Sunday, October 14, 2007

Tasering is not a verb: Redux North

And now it's us. It's Sunday afternoon, and in the Globe and Mail one of the shortest articles I've seen briefly mentions the incident without discussing the details. The CBC has not posted an article yet, and I'm sure it won't be in the prime time news tomorrow since everyone will be talking about the throne speech on Tuesday.

A man in Vancouver, his nationality is not mentioned, was behaving wildly in the Vancouver Airport. The RCMP were called in to give support to the private security company who works at the airport. The man was restrained and then "subdued" by a Thomas A. Smith Electric Rifle or TASER after which he died.

Again he is not spoken of as dying of electrocution.

This country does not permit the death penalty for even the most abhorrent crimes. We do not permit our state to execute Canadian citizens or indeed other citizens for crimes real or perceived by law enforcement. As such, when a police or RCMP officer causes the death of a citizen in pursuit or in custody, the matter is of grave seriousness. It is talked about, it is investigated (generally) and there is public discourse on the matter.

A man in Vancouver was executed by electrocution by an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police using a Thomas A. Smith Electric Rifle. By using a tool repeatedly shown to be dangerous and prone to cause death. Guns punch holes in human beings and as such they are used with discretion to deter and restrain citizens seen to be taking criminal action. TASERs are not appropriate tools for law enforcement officials to use when pursuing or detaining citizens of our countries. They are unproven, dangerous, and frankly too easy.

A police officer attempting to restrain a potentially violent criminal must use pressure and force in order to do so. A police officer must occasionally overpower a citizen engaging in criminal activity by psychological force (a uniform and trappings) by authoritarian force (vocal commands) and physical force (restraint with the body or threat of a weapon). Such people are still people when engaging in these activities and as such are subject to the faults of every person. A tool like a portable electrocution device is too easy to use, indeed to overuse, for it to be a reasonable tool in the hands of law enforcement.

We are subject to prejudices and stigmas prevalent in our world. We perceive the mentally ill to be unpredictable and inhuman, we perceive black Canadians to be dangerous and suspect, we perceive First Nations people to be secret protesters with a chip on their shoulder. We judge each other before we meet like everyone. And when we more easily permit law enforcement officers to subdue and injure citizens under their care, we permit ourselves to imagine threats of potential crimes and fictional safety for all rather than addressing the truths of this world to create true safety and comprehension for us all.

Our bodies are our own, our mothers taught us that through the sixties and seventies. Our identities are as Canadians first, potential criminals or threats second. We deserve confidence in the knowledge that our law enforcers do not burn us, interrupt the signals from our brains to our organs, that we do not need fear from men in uniforms disrupting our neurological signals and causing our deaths without public recourse.

A man in Vancouver died today. He was publicly electrocuted by an officer of the law in full view of the public in an airport. I repeat, he was not "tasered" until accidental death.

He was electrocuted.


orangelina said...

I was so shocked when I read this article on the cbc website yesterday. Whenever something like this happens (which is not actually infrequently), it is handled by the media in the most ineffectual and skirted way. The RCMP avoids any statement of accountability in the "regrettable events" which took place. You're the only person who's calling it what it is, which is murder.
Thanks mermaid.

Craig Sauvé said...

A bystander said this morning on the radio that she saw the man being tasered, er, electrocuted, by two cops at the same time!

Pamplemousse said...

It's pretty clear that the mounties were the exact type of police all rational people fear; overly excited at the prospect of using new toys instead of the less sexy talking someone down.

I'm sure murder was not the intent, but the training on this device is done ONLY by the company (according to the cbc story I heard on the radio). Thus, the company has a vested interest in denying any mortality due to the taser.

I've seen wildlife cops in Alberta take mace training. They have to have the 'non-lethal' device used on them before they are considered trained. Some get worse symptoms than others and those that are allergic to red pepper, I don't know what they do about that.

My point is that this training regime, while well intentioned, does not provide for the odd case where it becomes lethal. These cops probably got tasered in training, it hurt like hell, but they got up and shook it off.

No one mentioned to them that there is a chance that it could still be lethal, and they certainly didn't use it on an unprepared and fearful person... because that would be cruel... and apparently deadly.

Maybe they can learn to save the taser for when the 'dangerous' person is actually dangerous.