Letter: Tasers more hazardous than helpful

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 | 9:48 a.m. CDT

Could I have been Tasered?
When one receives direction from a police officer, one should “comply forthwith and politely,” according to a recent Columbia letter to the editor. I found that compliance with a police order is not necessarily that easy when I was in a frightening situation with a police officer a few years ago.
I had just turned into a parking lot in downtown Columbia, stopped my car and had stepped onto the pavement. A policeman stopped his vehicle a few spaces away and started walking toward me. I was anticipating talking to him when out of the blue he said in a loud, sharp voice, “Sit down!”
I froze. I felt I was in the Twilight Zone all of a sudden, not comprehending the meaning of this shocking, intrusive treatment by this strange man. I was petrified with scrambled emotions of bewilderment, fright and indignation flashing through my mind. He commanded again, “Sit down!”
Still confused, adrenaline rushing from fright and automatic instincts of danger, fight or run, I finally realized I must submit to this threatening, nonsensical man only because he was the police. At that point I was finally able to force my emotions down in order to obey and sit down in my car.
Why was I accosted by the police officer in such a way? I had unwittingly committed a minor traffic violation, and the officer had driven behind me for a couple of blocks with his light turning. However, I was unaware of his presence until he pulled up in the parking lot beside my car.
If this officer had had a Taser, would he have used it on me for not immediately obeying his order? I am a short, older white female.
But if I had been young or large or male or black, would my chances have gone up of being Tasered for hesitating to comply with an order?
And, with current lax Taser regulations, couldn’t just about anybody be Tasered?
The Taser renders you instantly completely helpless. You can’t even instinctively put out your hands to break your fall, which means your face or the back of your head could hit the cement very hard.
Besides potential injuries from falls, the Taser causes extreme physical pain, and Tasered individuals can suffer internal injuries and even death.
While Tasers are being marketed as a less-lethal alternative to a gun, in actuality some police throughout our country seem to be using them also when they would never use a gun — to force obedience to orders even when people are not resisting.
With Taser use, our police force and city are increasingly vulnerable to lawsuit.   Check, recent title, “Man dies after cop hits him with Taser 9 times”,  wherein a police officer’s use of a Taser in Louisiana is determined to be homicide. We are learning that Tasers are much more dangerous than we thought.
Amnesty International’s position is that Tasers should never be used except in situations of imminent danger — life or death situations or where there is dire potential for very serious injury. If they must be used as a last resort, regulations should be very restrictive and training very rigorous, with medical evaluations on every person Tasered.
I believe we should have no new Tasers and no new training for Taser use in Columbia until these regulations are completely scrutinized, re-evaluated and rewritten as needed with public testimony, comment and suggestions. We need more protection from this weapon, not just for our population, but also to protect our police officers and our city from lawsuits.

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