For People Who Think

May 13, 2010

Electrifying Punishment in Philadelphia

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 7:26 pm

Everybody saw it on TV the other day.

An idiot kid attending a Phillies game in South Philadelphia got a sudden inspiration. Why not jump out on the field and run around to disrupt the game? Pretty quickly, the kid found out why not.

He ended up as the target of a chase by security guards and a Philadelphia cop. I lived in Philadelphia for 10 years, and you learn something living and working in that city. You don’t screw around with the cops there. The kid was in mid-stride when he was hit with a TASER dart. Instantly, the idiot kid bit the dust. TASERS do that to people. They shoot a huge – although, supposedly non-lethal – jolt of electricity through the body, immobilizing the target of the shot.
That skinny, unarmed, idiot kid wasn’t the only person jolted by that TASER shot in the outfield of Citizens Bank Park. In the stands were 45,000 witnesses. What they saw was that scrawny kid essentially hit by a bolt of lightning. As the kid flopped face down on the grass in agony, the crowd booed the police lustily — and with good reason. All around the country, TV viewers were horrified.

TASERs are useful tools for the police – when they’re used properly, that is. The TASER takes its name from a mythical invention by a mythical character – Tom Swift. A century ago, Tom Swift was Harry Potter – the leading juvenile character in mass market literature. The kid was an adventurer and inventor. One of his inventions was an electric rifle. Hence, the name TASER. It stands for Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle.

TASERs have been around for a good decade now. They were designed by an outfit in Arizona to give cops another choice when the only available option seems to be using a gun. They’re meant to be a weapon of not-quite last resort against dangerous suspects who pose a serious threat to cops. The idea behind the TASER is to subdue suspects, not kill them.

The problem is that when a suspect is coked up, a situation that endangers heart rhythms to begin with, a hefty jolt of electricity can kill. That has happened repeatedly all across the country. That’s why the police should use these devices only when there’s no other choice but a gun. That cop in Philadelphia had no idea if the kid was coked up, and the cop clearly was in a situation where he wouldn’t have gunned the kid down.

In Albany, TASERs are in the hands of police supervisors, not cops on the street. It seems a sensible policy. All across the country, there’s now ample evidence that some police officers, with their blood running hot, have used these things in cases where less potentially deadly, measures would have done the job nicely.

Cops on the street routinely insist they fire stun guns only in crisis situations. Most of the time there are no eyewitnesses to contradict them. That idiot kid who disrupted that Phillies-Cardinals game deserves to be prosecuted and fined and probably jailed. He should not have been TASERed. Nor should anybody else unless that person appears violent or poses a threat more serious than disrupting a baseball game.

The problem is that the Philadelphia police commissioner, Charles Ramsey, reviewed video of the incident. His conclusion: His officer had acted within department guidelines..

Amnesty International has looked into TASER use by American police. Their conclusion is that in about 90 percent of cases involving TASERs the guy who got TASERed was unarmed. They probably were idiots, like the kid at the ballpark, but Amnesty found that 334 people had died after being TASERed between 2001 and 2008. Most of the deaths were attributed to a combination of drug and alcohol intoxication and an electric jolt that may or may not have been justified by the circumstances. Amnesty International wants TASERs banned – not a good idea. But indiscriminate use of these devices is also not a good idea, and that’s what we saw in the Philadelphia incident.

Nobody who poses no immediate threat of harm to anybody else should have to die at the hands of anybody – including the cops — merely because he’s an idiot.
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