Today, I read that Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona has been selected as the new marketing sponsor for Taser International. In case you aren't familiar with Joe, he is currently under grand jury investigation for abuse of power, and last summer was stripped of his ability to enforce federal immigration laws, an action he refused to acknowledge. Famous for his tent city for jail inmates, humiliating downtown marches for immigration detainees, and pink underwear for prisoners, he has now decided to run for governor despite an active campaign against him by many of his deputies. Joe never lets little things like the law get in his way.
But, the Sheriff Joe's of the world could not exist without us.
I've written here and here about my concerns about the increasing use of tasers by law enforcement. In addition to my concern about the over-use of tasers, I am as concerned about a culture that accepts their use and sees little wrong with tasering teenagers, elderly women, or persons with medical conditions because, at the time, the person using the taser believed its use was necessary.
Few, other than progressive bloggers and civil rights attorneys and organizations, have questioned the fact that tasers are routinely issued to police officers assigned to schools, and that tasers are frequently used not when officers are dealing with physical violence or persons resisting arrest, but rather persons who are rude, verbally abusive, or passively resistant.
We read the news stories and shake our heads, sigh with relief that no lasting harm was done (usually), and probably believe that in some way, the individual being tasered deserved it because they were not cooperative enough with the person in authority.
Consider this. Is it possible that someone who would taser another person because they did not move fast enough, or because they had an attitude problem might be lacking in training? Or common sense? Or intelligence? Is it possible that someone who would taser a 72-year-old woman for exercising her legal right to refuse to sign a traffic ticket and was belligerent about being arrested for it might be abusing his or her authority?
Are we to comply with all orders from those "in authority" even when we know those orders are illegal, unethical, or simply wrong? Are we to comply with orders from those in authority even if we choose to accept the consequences for our actions (i.e., passive, peaceful resistance - a long-established tradition in this country), counting on the authorities to keep us safe while doing so? (I know, I remember Birmingham, and Kent State, and the 1968 conventions...).
My point, is that by increments, our law and order society is becoming inured to violence. Not just violence by criminals, or violence committed by terrorists or gang members, but violence that filters through all aspects of our lives. Officer involved shooting is something I hear on the news once or twice a month now, when in the past, it was a very rare occurrence. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have created a tolerance to torture and we have been taught to move the gauge of what is acceptable as time goes by.
I am delighted that police officers reach for tasers instead of guns, however, I would be more delighted if they were trained in anger management, conflict resolution, and basic risk assessment and didn't reach for anything at all. It is not illegal to swear at a police officer. It is not illegal to be angry (although it is illegal if you act out on that anger in a physical or threatening manner). Having attitude is not a criminal offense. Being out in the hallway without a hall pass deserves a trip to the Principal's Office, not being thrown to the floor and tased.
Taser International decided that Sheriff Joe was an appropriate spokesman for their product. They believe that using him in their marketing campaign will encourage others to buy more of their tasers. As said in the article at Change dot org,
"At the same time as Taser International boasts endorsements from the likes of Joe Arpaio, they run stories on their blog detailing how tasers save lives. They are trying to play both sides of the field, a stance that gets them into similar problems regarding the potential health risks of the weapon ... at the same time they are trying to lure police forces and consumers by flaunting the power of their weapon.
... Taser International should dump Arpaio and stop marketing their guns as safe, easy to use, every-day, self-defense products. Tasers are serious weapons, not to be fooled around with by unqualified crackpots."
There is a significant difference between a rule and a law and it would behoove our law enforcement personnel to learn the difference and save the guns and tasers for actual threats of physical violence, not threats to their inability to deal with difficult people.
Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.