72-year-old woman tasered

Via Andrew Sullivan. Fucking unbelievable.

I must have missed the part where this burly cop felt threatened by the elderly woman, which caused him to resort to potentially lethal force.

There are two stories here:  (1) tasers; (2) cops.

1. Tasers

Here in Canada, the death of Robert Dziekanski — after being tasered repeatedly in the Vancouver airport — has received considerable public attention. Here at i, Pundit, we have written about it three times (one, two, three).

A public inquiry into Dziekanski’s death proposed 19 recommendations concerning the use of tasers. Both the B.C. police and the B.C. detachment of the (federal) RCMP have agreed to abide by all 19 recommendations.

Coincidentally, the very same week, the Taser company announced a new semi-automatic model:

The X3’s main selling feature is its ability to fire three pairs of electrified probes in quick succession without reloading — giving an officer with a taser the chance to simultaneously zap up to three suspects. Older models, which have only one pair of probes, must be reloaded after each shot.

And no one will ever fire at the same individual three times in quick succession. We can trust the police not to do that, right?

2. Cops

Actually, tasers are problematic precisely because of how police officers are using them.

Tasers are supposed to deliver something less than deadly force:  nonetheless, not infrequently, their use has been associated with deaths.

I could accept the risk if police officers used them in situations where, otherwise, they might resort to firing their guns. Tasers are less likely to kill than bullets are, so it’s a good trade-off. But that isn’t how cops use them.

In other news this week, Andrew Sullivan calls attention to the cops in Mobile, Alabama, who tasered a mentally disabled deaf man who took too long in a public washroom. Perhaps the fact that the unfortunate victim is black was also a factor, but that’s mere speculation.

In both instances — the mentally disabled deaf man and the 72-year-old woman — the police used tasers in order to enforce compliance. Not because they were threatened in any way. Not because there was any threat to the general public, or even to the victim him-/herself.

In the case of the 72-year-old woman, it could easily have resulted in her death. It looks to me like cops can’t be trusted with tasers.

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(another) Taser Victim

The Globe and Mail is reporting that there wass another taser-related death in Western Canada yesterday:

A man was killed in a confrontation with Winnipeg police yesterday after being hit with a taser stun gun, the first such incident in the city’s history.

The incident began just before 4 p.m. when police officers confronted a man in a back alley adjacent to the grounds of the national microbiology laboratory in the city’s downtown core.

They had been called to the area by a member of the public asking for help in a criminal matter, said police spokeswoman Constable Jacqueline Chaput.

“I’m not privy to the information surrounding that encounter, however it did result in the deployment of an electronic control device used by one of our officers against the male,” Constable Chaput said. “It is yet to be determined by the investigation whether the electronic control device had a hand in the fatality.”

It’s worth noting that the link between the taser and the death is not certain yet, for prudence’s sake. But I don’t think most people would object to such an assumption. After all, it has happened altogether too often that tasers killed instead of stunning.

The last major coverage an incident got in Canada was out west as well, marking the death of a Polish man in B.C.. That was over six months ago, although there have been other minor issues involving tasers since, both in Canada and the United States. But is a six-month gap really enough to pass by? Can we stand to have another half dozen people killed before the government is willing to consider the ramifications of taser usage?

This is a sticky issue. As I argued last time, there’s a fine line between appropriate violence and abuse. Tasers are theoretically supposed to help eliminate that line. As far as I can tell, the ideal technology would permit policemen to restrict a criminal with minimal physical violence, which tasers are designed to do.

But they don’t. There can be no denying that electrocuting someone to death is a pretty good example of “violence”. It’s convenient, yes, but the fact remains that tasers are clearly toeing the line of abuse — and in many cases, are well over it.

My plight isn’t a new one. And it won’t be the last time it’s heard. But it needs to be made public that these weapons are causing excessive harm, and this type of a situation demands that the public cry out against the use of tasers. Until the technology can be perfected to absolutely minimize the number of unjustified deaths, a ban needs to be put on them in the short-term.

Either that, or policemen who use the taser hastily need to be punished. Heavily. And not just those who kill someone, either. Any instance where quick use could have resulted in damage should be determined hazardous. It’s not a game to pull the trigger, and the ones in charge of doing so need to realize that sooner than later.

More Khadr… *sigh*

The issue that never goes away popped up again in the news today, with yet another frightful report from the Globe and Mail:

Interrogators at Guantanamo Bay – including those assigned to Canadian Omar Khadr – were encouraged to destroy handwritten notes from interview sessions to protect them from future legal action, according to newly released documents.

[…]

The revelation is another in a long line of documents, findings and events that have cast the Guantanamo Bay legal proceedings in a less than flattering light. That interrogators were instructed to destroy their handwritten notes is of particular importance to Mr. Khadr, because much of the case against him is believed to rely on what he said during some of those interrogation sessions.

“The government’s case against Omar is based almost entirely on statements interrogators extracted from him in the course of interrogations at Bagram [Afghanistan] and Guantanamo Bay,” LCdr. Kuebler said in an e-mail Sunday. “If handwritten notes were destroyed in accordance with the [Standard Operating Procedure manual], the government intentionally deprived Omar’s lawyers of key evidence with which to challenge the reliability of his statements.”

The news came shortly after the demand for the release of interview documentation.

This isn’t a hard one to guess at, really. If the case depends highly on the papers, and they had a veritable case, the papers would still exist. It’s obvious that they were afraid some revalation from the interviews would grant freedom to the prisoner, else they wouldn’t have destroyed them. It is, perhaps, a general fear of any instances arising, since Khadr’s papers were not the only ones destroyed. But that just magnifies the issue, instead of making the Khadr case one to ignore.

As I said last time: The longer our governments allow this to continue, the more foolish they look. They should just let him go and get it over with. I’m still uncertain as to what they’re fearing if they let the kid go, or at least put him into some sort of rehabilitation program. Political backlash? Can it really be as bad as this? Renewed aggression? Keep him under surveillance for a while, if you must, but surely that’s not really that high a risk unless there are more terrorists backing him even this many years later.

More likely, it’s simply a fear of phallic deflation on a national scale.

Betcha he couldn’t do it again…

Well, maybe he could. But not easily!

Have a bit of a break from all the thinking and allow your jaw to drop!

Found it on Digg, if you like to Digg up this kind of thing! 

Wet Tasing

Yet another tasing scare, this one all the more notable because a) the victim was deaf and b) the victim was wet!!!

Donnell Williams had just gotten out of the bath tub, wearing only a towel around his waist, when he turned the corner to see guns pointing right at him.

“I ain’t never been so scared,” says Williams.

Police forced entry into Williams home while responding to a shooting, but it turned out to be a false call.  They had no idea at the time the call wasn’t real and that Williams is hearing impaired.  Without his hearing aid he is basically deaf.

This “misunderstanding” led to much remorse — on the part of the victim. The officer, well, his choices were “limited.” After all, Williams was only shouting that he was hearing impaired at the time… the officer wasn’t notified in advance, so he couldn’t wait that extra second.

Fortunately, he’s alive! 😀

The UN’s response

Not surprisingly, the United Nations is on top of the taser issue, although whether there’ll be any practical implications of this is dubious. Still, the decision is interesting:

“The use of these weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture,” the UN’s Committee against Torture said.

“In certain cases, they can even cause death, as has been shown by reliable studies and recent real-life events,” the committee of 10 experts said.

Through all the debate, no one has mentioned the word torture, as far as I have heard. According to the international definition (Wikipedia’s international!!!), torture is described as:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Whether tasering constitutes torture is  not as black-and-white as something such as, say, waterboarding. To label tasering as such, two things need to be considered: Severity and purpose. The severity isn’t too hard, although the relatively short pain period suffered by the victim ( I think? Perhaps it’s more drawn-out than I thought) could cause a debate over just how severe it is. Harder to determine is the purpose. Obviously the use is not to obtain a confession, but could it be construed as punishing or intimidating? Since the victim is rendered immobile, I would say intimidation isn’t so much a factor. Threat of tasering would be intimidation, but since the end result does not depend on the person mentally acceding to the demands of the policeman, it’d be hard to make a case. But certainly punishment could be a perceived purpose, whether preemptive or reactive, depending on the offender’s composure.

That being said, it’s not surprising the issue of torture hasn’t come into play here until now. I know I never would have taken the time to consider that possible interpretation until it was suggested by the United Nations. And surely that “what if?” isn’t going to be sufficient to stop taser usage, since it’s not really contributing to a solution. If every form of physical pain used to hinder — punish? — potential criminals (pepper spray, for example?) were to be declared “torture”, there’d be a mob threatening to tear down the Parliament every other week. As 49er pointed out, no officer should be expected to “single-handedly out-wrestle a berserk desperado” (and phrased so nicely, too)! That means that sometimes, causing physical pain is going to be the lesser of two evils. But the article does have another interesting point, which I think is far more relevant.

Apparently,  there have been three taser-induced deaths in Canada alone over the last five weeks!

That’s a whole new ball-game. Forget torture; In this instance, I would reassert that tasers should be considered lethal!!! Sure, it depends on  specific circumstances, but (once again, as 49er brought up) those circumstances are not well researched and documented, and, I would add, neither would it be particularly useful if they were. I suspect many of them would depend on a person’s heart and inner conditioning, rather than any overt physical characteristics, and so the situation would be either impossible or incredibly difficult for the police to judge. In high-pressure situations, there simply isn’t time to make such a call with any degree of accuracy. The question is really one of “to tase or not to tase.”

And, since shooting the person would clearly be frowned upon, I think it’s pretty clear that the answer is not to tase.

Mr. Day’s Response

Stockwell Day — a rather unusual Canadian political figure for his persistence — has responded to the complaints of citizens about the death of Robert Dziekanski after the fury of British Columbia and broader Canadian citizens:

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said in a statement last night that he has asked Paul Kennedy, the Commissioner for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, to review the police force’s policies for using the devices – and assess whether its members live up to those standards.

The independent review is yet another added to a growing list of inquiries and reviews sparked by the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish man who spent 10 hours at the Vancouver airport before being tasered by police. There is already an internal RCMP review under way.

With the public outcry growing, rather than abating, the provincial government in British Columbia announced its own inquiry this week and accused federal agencies including the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency of failing to provide answers. In the Commons, Mr. Day has faced repeated demands for the federal government to provide answers.

Mr. Day’s decision to ask Mr. Kennedy to review the RCMP’s taser use will effectively expand a probe that the arm’s-length ombudsman launched Nov. 8 into the RCMP’s actions in the Dziekanski case.

Mr. Kennedy had already said that he would assess the force’s policies for using tasers, or conducted energy devices, and whether the four officers involved in the incident with Mr. Dziekanski complied with those protocols. But Mr. Day’s request means he has now been asked to add an RCMP-wide assessment of whether the force is complying with its protocols.

Though it’s good to see the Public Safety Minister responding to the issue, it’s kind of a pity that it has to first come to a situation where the government has no choice but to respond. This kind of incident clearly isn’t good for the public… waiting for them to respond with rage is a weak way of putting off the issue, and — if successful — would obviously cause more harm than good.

It’ll be a fine day when we see our governments jumping to confront internal issues as quickly as they confront external risks.

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