I am loathe in general to criticize police. I've got a number of good friends who are cops, and for evey case of a 'bad cop' that we hear about or read about in the papers, there are dozens of 'good cops' who are doing a dangerous job for not nearly enough money. And if you haven't been a cop (like I've never been) the old adage of 'don't criticize a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes' is a good one to live by.
However, I was disturbed by a story that I saw today.
There are times when a Taser is needed, and police should always have one around. Clearly it is better to use one than a real gun with real bullets, and there are situations in which there is no choice other than to use force.
But force should always be a last resort, and it is a fact that on occasion the stun gun can prove as lethal as a bullet. Then one has to ask whether it was warranted.
And I know that police have a tough job, a job in which one wrong call can cost them their lives. But it's hard to argue that they were in physical danger in this situation:
police kill shouting teen with taser.
JERSEYVILLE, Illinois (AP) -- A teenager carrying a Bible and shouting "I want Jesus" was shot twice with a police stun gun and later died at a St. Louis hospital, authorities said.
In a statement obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, police in Jerseyville, about 40 miles north of St. Louis, said 17-year-old Roger Holyfield would not acknowledge officers who approached him and he continued yelling, "I want Jesus."
Police tried to calm the teen, but Holyfield became combative, according to the statement. Officers fired the stun gun at him after he ignored their warnings, then fired again when he continued struggling, police said.
Holyfield was flown to St. Louis' Cardinal Glennon Hospital after the confrontation Saturday; he died there Sunday, police said.
What were all those cops afraid of? That he was going to beat them to death with his Bible? What was the crime he was committing? According to the first amendment he has a right to shout. He may have been in violation of a local noise ordinance or something, but if so then weren't there better ways to handle it? Starting with contacting his parents, and if that doesn't work then maybe they might have to physically restrain him but it seems that a number of police officers should have been able to do so without using the taser.
In a report released in March, international human rights group Amnesty International said it had logged at least 156 deaths across the country in the previous five years related to police stun guns.
A few years ago here in Arizona we had a case of a mentally disturbed man who had been sitting in a tree negotiating with police who wanted him to come down. A new police officer arrived on the scene with a taser, unfamiliar with the immediate situation, and shot him. The man fell out of the tree on his head, broke his neck and is now a quadraplegic. What irks me about situations like these is not that a taser was used, but that it was used unnecessarily, with serious consequences.
As I've said, there are times when a taser is a better and more humane alternative to a real gun, but it seems like it is used entirely too often.