• 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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