Philadelphia’s old Veterans Stadium had a jail on-site, for the storage of drunk, violent, surly Philly sports fans. Philadelphia’s new Citizens Bank Park just has Tasers. Last night, a 17-year-old ran out onto the field during a Phillies-Cardinals game, and, after being chased around, was brought down when a security officer shot him with several thousand volts from a stun gun. On the one hand, Tasers have killed hundreds of people in the past decade. On the other hand, it is totally hilarious watching someone get electrocuted, which is why you’ve probably already seen this video today.
Bring back the jail, please?
The weapons industry spends millions of dollars developing ever more fanciful “nonlethal” weapons; this well-marketed fantasy of painless crowd control has led, in general, to the ever freer application of ever higher-tech weaponry, against unarmed civilians.
In Harper’s earlier this year, Ando Arike compiled a history of “The Soft-Kill Solution,” article, if you’re a subscriber, runs down the history of the Taser:
The Rodney King affair might have ended the use of this weapon [which was used, along with batons, by the four LAPD officers who beat him] had it not been for the foresight of the Smith brothers of Scottsdale, Arizona, whose company, Taser International, acquired rights from the original maker. In 1998 they set out to re-engineer the device so that it could deliver more dependable, higher-powered shocks. The company introduced the M26, the first of its “advanced electronic control devices,” in 2000, and turned its first profit in 2001, largely due to purchases by airlines in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Taser International soon named former New York Police Commissioner and official 9/11 hero—and, now, convicted felon—Bernard Kerik to its board of directors; with Kerik’s appointment as Iraq’s interim interior minister and his nomination to head the Department of Homeland Security, weapons sales and company stock skyrocketed. At last count, some 350,000 Tasers were deployed among 13,000 U.S. police, corrections, and military agencies, and the company estimates that its weapons are used more than 600 times each day.
Originally sold as an alternative to firearms, the Taser today has become an all-purpose tool for what police call “pain compliance.” Mounting evidence shows that the weapon is routinely used on people who pose little threat: those in handcuffs, in jail cells, in wheelchairs and hospital beds; schoolchildren, pregnant women, the mentally disturbed, the elderly; irate shoppers, obnoxious lawyers, argumentative drivers, nonviolent protesters—in fact, YouTube now has an entire category of videos in which people are Tasered for dubious reasons. In late 2007, public outrage flared briefly over the two most famous such videos—those of college student Andrew Meyer “drive-stunned” at a John Kerry speech, and of a distraught Polish immigrant, Robert Dziekanski, dying after repeated Taser jolts at Vancouver airport—but police and weapon were found blameless in both incidents. Strangely, YouTube’s videos may be promoting wider acceptance of the Taser; it appears that many viewers watch them for entertainment.
Arike also notes that “According to Amnesty International, between June 2001 and September 2008, 334 people died in the United States after tasering by police—only thirty-three of those people were armed in any way, and only four with firearms—and yet in wrongful-death lawsuits, courts have consistently ruled in favor of police and Taser International.”
The Tasering of a teenager who’s run out onto the field is, plainly, excessive force by any sensible definition. Since when, I ask you, was a Taser necessary equipment to take down a fan who’s run onto the field? The current model lacks for neither efficiency nor comedy. Hell, even the mascots are more than capable of handling things without the use of laser guns developed by NASA scientists. Where was the Phillie Phanatic during all of this?