Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Amnesty International Exposes Widespread Taser Misuse

[Warning: videos show graphic scenes]

Following upon the widely reported tasering of University of Florida student Andrew Meyer the other day, it is important to note that this was not a random or unusual occurence. Many commentators have mentioned the taser attack by police on a student at UCLA who wouldn't show his I.D., back in November 2006.

Amnesty International has been documenting misuse of tasers for some time now, and has plenty of links to stories, videos, and audio programs documenting this problem. For instance, there's this, from an AI press release from March 2006:

Sixty-one people died in 2005 after being shocked by law enforcement agency TASERs, a 27 percent increase from 2004's tally of 48 deaths, finds an Amnesty International study released today. Including 10 TASER-related deaths through mid-February of this year, at least 152 people have died in the United States since June 2001 after being shocked with the weapons....

TASERs are powerful electro-shock weapons in use in more than 7,000 of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. They are designed to incapacitate by conducting 50,000 volts of electricity into an individual's body. The electrical pulses induce skeletal muscle spasms that immobilize and incapacitate the individual, causing them to fall to the ground.

It's not just students who get tasered, by the way (although here's a link to another typical incident). AI has expressed its grave concern over police using tasers on vulnerable groups such as senior citizens, pregnant women and children. Here's a video of police at Los Angeles International AIrport repeatedly tasering an unarmed elderly man. Notice the fearful reaction of the girls in the background.

Just as disturbing, but with sound, is this YouTube video of a completely unprovoked tasering of a young woman at an antiwar demonstration:

A protester, who was tasered by police at a demonstration called by steelworkers against Jeb Bush in Pittsburg last year, described to Amy Goodman what it feels like to get "tasered":

AMY GOODMAN: When you say tasered, explain exactly what happened and what that means.

PROTESTER: Well, a taser is different than a stun gun. They keep saying it was a stun gun. But a taser, it's like a yellow or black gun-looking thing. It's plastic. It shoots out two wires that have barbs on the end that hook into your skin, and then it fires electrical charges into you. I didn't get hit with the full voltage [inaudible] dropped the full-voltage cartridge, but essentially when you get hit with a taser, every muscle in your body bunches up, and you can't control your movements at all. So when I got pulled back, the taser came out of my body, which allowed me to regain my balance and keep moving. But the effects of that are pretty long-lasting. You know, I was hazy and couldn't concentrate on anything for about a day and like my whole body hurts now, and things like that. It's a pretty vicious weapon. People have died because of it.

Meanwhile, even today, CNN reports on the spread of taser use to the U.S. Forestry Service:

TASER International, Inc. (Nasdaq:TASR), a market leader in advanced electronic control devices, today announced that it received an order from the United States Forest Service for 700 TASER(r) X26 electronic control devices and related accessories.

"We are excited about this new additional federal agency purchasing TASER technology to protect life," said Tom Smith, Chairman and Founder of TASER international. "Traditionally, we have focused law enforcement sales at the local and state level, but we are now seeing acceptance of TASER technology at various federal law enforcement agencies."

"We have seen a continual marked increase in TASER technology purchases at the federal level following our initial U.S. military approval of a five-year indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract. We are proud that law enforcement within the Departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, and Agriculture are now relying on TASER devices to protect life."

The Department of Agriculture now arms its police -- who knew they even had police?? -- with tasers!

What's maybe most disturbing is the support for police state tactics by many in this country. Blogs and YouTube comments are filled with invective aimed at UF student Andrew Meyer, and with words of support for the police. It's quite clear from the videos of the event with Meyer that he was NOT being disruptive -- unless you believe that speaking truth to power, or talking about uncomfortable subjects like black voter disenfranchisement when only "questions" are allowed, constitutes "disruption". Meyer spoke for about a minute and a half, his microphone was cut off, and he was arrested, pleading for help and asking for outrage from an American student audience that sat on its hands. Tellingly, John Kerry did little or nothing to stop the atrocity.

Please support Amnesty International in their campaign to have a rigorous, independent, impartial study of the taser's use and its effects. Up to now, most of the touted "independent" studies demonstrating the "safety" of this lethal device have been scandalously linked to the manufacturer.

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