Baron "Scooter" Pikes had been confined, cuffed and was non-confrontational. There was no need to kill him. Nevertheless, Scott Nugent, a Louisiana police officer, stunned Pikes repeatedly with a Taser. The man was dead "before the last two 50,000-volt shocks were delivered," surmised CNN. An autopsy revealed no evidence of drug use in Pikes' system – he had been detained for possession. Nugent was indicted this month on a charge of manslaughter.
The Taser X26, "once playfully dubbed the 'Thomas A. Swift electric rifle' (after the exploits of the fictional Tom Swift, a teenage inventor made famous in a series of juvenile adventure novels published from 1910 to 1941)," has become a fixture in the increasingly fractious interactions between the police and the people. Tasers are now "fired more than 620 times a day and have been used a total of more than 680,000 times worldwide." This, according to an exposé in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Spectrum magazine.
"Research by the Police Executive Research Forum has raised the concern that multiple activations of Tasers may increase the risk of death," cautions Sandra Upson in the IEEE Spectrum. Unlike medical devices, "Tasers don't have to undergo testing … at least not in the United States. Even if Tasers are proven to be entirely safe," Upson worries that "there's the bigger question of whether the stun guns encourage police brutality. A Taser shock leaves almost no visible scarring or bruising, as a clubbing or a beating typically would. Could the absence of physical scars lift a psychological restraint on officer behavior?"
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Put it this way: When, as Matt Garfield of The Herald wrote, "a 75-year-old woman who refused to leave a nursing home where she had gone to visit an ailing friend" is stun gunned; or when a university student is shocked for aggressively quizzing his Highness Sen. John Kerry; or when a 14-year-old harmless skateboarder is thrown to the ground and threatened by a pig of a policeman – abuse is afoot. When another three, even bigger, pigs hand over an 18-year-old high-school boy, arrested for speeding, to a group of feral felons, who then rape him to shreds – it is then that you know each one of us is in danger of becoming "the State's bitch."
Who can forget how "The Homeland Security State" came together in all its brutality to extinguish the life of the fragile Carol Anne Gotbaum? Gotbaum met her demise not in a Pakistani or Saudi airport, but in Phoenix's Sky Harbor. The petite 45-year-old, who weighed 105 pounds, became distraught – not dangerous – when she was detained at the airport and not permitted to proceed to her destination: an alcohol rehabilitation clinic in Tucson. Unhinged, Gotbaum took off down the concourse hollering. Was this unstable woman soothed by savvy PR professionals? Not on your life. Gotbaum was scrummed by meaty policemen, tackled to the ground, and a knee jabbed into her skinny spine. She was then thrown in a holding cell, where she was shackled and chained to a bench. Minutes later, Carol Anne Gotbaum was dead. Her bruised body was autopsied and the police exonerated, naturally. Famous forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden said: "If she asphyxiated, someone else did it … the most likely cause of death has to do with asphyxia and could be a result of too much pressure on her chest when they were putting on the handcuffs and the shackles."
In mitigation, it has been suggested that rampant displays of excessive force might be indicative of poor training. Somehow the sight of a burly brute standing over a helpless, slip of a woman screams sadism more than sloppy training.
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"In the United States, about 670 people die each year under police restraint, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics," confirms the IEEE's Mark W. Kroll. "These incidents include arrests and attempts to control an uncooperative person who needs medical assistance, as well as suicides after arrest. … One study found that 100 percent of in-custody deaths involved the use of handcuffs."
Something has gotten into the country's lymphatic system – and the infection becomes most apparent in these street-level scuffles between the State and its subjects. We are, it would seem, witnessing a tipping point – an inversion in the existential preconditions for liberty, described by Thomas Jefferson thus: "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."