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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tasers and Torture: Technology and the Expansion of Police Power

Hardly a newscycle goes by these days without two seemingly contradictory things happening: a police officer praises the “less lethal” TASER as his savior in a tight spot; and, someone gets killed or seriously injured by a TASER. It isn't unusual for this second case to occur in circumstances that shed considerable doubt on the first case, whether because of the nature of the victim (young, old, incapacitated, restrained, etc) or because of the victim was either justified in their actions or attempting to comply with police orders. What's behind this phenomenon?

Police cite the TASER as a critical weapon filling a gap in their arsenal between the billy club and the handgun. Rather than engage a suspect in close combat, cops say, the TASER allows them the flexibility to take someone down at a short distance without risking serious injury to either the officer or the arrestee. This is supposed to be more humane than merely beating or shooting someone, especially if there is some doubt as to the criminality of the victim's actions, such as when police merely desire compliance (although police rarely concede such doubts publicly). Likewise, this is alleged to be safer for the officer, who the media and police agencies almost universally portray as constant targets of violence.

But what's the truth of it? We can start by debunking two notions that underlie the case used to justify TASERs. First of all, when we get right down to it, policing isn't a very dangerous job. When ranked by the rate of on the job deaths and injury, cops don't even rank in the top ten, showing up far below truck driver, roofer and farm worker, among others [1]. Jobs we all do every day without the benefit of TASER protection (from our boss, for instance). Indeed, a recent study cited in the New York Times showed that cops are much more likely to die by their own hand than by a so-called “criminal” [2].

Secondly, the truth is that police don't use less force when they have TASERs. If TASERs were serving as a substitute for other forms of violence, or as a deterrent, we would expect the number of uses of force to drop. According to a well-documented study by Amnesty International, however, when police forces get TASERs, their propensity towards violence actually increases [3]. TASERs actually increase police violence. Indeed, Amnesty International specifically pointed out that precisely because of the short distance attack that TASERs make possible, police increasingly use them to compel obedience rather than for actual law enforcement.

Why is this? It's because the police are a tool of class oppression. They are like soldiers, only deployed here at home, enforcing the will of a small elite that is rich and powerful. As the army does in Iraq, so do the police here at home. They are defenders of the status quo, which happens to be one in which folks like us don't have much power while the elite they are defending have a lot of it. For instance, when the bank comes to enforce your foreclosure or eviction, who shows up? The police, of course, toting their TASERs and guns. But when's the last time you saw the cops TASER a yuppie in the rich part of town? That'll be the day!

So, since the police are really a domestic army, not public servants, why would we expect that giving them more weapons (i.e., TASERs) would reduce the level of violence? That's counter-intuitive. For instance, if we gave the army a new weapon, would we expect them to be less violent because of it? Clearly not. The TASER, then, is a way for the police to increase their ability to efficiently project their power or, more accurately, the power of the elite in general (the ones who make the laws and pay for the politicians, for example), onto folks like us – people who want to create our own lives and not bow down before people who don't have our best interests at heart. This explains the vigorous defense of TASERs by police agencies despite the fact that they are used too often and remain quite deadly in many circumstances [4]. They're not concerned with reducing violence. They're concerned with projecting their power.

Thus, it's obvious that all the rhetoric about TASERs doesn't match up with reality and in fact obscures a very fundamental truth: the rich and powerful want to control us so that they can get richer and more powerful. TASERs make it easier for them to do so, especially because police can hide their violence behind the cover of TASERs bogus claim of being less-violent (a claim they continue to make even as the deaths mount). But, once we see through that lie we are ourselves armed to make our arguments against the deployment of TASERs. If we want to be free, we must limit and ultimately challenge the ability of the police to project power onto us. And that means opposing TASERs and the class society they defend.


[1] “America's most dangerous jobs”, CNN Money. com, 9 August 2007

[2] “Suicide Bigger Threat for Police Than Criminals”, New York Times, 8 April 2008

[3] “USA: Excessive and lethal force? Amnesty International's concerns about deaths and ill-treatment involving police use of tasers”, 30 November 2004, accessed at http://www. amnesty. org/en/library/info/AMR51/139/2004

[4] “Police defend use of Tasers”, Knoxville News Sentinel, 4 December 2007


I contributed this article to the July issue of Modesto Anarcho.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are so against the way this government operates why dont you just move somewhere else where the government is more to your liking?

Wed May 28, 08:15:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous m said...


dont know if yer still writing this blog, but i do know i saw this on infoshop and it reminded me of some of the stuff youve posted about. dig that "class war luddism"!

Sat Aug 23, 08:33:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as usual, another cogent analysis from the "anonymous" community...

anyway, you should post more shit dude. how about a follow up regarding that kid who was murdered by the BART cops in Oakland last week? the cop claims he intended to grab his tazer and not his gun, but is seen on film drawing, pointing, and firing the gun into a prone, handcuffed mans back at point blank... apparently they now sell tazers that are glock replica's?


Sun Jan 11, 10:55:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If you are so against the way this government operates why dont you just move somewhere else where the government is more to your liking?"

Gotta love the mouthpieces of the
rich don't you...clueless and
hypocrisy two for one.

Sat Sep 21, 03:55:00 PM 2013  

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