The Trouble with Tasers

I first became interested in this subject back in 2007. At that time, a University of Florida student (Andrew Meyer) had attended a speech by Senator John Kerry and asked him questions afterwards. The student had asked Senator Kerry a series of questions that Kerry was perfectly ready, willing and able to answer, however the police at the event didn’t approve of the things Meyer has said. They cut the power to his microphone, threw him on the ground, pinned him, handcuffed him and then used a taser to assault him.

This seemed rather extreme to me, so I set about to see what would happen to the police who assaulted the boy.

It turns out nothing happened to them. Despite the fact that Andrew Meyer was thrown to the ground, handcuffed and assaulted by thousands of volts of electricity while held down helpless by police, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement came to the conclusion that the police who needlessly and sadistically assaulted a helpless young student (who did nothing worse than ask a series of questions, which John Kerry said he was ready, willing and able to answer) acted well within state guidelines.


The mainstream media acted as if it was no big deal that Andrew Meyer was tasered and some in the mainstream media even made jokes about it . . . as if being assaulted by 50,000 volts of electricity was somehow funny.

Tasers stayed out of the news for at least a year after that, and if the case of Andrew Meyer came up again at all, we were told that Meyer “deserved it”. There was no sympathy for those who were brutalized by police.

Then in May of 2009, in Austin Texas a 72 year old woman was pulled over for speeding. The 72 year-old grandmother was less than 5 feet tall and looked like she would blow over if a strong breeze came along. However the police officer (who was at least 12 inches taller than her) decided to zap her with his taser when she became “confrontational”.

There weren’t any jokes this time.

Apparently zapping tall, healthy college men is okay (and even entertaining), but zapping a tiny, elderly, frail female isn’t. Nobody laughed or sold t-shirts to celebrate the event when Kathryn Winkfein was assaulted.

Then in November of 2009, tasers were in the news again as a police officer in Arkansas tasered a 10-year old girl who was “argumentative” and “throwing a temper tantrum”.

Again there were no jokes. Apparently assaulting a 10-year old little girl with 50,000 volts isn’t funny either.

And now I feel compelled to ask . . . don’t these police receive ANY training of any kind whatsoever on how to subdue a “confrontational” civilian without resorting to a weapon that delivers 50,000 volts?

I’m not very physically impressive and I have zero combat training, but even I could subdue a 10-year old little girl without using a high-tech weapon like a taser!

And why did police responding to a noise complaint in Wisconsin feel compelled to taser a Bible study teacher, his pregnant wife and the grandmother of a child at the child’s baptism party?

Why is it that the police in this country seem to be unable to subdue frail old grandmothers and little girls without the use of high-tech weapons? Are they stupid? Did they receive NO training whatsoever? Do they get paid a bonus every time they use a taser to zap somebody? Or, are they just sadists who enjoy inflicting pain?

While answers are unlikely to be coming forth anytime soon, what little we already know is plenty enough to be disturbed about.

And despite the fact that Taser International refers to their products as the “Nonlethal weapons of the future”, hundreds of people have been killed by them.

At least 334 deaths have been documented in the as a result of being tasered.

"Tasers are not the 'non-lethal' weapons they are portrayed to be," said Angela Wright, US researcher at Amnesty International and author of a report on taser deaths. "They can kill and should only be used as a last resort".

Amnesty International’s study – which includes information from 98 autopsies – found that 90 per cent of those who died after being struck with a Taser were unarmed and many did not appear to present a serious threat.

So, what’s the answer? Why do police feel so free to use this dangerous (potentially lethal) weapon when dealing with noise complaints, small disobedient children, traffic violations and other non-lethal police duties?

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Tasers should be suspended from use until there has been additional testing by independent sources and appropriate training of any law personnel who have the ability to use a taser.

A twenty-three year old man in a small town near where I live died after police used a taser on him. The police only suspected him of drunk driving but one officer believed he was resisting arrest and went for the taser which proved to be a fatal mistake. The officers involved were cleared of any wrongdoing but the police department lost a civil suit, had to pay $2.4 million and have since halted the use of tasers pending further changes to their policies.

I personally don't trust the judgment of law officers to make a call of when it is appropriate to use a taser. And even worse, we don't really know how any individual's body will respond to a shock.