Pakistani tribesmen protest US drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal region on February 25, 2012. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
In the past month opposition to CIA drone strikes has started to gather pace as lawmakers in the US have finally started to look more critically at the program.
On Tuesday twenty-six House Representatives – including Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Ron Paul (R-TX), John Conyers (D-MI) and Michael Honda (D-CA) – wrote a bipartisan letter to the White House expressing concern about the use of ‘signature strikes’, and the legal basis under which they are conducted, telling the President:
“The use of such ‘signature’ strikes could raise the risk of killing innocent civilians or individuals who may have no relationship to attacks on the United States.”
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Today, Holland starts a one-year trial of arming police with Tasers. This sounds like a familiar story, but here’s the twist: The Dutch police don’t want the them. According to Dutch Public TV, the Federal Police issued a statement documenting their objections to using a weapon so rife with problems.
And why should they want to use this weapon? The controversy surrounding Tasers is well-documented. Between July 2001 and August 2008, Amnesty International studied more than 334 deaths that occurred after police-use of Tasers. So many of the deaths were needless. Police frequently used Tasers inappropriately, especially considering that in well over 90% of the cases, the person on whom the Taser was used did not even have a weapon. Medical examiners have cited Taser as a primary or contributory cause of death in at least 50 cases. And disturbingly, in far too many cases where people died after being shot with police Tasers, the cause of death is listed as a homicide.
The police in Holland got it right. While Dutch police and concerned citizens try to fend off the American Taser export, perhaps we can import something from Holland where policing is concerned: common sense.
Another unarmed teen has died after being Tased by police.
Brett Elder, 15, from Bay City, Michigan died after police used Tasers to break up a fight between him and another teenager.
Disturbingly, Brett is already the second teenager to die after being Tased this year. In January, an unarmed 17-year-old boy in Virginia died after police responding to a minor street incident shocked him in his apartment. As of today, the total number of deaths after the use of Taser guns in the U.S. has surpassed 334 since June 2001 and it keeps rising. Perhaps what’s most unsettling is that in over 90% of those cases, the person shocked didn’t even have a weapon.
The news of these teen deaths comes soon after the unveiling of a new Taser weapon, the Taser Shockwave, capable of shocking entire crowds at once. Clearly, this money could have been better spent conducting rigorous safety testing and research into why so many have died after being shocked with a Taser. Amnesty International has called on U.S. law enforcement departments to cease using the weapons, pending further safety studies, or to strictly limit their use to a weapon of last resort.
Taser International is busy promoting a new product. It’s called Taser Shockwave, meant to cast something of an electroshock net over an area. It belongs in my “You’ve Got to Be Kidding” file along with Taser International’s leopard-print MP3 player that doubles as a taser and their employment of Playboy Bunnies for promotion- but those are stories for another day.
This week, Taser International showcased their latest in potential human rights violations to your local police chief at the International Association of the Chiefs of Police annual gathering. I wish I could have been there to talk to those officers about our latest statistics. Since the summer of 2001, Amnesty International has been tracking the deaths that have occurred after police have used the taser weapon- we are at 320 and counting. In over 90% of those cases, the person shocked didn’t even have a weapon. And now Taser International wants police to have the ability to spray tasers over a crowd, hitting individuals, all at once.
Aside from taser’s questionable track record, the frightening trend in police crackdowns on dissent should make us particularly wary of the latest in taser technology. Forget disastrous preventative detentions at the RNC and tear gas at WTO protests. There is something new for protestors. Here is what Taser International has to say about it: With the push of a button at a stand-off distance of up to 100 meters, the Shockwave unit deploys multiple standard TASER® cartridges that are oriented across an area arc. Full area coverage is provided to instantaneously incapacitate multiple personnel within that region.
Development of weapons that allow police to tase en mass is not good news. This flies in the face of good law enforcement. Police shouldn’t be shocking entire crowds. Given the problems with tasers, especially among vulnerable groups like the mentally ill, police need to assess the appropriateness of taser use on particular individuals and should only elect to use the taser in dire circumstances when lesser alternatives aren’t available.
Coming off of years of crushing police responses to dissent, giving departments the technology to take down multiple people with just one pull of a trigger is a dangerous idea. I wonder what the chilling effect will be on public dissent. Would you be willing to go to a protest knowing that police on the scene were armed with Taser Shockwave? I wouldn’t bring my daughter, which means that I might have to stay home. Maybe that’s the point.