Pain Compliance 101: The Taser

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A decade ago,
ordinary Americans would not have tolerated such widespread use
of the Taser, a stun gun delivering a 50,000-volt shock. They would
not have tolerated the electrocution of unarmed, non-threatening
civilians without following the normal “escalation of force” policy.

Ironically,
American political leaders and the media once cast aspersion on
the regimes of Guatemala and Argentina, which used cattle-prods
on prisoners. Cattle-prods only deliver 25,000-volt shocks, half
that of the Taser. Cual es el problema?

With hindsight,
Guantanamo helped condition the American public. It raised the threshold
of what Americans consider reasonable in violating personal space
by the state (or by its private contractors, like Halliburton, which
has built parts of Gitmo, or Lockheed Martin, which has provided
professional interrogators).

Civil libertarians,
including Rep. Ron Paul, have long been concerned about the slippery
slope of Guantanamo, about the transfer of its theories and practices
to the United States: Guantanamo as dress rehearsal.

In fact, upon
closer inspection, the transfer of violations from Guantanamo to
the US “Homeland” might be one purpose behind Guantanamo in the
first place. After all, hardly any real terrorists were convincingly
exposed at Guantanamo, and even some federal authorities wonder
aloud that more than one-third of the detainees might be entirely
innocent. By and large, Gitmo was populated with taxi cab drivers,
goat herders and even teenage students, most having been delivered
to US forces by bounty hunters and opium warlords.

What Naomi
Wolf wrote about Guantanamo may be true:

“If you torture
prisoners, you will certainly obtain an endless stream of false
confessions. In this sense, Guantanamo is an efficient machine for
producing a high-value political product: false confessions by brown
people with Muslim names.” (Naomi Wolf, The End of America).

Another “show”
also helped lower America’s tolerance for pain compliance. The Fox
program “24,” starring Kiefer Sutherland, has plenty of prime-time
torture. The Secretary of Homeland Security (in real life) even
appeared alongside the producers of “24″ (a TV show) at an event
sponsored by the Heritage Foundation (a neo-con think tank). As
John Wiener described in The
Nation
, “24″ features at least one torture scene in every
episode:

“In ’24,’ Sutherland
plays special agent Jack Bauer, head of the Counter Terrorism Unit.
He fights some of his biggest battles not with the dark-skinned
enemies trying to nuke L.A., but rather with the light-skinned do-gooders
who think the head of the Counter Terrorism Unit should follow the
rules.

Back in season
four, for example, the bumbling bureaucrats released a captured
terrorist before he could be tortured – because a lawyer for ‘Amnesty
Global’ showed up whining about the Geneva Conventions. Jack had
to quit the Counter Terrorist Unit and become a private citizen
in order to break the suspect’s fingers.”

Reality and
fiction, Guantanamo and 24, worked in tandem during a time when
the police use of Tasers became widespread, especially against unarmed
and non-threatening civilians, as reported by John W. Whitehead
of Rutherford Institute, in Police
State Tactics
:

“Amnesty International
reports that in instances where Tasers are used, 80 percent of the
time they are used on unarmed suspects. In 36 percent of the cases,
they are used for verbal non-compliance, but only 3 percent of the
time for cases involving ‘deadly assault.’”

Arguably, the
Taser, as an electroshock weapon, could be used by police to subdue
a truly dangerous suspect in an extreme situation (such as when
a crazy person, on crystal meth, drooling and spitting, is holding
a child hostage at knifepoint, in front of a convenience store,
and making some nonsensical demand).

Instead, police
reach for the Taser gun and electrocute argumentative motorists
who’ve been pulled over; loud-mouthed university students (Don’t
Tase Me, Bro!); university students failing to produce IDs in a
library; and even unruly schoolchildren.

Actually, Tasers
are frequently used on children according to news
reports
:

“In another
incident in Florida, an officer chased down a 12-year-old girl who
was skipping school, and shocked her with a Taser.

In the past
few weeks, police officers have tased high school students in schools
in Madison, Wisconsin and Prattville, Alabama. Officers in the St.
Paul, Minnesota high schools will soon carry Tasers, and in Jacksonville,
Florida – over the objections of The Jacksonville Leadership Coalition,
a citizens group – Duval county sheriffs officers will soon be patrolling
the local middle and high schools with the weapons in their holsters.”

If the authorities
are going to electroshock children, then they should consider using
the stun gun on pregnant women and the elderly as well, just to
round out the representation of vulnerable people. Wait, pregnant
women and the elderly are already being tasered, according to John
W. Whitehead in Police
State Tactics
:

“Incredibly,
police officers have tasered pregnant women, even when they are
fully aware of their pregnancies. In 2001, Cindy Grippi was tasered
in the back for entering her house against the instructions of police
officers, despite the fact that she was not engaging in any truly
disruptive or criminal behavior. As a result, Grippi fell onto her
stomach and recounts that she “felt a sharp pain in her abdomen
as the Taser struck her.” Hours later, doctors diagnosed Grippi
with “fetal demise,” and she delivered a stillborn child. Tianesha
Robinson was tasered by police officers in 2006 for resisting arrest
during a traffic stop. Days later, she suffered a miscarriage.

… In
other cases, police officers have continued to shock individuals
repeatedly, despite the fact that the first shock achieved their
goal of thoroughly immobilizing the target. In 2003, an elderly
blind woman, who was also extremely hard of hearing, was struck
by a taser three times for failing to respond to police officers.
As a result of the taser shocks to her back and the pepper spray
to her face, the woman’s prosthetic right eye was ultimately dislodged
from its socket.

Clearly, the
use of tasers should be suspended immediately — or at least until
a comprehensive medical study can be conducted proving they are
safe to the general public when used by police officers…

Otherwise,
we are opening the door for rampant abuse and police state tactics…”

But is there
a more vulnerable group of people left to electroshock besides pregnant
women? How about mentally ill people in wheelchairs? As reported
by Orlando
news
:

“Officers said
they arrived to find Delafield in a wheelchair, armed with two knives
and a hammer. Police said the woman was swinging the weapons at
family members and police [yes, but from a wheelchair].

Within an hour
of her call to 911, Delafield, a wheelchair-bound woman documented
to have mental illness, was dead.

Family attorney
Rick Alexander said Delafield’s death could have been prevented
and that there are four things that jump out at him about the case.

‘One, she’s
in a wheelchair. Two, she’s schizophrenic. Three, they’re using
a Taser on a person that’s in a wheelchair, and then four is that
they tasered her 10 times for a period of like two minutes,’ Alexander
said.”

Amnesty International
has documented
hundreds deaths from tasers around the world, with anywhere from
150 to 200 of them in the United States (including children). That
figure is probably closer to 300 and is rising. And the United Nations
has concluded that tasers cause “acute pain, constituting a form
of torture.”

Dr.
Michael Janusz
, a heart surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital
is right: “Tasers almost certainly can cause cardiac arrest in humans,
particularly in people with underlying heart disease.”

Still, it
can be argued that tasers should remain in the police arsenal for
exotic situations, but to equip police with tasers as ordinary weapons
is madness. The insanity is also evident north of the border, in
Canada, where Vancouver police have taken to tasering people trying
to ride the Metro for free according to Canadian
organization
:

“According
to documents provided in response to a Freedom of Information request,
police patrolling public transit in the Metro Vancouver area have
used Tasers 10 times in the past 18 months, including five occasions
when victims had been accosted for riding free… In one incident,
a non-paying passenger was Tasered after he held onto a railing
on the SkyTrain platform and refused to let go.”

What is even
more outlandish is that Taser manufacturers want to make the gun
as ubiquitous as pepper spray. Naomi Klein, in Hooked
on Shock
, finds the following:

“Yet, despite
repeated calls for stricter regulations for police, Taser International
is racing to get its devices in the hands of civilians, marketing
the product as not just safe but fun. In the United States the company
has been aggressively pushing its line of C2 “personal protectors”
— available in pink, leopard print, and in holsters with built-in
MP3 players. (The weapon is nicknamed the “iTaser.”) Tupperware-style
taser parties are springing up in the suburbs of Arizona.”

It does not
stop there. Just as the “War on Terror” conditioned Americans to
accept the Taser, so too is the Taser conditioning the nation to
accept more behavioral control and pain compliance technologies.

One such technology
under consideration is the “shock bracelet” for airline travel today – and for the anti-war dissidents or unruly schoolchildren of tomorrow.
As Karen
De Coster
asks: Will the Militarized Police State Shock You
into Submission?

“This
bracelet will replace the need for a ticket and contain all necessary
information about the person, and as a bonus, it can allow the passenger
to be tracked through the terminal. Crew members would be empowered
with radio frequency transmitters to subdue ‘hijackers.’ The technology
will override a person’s central nervous system and zap them down
quicker than you can say ‘Homeland Security…’"

The patent
actually reads: "Upon
activation of the electric shock device, through receipt of an activating
signal from the selectively operable remote control means, the passenger
wearing that particular bracelet receives the disabling electrical
shock from the electric shock device… Depending on the type of transmission
medium used to send the activating signal, other passengers may
also become temporarily incapacitated, which is undesirable and
unfortunate, but may be unavoidable.” Perhaps there is a larger
historical context in which shock devices makes sense. A former
US president speaks movingly:

“This is still
a dangerous world. It’s a world of madmen and uncertainty, and potential
mental losses.” ~
George W. Bush

November
12, 2008

Andrew
Bosworth [send him mail] has
taught at schools and universities in Haiti, Mexico City, Texas,
and now in Japan. He develops online courses in International Relations
and International Law for universities in Asia. (B.A. (Univ. of
Michigan/Ann Arbor and Ph.D. Univ. of Washington/Seattle). He is
the author of Biotech
Empire: The Untold Future of Food, Pills, and Sex
.

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