Feeling Good? Take a Ride on the Taser!


When most Americans read about the Bush Administration’s defense of torture, they undoubtedly think of faraway fascists whom supporters of the war describe as animals and turn the page. But torture, like endless war, can rend the fabric of civilized life, which is why our founders strongly opposed both.

While we weren’t looking, the brutality of torture and preemptive war propounded by our national government has steadily seeped ever deeper into the consciousness of state and local bureaucrats, especially those armed with deadly weapons. I notice especially the emergence of an increasingly non-random pattern of preemptive government torture, this time by Taser.

Spend a couple of minutes on the web, and you can find numerous such incidents — in, Ohio, Florida, Florida, and South Carolina (in the South Carolina case, a 75-year-old infirm woman was actually Tased in a nursing home).

Apparently, this "harmless" little device is a favorite among domestic police forces.

But Tasers are not harmless: they can kill innocent victims who pose no mortal threat merely because police officers consider the victims to be insufficiently obsequious.

For instance, last October, police in Vancouver tasered Robert Dziekanski to death. Last Tuesday, Minnesota police killed Mark Backlund with Tasers when they found him "uncooperative."

The incident which has probably gotten the most coverage, and which first attracted my attention when I saw it on Lew’s blog, occurred in Utah last fall. A Utah State Highway Patrol (UHP) officer Tased an unarmed, nonviolent man whom he had stopped for speeding. Weeks later, the victim acquired the video from the trooper’s dashboard-mounted videocam in a public records request and posted it on the internet. To date, a million and a half people have watched it.

Naturally, the UHP was swamped with outraged calls and e-mails, so it announced an investigation. It investigated itself, of course, but without the public outcry it would undoubtedly not have done even that. Without such a public uproar, Utah’s "bureaucrats with guns" would probably consider Tasing the innocent as unremarkable as stopping for a free cup of coffee and a donut at Mom’s Diner. In fact, maybe they still do.

The investigation was obviously a coverup. Since the UHP knew that the victim was considering a lawsuit, its top brass were undoubtedly advised by counsel that an honest investigation would amount to "self-incrimination." Hence, the "investigation" probably took all of five minutes. The "results" were not reported to the public for weeks, and, to no one’s surprise, the Tasing officer, one Trooper John Gardener, was exonerated.

Nonetheless, in trying to say nothing, the UHP let the cat out of the bag, and painted a picture of where "law enforcement" is heading, not only in Utah but in the entire nation.

The telling admission came when Col. Lance Davenport, Commander of the Utah Highway Patrol, explained his decision to exonerate Gardener. According to Col. Davenport, Trooper Gardener "felt threatened and acted reasonably."

Here, Dear Reader, is the "guilty" plea of the highest-ranking police officer in Utah to the charge that he and his troopers are irrational. In fact, he is so proud of it that he calls a news conference to announce it. Unfortunately, this condition is common among armed agents of the state everywhere.

Any grade-school teacher fifty years ago would instantly correct a pupil who confused her feelings with rational thinking. Alas, this is not the case in today’s government schools. There, pathetic educrats try to make the little toddlers "feel good about themselves" and call it education, even as their test scores sink below those of Lower Slobbovia.

Let me hazard a guess: Trooper Gardener and Col. Davenport went to government schools.

I am in the music business and I’ve been teaching college courses off and on for years. Early on, I have learned, both from artists and from students, that it is virtually impossible to argue with a feeling. Feelings must be respected, to be sure, and powerful feelings must be respected powerfully. But I often find myself having to tiptoe gingerly (and respectfully) around them, awaiting the opportunity to commence a rational conversation. I repeat: You simply cannot argue with a feeling. You have to wait for a rational opening.

Sometimes that opening never comes. Too many of today’s government school students are raised on the pure drivel of self-esteem. "I am special, I am special, look at me, look at me, " they chant. And, when they show up in my class, they write things like, "I feel that Plato was a fascist."

Well, I don’t care if they write, "I feel that Aquinas was a great saint." That is, whether their feelings tend to agree or to disagree with what I think, I realize that we have to get the discussion onto a rational level in order to proceed.

Col. Davenport no doubt considers his whitewashing of Trooper Gardener to be a smashing success. But he has unwittingly laid bare the fatal flaw in his entire operation, admitting outright that Gardner, by his own admission, acted passionately, not reasonably, and that his superiors want him to continue to do so. How comforting to the people of Utah!

But not to the rest of us. Think about Col. Davenport’s admission for a moment. The next time you are confronted by a government employee who is armed with a deadly weapon, you have to keep constantly in mind that his superiors have drilled into his psyche that he should act according to his feelings. You cannot expect him to be rational, or try to engage in rational discourse, or even expect him to understand, much less to answer, a simple factual question. That approach, you see, might make the armed agent of the state feel threatened! And frankly, I run into people all the time who feel threatened by rational inquiry into even their most firmly-held convictions (example: try having a rational conversation with your friends who still believe that Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a "success.")

Long ago I had an old jalopy and put a bumper sticker on it that said, "Support Your Local Police." Try asking your local police about their standards regarding the use of force. They will probably respond that they are trained to use reasonable force. That is, the individuals applying that principle must be rational people. Apparently, Utah is an exception. Or is it the rule?

By the way, to pacify any unreasonable readers who might feel threatened by these observations: I am not judging the legal particulars of the incidents linked above. I believe in letting the jury decide. From them I draw two inescapable conclusions: police use Tasers a lot, and Tasers can kill people (the manufacturer objects, however, and insists that there is always another reason the victim is dead. You can look it up). I am focusing here simply on the outrageous but inescapable conclusion that it is law enforcement’s policy to act irrationally, at least in Utah. On the video, Trooper Gardener even brags to a backup officer on the scene that he has made his victim "take a ride on the Taser." You don’t have to be a psychology major to analyze the personality disorder represented by that line, but Col. Davenport exonerated him because of the way he felt.

Two years ago, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a historic address that encourages the world to engage in civilized and rational discussion. Benedict is speaking not only the world of Islam, but also the West: be rational! Act rationally!

It is good advice. Let us pray that someone in the Utah Highway Patrol is listening.