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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sadly, taser means no muss, no fuss, no hassle

May 21, 2008
Bernie O'Neill, Yorkregion.com

The Yale Book of Quotations came out with its most memorable quote of 2007 that, interestingly, is about an object of controversy in Canada.

The expression is ‘Don’t tase me, bro’, as uttered by a 21-year-old undergrad at a presidential hopeful’s address in Florida. At the end of the question and answer period, university police decided they didn’t like his questions (they weren’t really questions — more like accusations) and moved in.

You can sense both the indignation and the fear in the young man’s voice, if you’ve ever seen the clip. On the one hand, he is thinking, this — allegedly — is a free country and I have every right to make statements at a political event without being muzzled by force.

And, secondly, please don’t send thousands of volts of electricity through my body.

Ever put your tongue on both prongs of a 9-volt battery? I did when I was about 12 and just the memory of it gives me shivers.

If I was in student Andrew Meyer’s position, I would be saying the same thing. Please, please, please, do not tase me. (I might have left out the bro.)

You can actually buy a T-shirt bearing the words, ‘Don’t tase me, bro’ on a very cool website, bustedtees.com, that has a lot of other funny and politically relevant stuff on there, too — although mostly American. And you can see the clip on youtube.

What’s interesting is that, if you type in the word taser (that’s an electric stun gun, in case you haven’t gathered that at this point) in the youtube search, all kinds of crazy and questionable uses of the increasingly popular people zappers (just call it “shock and awe”).

You start to wonder if this whole taser thing has gone too far.

It certainly seems to have in Canada. Last year, a Polish man who had become agitated and disoriented at the Vancouver airport was zapped with a taser by RCMP officers and died. He was tasered within minutes of them coming upon the scene.

More recently, a senior citizen in B.C. who had become confused and was holding a pocket knife was tasered by police. The man is 82. He was zapped three times with a stun gun while lying in his hospital bed, according to reports.

I mention his age because, before the advent of the taser, it would seem police had fewer options to subdue people. If the person represented an imminent threat to his life or someone else’s, they could shoot him, whack him with a billy club, wrestle him to the ground, maybe pepper spray him.

I would imagine before the advent of the taser, most 82-year-olds were simply talked to.

When I first heard left-leaning members of Toronto’s police services board waxing rhapsodically about tasers a few years back and how it would be so nice if police officers would just mildly electrocute people when trying to make an arrest or keep order instead of shooting them, I was skeptical.

Not because I suspected tasers would be used casually to zap any trouble maker. But because I never thought a police officer who felt his life or someone else’s was at risk was going to waste much time or take the chance of getting killed just to be a nice guy.

No, I suspect he would use the gun he was trained to use and had every right to use under the circumstances to save his own life or someone else’s. The taser? I thought it would end up left in the holster.

In fact, it seems to be the opposite. Use of the taser is not replacing use of the gun. It is replacing having to risk injury by tackling someone and wrestling them to the ground or calling for backup so a group of officers by sheer number could overpower someone.

It is being used to save time, as the comments would suggest from one officer in the zapping of the 82-year-old, a former heart bypass patient who needed oxygen to breathe. “We’ve got more important work to do,” he said. And that was that. Three zaps to the abdomen.

If you were tending to your lawn, it would be like someone inventing a weed whacker. There’s no more bending, tugging, sore backs or pulled muscles. It’s all done with this nifty electric gadget and it saves you a lot of time for other things.

It is one more weapon in the arsenal and, for now, they have the right to use it when they see fit.

Before we start equipping every police officer, security guard, bouncer and grade school hall monitor with tasers, perhaps we should be setting more clear guidelines about who can legally own them and how a taser can be legally fired.

If it was meant as a second-to-last resort, the final option before firing a gun at someone, it certainly is not being used that way. People’s lives, health and rights are being violated in the process.

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