December 13, 2007

Shocked To Our Senses?

A great deal has been said on the sad topic of the tragic deaths of persons struck by the latest in police technology, the 'taser.' Yet, there are still a few nuances that I haven't seen or heard in the media coverage.
When tasers were first introduced by police forces across North America, they were 'sold' to the public on the assurance that they were going to be used only in those situations where, previously, fire-arms would have been used. Hence, the police promoted these weapons as safe and humane alternatives to guns, whose use very often result in death. On this pretext, the public accepted the deployment of tasers, and police forces eagerly bought them from the equally eager corporation that manufactures them.

Just a few years after their introduction, what are we finding? It's quite obvious from a deluge of reports, that the police regardless of what their training manuals state are now using tasers as their preferred, primary tactic in dealing with anyone who doesn't immediately submit to their approach. This assertion is amply illustrated by a list of those who've been tasered, which includes senior citizens, both men and women, pregnant women, teens, and those with physical and mental handicaps. Now, think about it: does that sound like individuals who would be involved in such dangerous criminal acts as to require the use of fire-arms? Obviously no! The police have discovered that they have a new toy that can be used anytime, anywhere to subdue any person they merely suspect of being uncooperative. Using the taser removes any need to use their brains, removes any risk to the officers, and until recently, they haven't had to answer to anyone outside the 'blue-line' to justify their actions.

Sure, the cops have a difficult job; so do psychiatric nurses and doctors, for example. But they manage to do their jobs without resorting to tasers as the first tactic. What the public is outraged about is the clear threat that we are now all living under you are no longer innocent until charged with something; the police may decide to taser you for any little action or 'lip' that they don't like. No member of society is safe from this weapon by reason of age, sex, or status. That is very troubling in a country that likes to promote itself as 'free' and law-abiding. There can be no respect for law once the law-keepers consider themselves above it!

A lot of blame, I contend, must go towards the manufacturer of these infernal weapons of torture. The company insists that the device is not lethal despite clear statistics of numerous deaths following its use. It's just like the sad saga of tobacco, all over again! "There is no scientific link between the use of 'blahblah' and injuries/conditions resulting in mortality." Yeah, sure! Neither is there a link between the results of the research and the fact that much of the research is funded by the manufacturer of tasers! The way corporate America uses 'research' to bamboozle the public is a blatant insult to our intelligence. How many more needless deaths will have to be whitewashed before our legislators wake up and stop this idiocy? Quite frankly, I think there is a place for the use of tasers by police but put them in the same category as fire-arms, deadly weapons. Every use of tasers should require a full report by the officer involved, with proper justification for its use based on real risk of serious injury or death.

From all that Canadians have learned in the past few years the Air India enquiry, the Arar enquiry, the RCMP pension fund scandal, the freezing deaths of native detainees, the YVR killing, etc. it is abundantly clear that our police forces are out of control. It is past time that police officers everywhere be made accountable to civilian authority. Yes, the idea is repugnant to them; they think no-one can understand the pressures they work under. The police have to remember that above all they are civil servants that means they are paid by, and answerable to, civil society. If they continue to act as independent vigilantes, they will soon find their job becoming a lot harder than it is now, as public trust in them is eroded and replaced by fear.

We, ordinary citizens, must continue to press our politicians for better, and impartial oversight of those charged with our protection, before we wake up in an Orwellian police state. When the law-keepers are accountable, we will all benefit police officers as well as the public at large. If we can find the courage to take the necessary steps, Mr. Dziekanski's particularly senseless death at the Vancouver airport will not have been in vain.

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