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There has been another taser death, this one occurring in Bradenton Fl.   38-year old Derrick Humbert was tasered to death after being stopped by police while riding his bike around midnight in a black neighborhood.  Humbert was a father of four who had no warrants.  He had left out the house to get a pack of smokes from a nearby store.  He was killed Oct. 2, 2009 by undercover police in an unmarked police car who initiated a police stop of Humbert because his bike had no light.  It is another in a very long list of taser deaths occurring all over the country on what has become a routine basis.  Fellow Afrospear blog Electronic Village has been sounding the alarm about this issue for quite some time, and blogs like Electrocuted While Black and Tasered While Latino now work this beat 24/7.

 Villager’s post on the Bradenton taser killing of Humbert, specifically referencing the response of the The Florida SCLC chapter however caught my eye.  As reported by Electronic Village, the Florida SCLC chapter engaged in a march consisting of about 60 people to protest his death and raise awareness of the Bradenton Police Departments so called “qualify of life” policing practices.  The chairman of the SCLC Florida chapter, Arthur Rocker, met with Police Chief Michael Radzilowski to discuss Humbert’s death and he is apparently calling for the BDP to implement “sensitivity training” in response to this issue.

The SCLC response as reported by Villager falls into the category of what I call “Stupid Negro thinking”.  I define “Stupid Negro thinking” as behaviors and thinking by seemingly otherwise intelligent black folk that demonstrate the moribund thinking of people stuck in a 1960’s social justice mode.  I have asked this question before and I’ll ask it again; is the march the only thing in our playbook? And if you’re going to march and have it be an effective statement, then you need to be bringing more than 60 people to the party.  So I think the march as a response by the SCLC fails in this instance.  I, however, truly scoff at the ridiculous idea put forward by SCLC Florida chairman Rocker that the BDP undergo “sensitivity training”. “We must respect people’s cultures and allow them the opportunity to understand them more,” Rocker said. 

Ahh, the magical sensitivity training, so often referred to as the healing balm needed in situations like this. So, Mr. Humbert would still be alive if the BDP had only been more culturally sensitive? This qualifies as an extreme leap of stupid negro logic.  Brother Humbert was stopped by undercover officers late at night in a black neighborhood under a so-called “quality of life” policing approach utilized by the BDP wherein small infractions are responded to by police in order to pre-empt more serious law breaking.  Apparently Mr. Rocker thinks that if the police officers (one an inexperienced cop and the other an officer previously fired by another department for lying on a police report) had only been more “sensitive” to the culture of black folk, they would have left Brother Humbert be.  I’m trying to imagine what kind of magical sensitivity training would elicit such a behavioral result? What does this magical sensitivity training cost and who provides this tremendous service?

Taser killings by police are occurring on a frequent basis, resulting in death and tragedy for many families and individuals and causing more damage to an already poor relationship between the black community and police departments around the country.  Mushy “stupid negro” solutions such as the extended outrage, spartan marches and magical sensitivity training proposals of Florida’s SCLC chapter are not the answer.  Hard headed, strategic and coordinated pushback is whats required to change the behavior of police departments when it comes to taser use.

Humbert’s case is instructive. The autopsy of Humbert resulted in an official cause of death declaration of acute cocaine toxicity and arteriosclerotic heart disease.  In other words, being electrocuted with the Taser isn’t what killed him, but rather his pre-existing heart condition and the fact that he was high on cocaine. Now, that doesn’t fly with the average person at first blush and it doesn’t fly with me.  The guy was riding his bike to get some smokes.  You telling me that if the cops had never tasered the guy, that he would still have keeled over dead? Could happen I suppose, but that doesn’t pass a smell test for this situation.

But it does highlight what I think is the major factor in the problem of Taser deaths.  Amnesty International notes that there is no study that has examined the impact of Taser use on potentially at-risk individuals — people who have medical conditions, take prescription medications, are mentally ill or are under the influence of narcotics. The police by virtue of their work, come into contact with people who fall into these categories often.  Many taser deaths involve people who are mentally ill for example, or people under the influence of a narcotic, as the autopsy found in this case. Further, Amnesty notes that in typical use, police routinely administer prolonged or repeated shocks to individuals (standard shock with most common model is 5 seconds) and this kind of use is most commonly reported in cases of taser use that result in death.  On the flip side, Amnesty also notes that taser use has, rather than an alternative to deadly force,  become moreso an alternative to less-intensive policing techniques, with some departments permitting their use to deal with “passive resistance” such as when a person refuses a verbal command. Their research also indicates that only about 10% of taser use involves cases where the suspect had a weapon.

Taser use therefore appears to have become a routinely employed tactic for exerting control over persons coming into contact with the police in a wide range of circumstances, everything from discouraging onlookers to police activity to effecting custody and control of suspects.  A significant portion of those persons tased by police under these liberal use policies fall into the category of at risk persons and that accounts for the deaths.

Lets recap: Taser use is potentially deadly to persons defined as “at risk” and this subset of the population disproportionately comes into contact with police who, nationwide, engage in routine, liberal utilization of tasers to exert control over suspects or other persons in enforcement situations, said utilization involving multiple or repeated electrocution, resulting in death.  This is essentially Amnesty’s position.

Soooo, whats the non “stupid negro” solution approach to this problem I would advocate be pursued?

Based on the above, Amnesty recommends the following guidelines be implemented by police:

*Tasers should be used only in situations where the alternative would be use of deadly force, such as armed stand-offs, instances in which a police officer faces a life-threatening attack or injury, or threat of attack with a deadly weapon, or where the target presents an immediate threat of death or serious injury to him/herself or others.

* Unarmed suspects should not be shot with a Taser for arguing or talking back, being discourteous, refusing to obey an order, resisting arrest or fleeing a minor crime scene, unless they pose an immediate threat of death or serious injury that cannot be controlled through less extreme measures.

* Tasers should not be used on the following groups, except as a last resort to avoid deadly force when no alternatives are available: pregnant women; the elderly; children; emotionally disturbed persons or people who are mentally or physically disabled; people in vulnerable positions where there is a risk of serious secondary injury (e.g. in dangerously elevated positions, or near flammable substances); people under the influence of drugs.

* The application of prolonged shocks beyond the five-second discharge cycle should be prohibited. Repeated shocks (activating additional cycles after a pause) should be avoided unless absolutely necessary to avoid serious injury or death.

* Federal, state and local agencies should ensure strict reporting by the departments concerned on all use or display of Tasers, with regular monitoring and data made public. Departments should download data recorded by officers’ Tasers after every incident in which they are used. A summary of this data should be included in all use of force reports. Each display, “sparking” or shock administered by a Taser should be reported in use of force reports, as well as whether the Taser was used in dart-firing or stun gun mode and the reasons why a Taser was used. The number of trigger-pulls and duration of the shock should be reported in each instance, as well as the age, race and gender of each person who is shocked. Each department should provide a detailed break-down of its Taser use in regular, public reports.

In order to achieve policy changes by police departments,  national civil rights organizations, in concert with local organizations in targeted municipalities, should carefully target police organizations where taser deaths have occurred for aggressive engagement via negotiations. These negotiations should be conducted in good faith by a team composed of people with professional law enforcement and legal experience. If police departments are unwilling to make serious changes in policy, training and discipline that support implementation of the above guidelines, strategies to raise the cost to these departments of unbridled taser practices should be pursued.  Such tactics could include lawsuits to make taser use an expensive issue, withdrawal or conditioning of local support for law enforcement resource proposals and coordinated local political pressure.  Monitoring of targeted police departments for a period of time would also need to be undertaken in order to determine whether or not police departments were following through on their commitments, which is called for in the Amnesty recommendations.

Thats the Political Season recommendation. A long term campaign of coordinated, strategic action such as the above, involving national civil rights organizations teamed up with local groups, employing negotiations and targeted legal/political pressure to make examples of police departments in egregious cases and in general raise the cost of unbridled taser use by departments and thereby effect a moderation in the use of tasers by police departments.

That’s my approach.  You got a better idea?


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