Tasers ‘R’ Us
Liberty is a simple thing. It's the unassailable right to shout, flail your arms, even verbally provoke a politician, unmolested. Tyranny is when those small things can get you assaulted, incarcerated, injured, and even killed.
Evidence of tyranny in America is mounting. For the offense of questioning Democratic Sen. John Kerry persistently and vociferously, Andrew Meyer, a journalism student, was pounced upon by campus police, tasered, detained overnight, and charged with violently resisting arrest (a felony), and disturbing the peace (a misdemeanor).
We listened transfixed as Sgt. James Kuehnlein terrorized and threatened to fabricate charges against a motorist, Brett Darrow. In yet another episode, memorialized in online video, Ohio Patrolman Richard Kovach stands over a handcuffed woman, and repeatedly tasers her. Sadistically, Kovach keeps jolting the helpless woman. Disoriented, she is seen crawling on the ground, her head slamming against the police car.
Discharging an electrical current into a human being is not without its dangers. It can cause permanent heart-muscle damage. If the person is thin, has exposed skin, a preexisting heart condition, or is on certain drugs, a tasering can result in death, warns John McCrie, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Emily Delafield was tasered for 160 seconds during an April 2006 confrontation with police in Green Cove Springs, Fla. She died of heart failure, linked to the electrocution. The burly bullies who killed her were, apparently, incapable of otherwise restraining a wheelchair-bound woman.
Are such violations on the rise? Or are they simply more likely to be videoed, in the age of YouTube?
The former says McCrie. "There are more tasers out there," and cops are eager to test them out. "Police have long sought to have a non-lethal weapon, and this is the weapon of choice. And so they're just inclined to… overuse it sometimes."
The cases of Meyer and Patrolman Kovach's victim, Heidi Gill, 38, exemplify an excessive use of police force, McCrie told CNN. Ditto the case of the disabled, now-dead Delafield. "If a person is threatening a police officer," or someone else; if he's about to take his own life, or to do something dangerous—throw a bomb, for example—using a taser is then reasonable, explained McCrie.
Otherwise, there can be no excuse for deploying a dangerous device to tackle someone who is confined, cuffed, or non-confrontational.
Abuse of power was caught on camera again, as a man peacefully removed himself from a discordant council meeting in Roseland, Indiana. Police pounce on him and arrest him for no other reason than that they can.
The case of Monica Montoya offers more evidence that "'To Protect and Serve' often translates into harass and control," as one blogger put it. This Good Samaritan stopped to assist at the scene of an accident. When she attempted to depart, Montoya was tackled, cuffed, and carted off by the cops, bawling in bewilderment. Her legal travails continue today.
The law was brought into disrepute once more when Police Officer Wendell Adams arrested 20-year-old Kendra Bull for "reckless conduct." The McDonald's employee served His Highness an excessively salty hamburger.
With distressingly few exceptions, the punditocracy, left and right, gleefully agreed that it was OK for campus police to assault Meyer, the pacifist protestor. The young man's cries of "Don't tase me, bro" provided endless comic relief. Representing the ruling class—and also no friend of freedom—Kerry concurred. Virtual bags of bloggerel were devoted to rationalizing the incident: Meyer had orchestrated the disturbance; Darrow was in the habit of baiting cops. Blah, blah.
Even if these assertions are true, so what? These incidents are not about an annoying kid, who might have been playing to the cameras (Meyer). Or an insufficiently subservient subject (Darrow), who dared to assert his rights to his sovereign (Sgt. Kuehnlein). What's at stake is the proper role of law enforcement in a free society. Free people grasp that assaulting a person who has not harmed a soul is unconscionable. Fail to recognize this simple thing and you are no better than a slave—or perhaps you haven't internalized that you too could end up on the receiving side of such usurpations.
Freedoms, you say, are secure so long as citizens can check police excesses by recording, photographing or videotaping these public servants performing their duties. Not so. The police can video us without our consent, but we film them at the risk of a felony prosecution.
"There's been a rash of arrests of late for videotaping police," writes Radley Balko, a vice and civil liberties specialist. Balko has catalogued countless cases where individuals who've filmed police excesses have been arrested on felony wiretapping charges and threatened with lengthy jail sentences. Balko has called for a repeal of laws "explicitly forbidding the recording, photographing or videotaping of police officers. [W]hile they're on duty, they serve the public. And the public, their employer, should have every right to keep them accountable."
As Thomas Jefferson said, "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."
©2007 By Ilana Mercer