Police brutality – an email from Jason E. (spoon)

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A great but disturbing email sent by my friend Jason E. (spoon):

November 14th, 2006: A student is tasered five times while in police custody while in the library at UCLA. The cops tase him, not because he’s fighting them, but because he is (non-violently) refusing to walk out of the library with them.  Note that the cop says, “Stand up or you’ll get tased again.” 

Of anything on this video that comment really sickens me the most.  If the student refuses to walk, the cops should have just carried him out, calling in back up if that’s what it takes to remove him.  Repeatedly administering electric shocks to a person laying on the ground until he or she agrees to walk with you is torture.  Straight up.


And here’s an article in the UCLA student paper about the same:


October 13th, 2006: On a similar note, one of my favorite bands, the Two Gallants, a two piece from San Francisco, were playing a show in Houston last month.  In the middle of their set, a lone cop walks onto the venue’s stage and grabs Adam’s guitar while he’s playing.  The drummer, Tyson, approaches them to see what’s going on and the cop tackles both him and Adam simultaneously to the stage.  Yeah, well, you’ll see; the cop is a huge guy and they’re skinny, little indie rockers. 

The cop gets off of them and calls for back up, then starts storming around the venue tasering people.  He tasered at least four people (some of them multiple times) including Adam the guitarist, their stage manager, a fourteen year-old boy and the boy’s father.  Several people were eventually arrested.

Because the band is growing in popularity and because of the YouTube videos, the story has been reported on in several places including Rolling Stone and Pitchfork media.  This site has everything about the incident including still photos and links to the videos:


Once you follow the link above, scroll down and check out the three YouTube videos.  They tell the story very well.

Tasers are not toys.  The Guardian (UK) reports that Tasers were originally marketed as “non-lethal” devices, but based on the judgements of the SEC, this had to be amended to “less-lethal” devices:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/crime/article/0,2763,1583867,00.html  

Accordingly they should be used with extreme discretion, much like a gun. 

But beyond these concerns over the real physical harm that tasers can inflict, I’m deeply disturbed by the unique psychological disfunction that is in play when this weapon is used.  A good cop is trained to talk to people and to de-escalate thorny situations.  But seeing the taser in use here reminds me of the way I’ve seen animal farmers use electric prods to herd pigs. 

Some cops obviously see the taser as an all too ready way to manipulate people without any vagaries like good communication or, heaven forbid, finesse.  With the taser at hand, they see no need for explanations or restraint.  And after reading over law enforcement officials responses to the above events, I realized that this is because the taser’s indiscriminate use, in evidence in the above two examples, is defended, even sanctioned. 

Without any question of the circumstances, officials fall back on the pat: tasers save lives.  But some cops obviously see the taser as a license to sidestep simple human respect.  There are limits, there are boundaries, there are rules – in place so that we are all safer – and the cops should be expected to respect them too.

Here’s some suggestions about how to help fight police brutality from Human Rights Watch:

http://www.hrw.org/reports98/police/what.htm – though I think these suggestions are disappointing in that they focus on writing to someone else who is “in power” for help.  That’s pretty weak. 

For that reason, I’ve attached the ACLU’s more practical “Know your rights” sheet.  For more ACLU stuff check out: http://aclu.org and http://action.aclu.org/site/PageServer?pagename=AS_downloads

And the National Lawyers Guild’s resources: http://www.nlg.org/resources/resources.htm

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