The event started out as a typical press conference – speaker, handouts, and a PowerPoint presentation, all while I sat with other reporters behind a bank of video cameras. I was there as a graduate journalism student from the University of North Texas, working on a class project about Tasers and their use by law enforcement. All of us were there for the unveiling of TASER International’s latest product, the “citizen defense” X26c model being marketed to private citizens.
As the event wrapped up, company president Tom Smith asked if anyone would like to experience a Taser’s effects. The bank of reporters shook their heads, chuckling at the idea. Even Smith seemed to regard the offer only as a formality.
So imagine the rustle of surprise that swept the room when I stood up from my seat in the back and said I’d do it. I hurried to the front, trying to get there before I could back down. Immediately, the camera crews pivoted toward me, abandoning the company-provided shot of the Taser’s electricity arcing through a silver practice target, illuminating individual LED lights to show where the 50,000 volts travel. As I stared at this flickering Lite-Brite of potential misery, I wondered if I were slightly insane. Two TASER employees stepped up to hold me so I wouldn’t fall. Or perhaps to keep me from getting away.
Smith hooked the leads from the Taser onto me, one to my belt loop and the other tucked into my shoe on my right side. I understood the concept – that electricity would pass from one lead to the other, forcing 50,000 volts of electricity through my system in three seconds. I knew exactly what the effect would be, knowledge gleaned from hundreds of police reports on the use of Tasers. This did nothing to encourage me, since I’d read over and over about how the victim of a Taser hits the floor immediately and then spasms violently until the cycle is over, losing all muscle control. Not to mention the fact that over a hundred deaths across the nation have involved the use of a Taser.
All these solid, academic facts ran through my head in the few seconds it took Smith, who doesn’t know me or how much I actually know about his company’s electronic pulse weapons, to wire me up. In the second before he pulled the trigger on his little black-and-yellow Taser, I flashed on a comment he’d made earlier, about how it’s unlikely that someone hit with a Taser would lose bladder control. For some reason, that amused me, as I could see myself making a dark spot on my pants in front of at least four network cameras. And then, Smith pulled the trigger.
Pain is the best word for it. Excruciating, blinding pain, with me screaming “Ow, ow, ow,” in a moderate tone as I buckled under it, still trying desperately to retain my composure and tongue in front of the audience. I wish I’d come up with some expression more memorable than “Ow.”
Those three seconds lasted longer than any three seconds of my life, as every muscle on my right side seized up, trembling and spasming as the current flowed through me. I shuddered but couldn’t move. The two men propped me up, allowing me at least some dignity so I didn’t flop to the floor and writhe. And then, the three seconds were up. I bent over to catch my breath, my head spinning for a second. Then I straightened up. The muscles relaxed, the pain was gone, and I was all right.
Those three seconds were the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, worse than the times I have been shocked while working with my electrician father. There was no lingering pain, no muscle cramps, just the two sad red marks left to remind me of what I experienced.
I think it was worth it, even if I looked like an idiot on multiple news broadcasts, as I now know firsthand how it felt for the more than 80,000 persons who have been hit by a Taser, knowledge I couldn’t have gained otherwise, no matter how many police reports I read. I can empathize, I can relate, but I can also understand the place of the Taser as a tool to incapacitate someone. I can see the value of the weapon when force has to be used, since I can’t imagine volunteering to get hit with a nightstick repeatedly.
But I also understand I only experienced a three-second cycle with no direct skin contact, which can’t compare to the five-second cycles employed by law enforcement, or to the piercing of two metal prongs into the chest. Only one side of my body bore the brunt of the pain, where a typical victim will feel it completely. I can’t imagine the suffering of people repeatedly tasered, as sometimes happens in police situations even when no one’s life is being threatened. And I am apprehensive about the new citizen model, the X26c, which allows for a longer, 30-second cycle of pain as long as the trigger is pressed. The idea of minimally trained people running around carrying weapons that could multiply what I experienced by a factor of 10 gives me the chills all over again – perhaps not the result the Taser officials had in mind when they made their offer.
Jacob Taylor is a graduate journalism student at the University of North Texas.