Sometimes, surely, opponents of Tasers must feel like they are in a nightmare, where they are screaming but no sound comes out. Especially in states like Texas where, despite a growing death toll, too many law enforcement agencies – including the Fort Worth Police Department – continue to use the electric-shock weapons in fatally inappropriate ways.
The local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference led a march here last week to protest the death of Michael Jacobs Jr., ruled a homicide after a Fort Worth police officer accidentally tasered the young man for 54 seconds (she said she didn’t know she had held the trigger down for 49 of those seconds). The officer was not disciplined.
Amnesty International led the charge in compiling evidence against Tasers several years ago, along with an Arizona newspaper reporter. The evidence of the weapon’s connection to death after death has continued to mount, the company has changed its “nonlethal” description of its product to “less lethal” and issued more and more directives about possible side effects and suggested limitations on its use. And yet the stories of police abuse of the weapon keep rolling in.
One of the latest: An officer in Pensacola, Fla., who tried to taser a young bike rider from his car. When the young man fell off his bike, possibly because of the Taser’s effects, the officer couldn’t stop, and ran over him and killed him. The man’s crime? Who knows? He was walking around a construction site late at night and jumped on his bike when the officer spotted him. Whatever he was doing there, it probably wasn’t a capital crime, and he certainly wasn’t threatening anyone’s safety when he ran.
Two groups that are taking the threat of Tasers seriously and refusing to sit down and shut up are the SCLC and the League of United Latin American Citizens. The SCLC has called a national summit on Taser use in Florida for next month. They and LULAC – the country’s largest Hispanic civil rights group -have called for a national moratorium on use of the weapons. The governor of Florida met recently with an SCLC delegation to talk about the situation.
And the families of Taser victims are beginning to stand up and shout as well, working with groups like LULAC and SCLC to voice their outrage, trying to get the attention of the Obama administration to investigate civil rights abuses and other national angles to the controversy.
But hey, there’s always some good news. According to New Scientist magazine, Taser International is developing a long-range version of the weapon. It’s supposed to trigger a 20-second charge when it hits its target. Small problem, though: Some of the capsules that deliver the charge have been found to be capable of shocking a victim for more than five minutes, instead of 20 seconds.
The company, of course, says that problem has been fixed.
Static, somehow, doesn’t feel much better. Maybe that meeting in Pensacola will do the trick.