Not Saussure

November 21, 2006

Taser-happy cop at UCLA: further and better particulars

Filed under: civil liberties — notsaussure @ 10:05 pm

From LAist (and via Boing Boing) some background information about the University of California, Los Angeles, cop who tasered a student who’d failed to produce his ID when required and then been tardy in leaving the library, as captured on video:

The UCLA police department identified the officer caught electrifying the student who did not produce his college ID card as Terrence Duren, an 18-year veteran of the UCPD.

Duren hasn’t had the smoothest career in law enforcement. He came to Westwood after being fired from the infamous Long Beach PD. A few years after being hired by UCLA he was accused of using his nightstick to choke a fratboy and the university asked the UCPD to fire Duren, but he was only given a three month suspension.

In late 2003 Duren shot a homeless man, Willie Davis Frazier, Jr., in a Kerckhoff Hall bathroom. Frazier, who attempted at first to shun lawyers and represent himself, was imbalanced enough to spend time in mental institution as the court tried to figure out if he was fit to stand trial.

During a 2004 preliminary hearing in which Duren testified against Frazier, the officer carried a Machiavelli book into court, “The Prince”, which argues that the ends justifies the means. “Did you know that this was Tupac‘s favorite book?” he asked.

Commenting on the tasering, Andrew Bartlett makes the excellent point that

Given ‘non-lethal’ weapons, is it not reasonable to expect our security services to become incautious and immoderate in their use of force?

There is a big difference between making the decision to disperse a crowd by firing into it, and making the decision to disperse a crowd by the deployment of non-lethal weapons. If the non-lethal weapons are as good as their advocates would have us believe, the latter option is just as certain and coercive a means of control. But the decision is far easier to take. And it pleases the technological-fix fetishes of the ‘modernity’ crowd.

A police state that only has guns can kill people, but it loses its legitimacy very quickly. A police state that has non-lethal means of paramilitary control can tell itself, quite convincingly, that it is not a police state after all. Remember the mantra that works a fascistic charm; if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. At least until you have a close encounter with a policeman. Or any other real, human authority figure.

In apparent confirmation of this, the LAist article continues,

Less than a year after Duren shot Frazier, UCLA decided to invest $22,000 in tasers, according to the Daily Bruin.

And now, ironically it’s Duren who is being accused of abusing the taser.

“If someone is resisting, sometimes it’s not going to look pretty taking someone into custody,” he told the LA Times today. “If you have to use some force, it’s not going to look pretty. That’s the nature of this job.”

Amnesty International certainly share Andrew’s concerns about the temptions to profligate and inappropriate use of the taser; in a 2004 report, they identify its apparent mission creep in the USA:

There is … evidence to suggest that, far from being used to avoid lethal force, many US police agencies are deploying tasers as a routine force option to subdue non-compliant or disturbed individuals who do not pose a serious danger to themselves or others. In some departments, tasers have become the most prevalent force tool. They have been used against unruly schoolchildren; unarmed mentally disturbed or intoxicated individuals; suspects fleeing minor crime scenes and people who argue with police or fail to comply immediately with a command. Cases described in this report include the stunning of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Florida, following a dispute on a bus, and a 13- year-old girl in Arizona, who threw a book in a public library.

In a more recent article, Bradford University’s Peace Studies Department ask

What is it like to be incapacitated by a Taser weapon? When fired the Taser propels two barbed darts with trailing wires that attach to the skin or clothing. Upon impact a 50,000-volt electric shock is discharged into the victim for a period of five seconds. Whilst the barbs remain attached this discharge can be repeated multiple times by pulling the trigger again (and again). The immediate effects are debilitating. The current causes involuntary muscle contraction and extreme pain. The victim completely loses control over their body and falls to the floor until the current stops. The whole experience is both painful and degrading. So much so that in 1997 Robin Cook, the then Foreign Secretary, considered electro-shock weapons, including Tasers, amongst equipment “designed primarily for torture”, saying that the UK Government would “press for a global ban.”

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  1. Over the top, yes and yet who knows what led up to this.

    Comment by jameshigham — November 22, 2006 @ 11:28 am

  2. I think the broad outline of the events leading up to the incident is pretty clear, isn’t it? On either the Campus Police or the library users’ version of events it seems a completely disproportionate use of force. I think Andrew’s point is very valid; if the police had only had the choice of escorting from the building (in handcuffs if necessary) or shooting him, they’d presumably have taken the view that physical restraint was all that was needed. Certainly you can hear on the video them repeatedly telling that if he doesn’t get up he’ll be tasered again — from the account of what it’s like to be tasered I’m not surprised he was finding it difficult to get up!

    Comment by notsaussure — November 22, 2006 @ 6:24 pm

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