police officers, at an alarming and growing rate. Tasers have not, despite the PR campaign, saved any lives. Tasers are used to torture people into compliance. Even people who have done nothing wrong, as so many political demonstrators, homeless people, and people of color can tell you. Just ask around.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called for caution with regard to the growing use of tasers. In a report outlining their concerns, that organization pointed out that the vast majority of people killed by tasers were unarmed, and had posed no significant threat to police officers or anyone else before being tasered. Said the report, "Portable and easy to use, with the capacity to inflict severe pain at the push of a button without leaving substantial marks, electro-shock weapons are particularly open to abuse, as our organization has documented in numerous cases around the world."
No one at the fair was saying anything about this, though, while little families in wal-mart t-shirts waited with baited breath, under the warm July sun, for men to be gaily tortured in front of them, for laughs and entertainment. In the background, the Zipper careened through the air, and teenagers screamed on the loop-o-plane. What's a little pre-manufactured terror among friends?
"You'll notice the protective goggles," Said Officer Friendly. "That's to keep the barbs from entering the eyes." He then helpfully explained that the two camouflaged officers on either side of each volunteer were there to catch him after the taser barbs hit, because each man would lose control over his muscles and fall otherwise. With that, the festivities commenced. First one, then another, and then another of the men stood facing the audience, flanked by his catchers, while a third officer stood behind and fired the taser into his back. In almost slow motion, each man grimmaced in pain, stiffened, convulsed, and lost control over his facial features and his legs. Each fell to his knees and was wrangled as gently as possible to the mat at his feet. Each lay in a subdued pile for a few minutes, before he was able to rise. While he lay on the ground, officers donned the ubiquitous blue gloves and knelt beside him, pulling out the barbs from his back. "This is one of the most painful parts of this," said Officer Friendly. "It's important to remove them carefully, and you'll see that we're applying a disinfectant, to prevent the wounds from becoming inflamed."
At this point, my mate turned to me and murmured, "Think they apply disinfectant when they taser someone on the streets? No, this is the part where they start knocking the crap out of him with a club."
And indeed, this is one of the main points of contention I have with little demonstrations like this one: It's not just the Colosseum atmosphere of the whole thing, it's that it's a lie. This little demonstration was carefully constructed to give the public the impression that tasers are friendly, fun-loving devices that don't really hurt anyone. But this demonstration did not, in any way, reconstruct the true and savage nature of a real taser attack by officers in the field. It was, from start to finish, inaccurate in every detail.
When people are tasered in real life, they are not volunteers. They are not prepared. They do not consent. They are not given protective eye wear. There is no carefully placed mat. No one catches them when they fall. No one gingerly removes the barbs and dabs disinfectant on them afterward. And, most important of all, during this demonstration, the trigger was pulled on the taser for only a brief split second. And even then, even after the merest fraction of a second burst from the taser, each man grimmaced and fell writhing to the ground, stunned for long moments and sheepishly silent as they slunk away afterward while the crowd cheered. But in real life, tasers are deployed for a minimum of 5 seconds, and more often than not, they are repeatedly blasted into people for whole minutes at a time. Often, people are tasered in multiple bursts of as long as 5 minutes. If a split second burst, followed by tender loving care, is enough to drop a grown man to the ground, imagine what a 5 MINUTE-long blast could do. Now imagine what three or four such bursts, delivered by multiple officers, with multiple tasers, could do.
Maybe next time, they should demonstrate that.
I know I should be careful what I ask for: I'm sure that someone out there would be happy to trot out prisoners, or desperately poor people willing to do a lot for a few dollars, who might be manipulated into receiving a five-minute taser blast for the pleasure of the crowd. Maybe there could be a reality show.... No, I would not want that any more than I wanted to see this spectacle. But at least that would be more honest, and not so viewer friendly, as what I saw this weekend. At the very least, watching someone scream in agony, lose control of their bladder and bowels, and lapse into seizures as they crack bones on the cold concrete might shock people enough to glance up from their cotton candy long enough to ask a few hard questions.
At least, it's nice to think so.
Perhaps, though, people would just go back to their caramel apples, back to their carousel rides, even after witnessing such a thing as that. After all, isn't that what we do every day, after the statistics fly by on our television screens, enumerating the number of dead this month who died at the boots of police officers. And still, no hard questions ring out.
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