5.12.2009

too little, too late: rcmp apologizes, but we must remain outraged

A year and a half after Robert Dziekanski was murdered by the RCMP in the Vancouver airport, the second-in-command of the Mounties has apologized, and implies the agency will use the incident to change... something. He doesn't say what. Deputy Commissioner William Sweeney told a Senate committee:
We are very sorry for Mr. Dziekanski's death and we are committed to learning as much as possible from this terrible event.

Sweeney's statement also referred to how Dziekanski's death hurt the RCMP's reputation with the public it is supposed to serve - although he also mentioned the media, as if the problem is the publicity and not the murder itself. (Remember Donald Rumsfeld blaming Abu Ghraib on the presence of digital cameras?) This RCMP apology was issued after some weaker and more equivocal statements last week.

It is all too late.

Not just too late for poor Mr. Dziekanski, his mother and everyone else who loved him. It's too for the RCMP, and for all of us. How many months did the agency waste lying, covering up, denying the facts, trying to tell us that what we saw right in front of our eyes was not what really happened?

And that's the central point, really. The RCMP gave us a version of what happened. But we all saw the video, so we knew they were lying. Without the video, many people, maybe most people, would have believed the RCMP's story. Only the presence of the video taken by a by-stander brought the truth to light and made it stick.

And this calls into question all the stories the RCMP has ever told and will ever tell about "unfortunate incidents" past and present, for which there is no video record.

Robert Dziekanski is one of hundreds North Americans who have been killed by Tasers. Many more are tasered but survive.

According to Truth Not Tasers, who does us all a tremendous public service in honour of her or his murdered brother:
ONE Canadian and EIGHTEEN Americans have died so far this year after they were tasered by police, including a 16-YEAR-OLD BOY, a 15-YEAR-OLD boy - and a 17-YEAR OLD boy who became AT LEAST the FIFTH 17-year-old to die in North America proximal to the taser used by police. ONE American has died after being tasered by a fellow civilian.

At least SEVENTY-ONE North Americans died in 2008 after they were tasered by police, including at least FIVE (and possibly SIX) Canadians. At least SEVENTY-EIGHT North Americans (that we know of) died in 2007 after they were tasered by police, FIVE of them Canadian. At least 408 people have died in North America proximal to police use of tasers since 2001 and one proximal to civilian use of the taser (in April 2009). TWENTY-SEVEN (EIGHT?) people have died in Canada since 2003 after police used tasers on them. One person has died in Britain. One person has died in Australia.

Fifteen-year-old Brett Elder died when he was tasered in Bay City, Michigan. The young man, who had recently lost his mother, had been drinking, so naturally alcohol-induced "excited delirium" was cited as a key factor in his death.

It's always something. Some underlying illness, alcohol, marijuana - something. Hey, I have an idea. Since the cops don't know about the presence of other factors, why not stop tasering?

Running around naked seems to be increasingly dangerous. Someone enjoying (and exhibiting) himself at the Coachella Festival didn't obey the police when they ordered him to cover up, so police wrestled him to the ground and tasered him multiple times. Naked Coachella Man wasn't bothering anyone; no had complained about him. But the police saw fit to sit on him and repeatedly taser his shoulder. (Video at that link NSFW.)

Naked Coachella Man survived. Poor Iman Morales was not so lucky. Naked, ranting, mentally ill but not hurting anyone, Morales stood on his Brooklyn fire escape holding a fluorescent light bulb. The police killed him in front of his mother.
Police fired a Taser at a naked Brooklyn man armed with only a fluorescent light tube yesterday, sending him falling to his death from a second-floor ledge after he went on a 40-minute rant.

Iman Morales' mom begged cops not to hurt her son, telling them he's sick - then watched in horror as he plunged from the top of the roll-down gate on which he'd been perched.

An Emergency Services officer, acting on the orders of his boss, fired at the 35-year-old man at around 2 p.m., as he waved the 8-foot fluorescent light tube, police sources said.

"His body froze up and he fell face-first," said Sean Johnson, who witnessed the drama at 489 Tompkins Ave. in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Morales, who crashed 10 feet to the pavement, died a few hours later at Kings County Hospital.

Asked if police followed the proper protocol for using a Taser, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said, "That's being reviewed."

Oh yes. It's being reviewed.

In this bizarre Florida incident, no one was seriously hurt, but it should leave us wondering about the mental capacities of people working in correctional facilities, who have access to weapons and power over lives. Via Digby.
It was "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" at the Franklin Correctional Institution, and Sgt. Walter Schmidt wanted to give the kids an idea of what their parents do.

So he took out a handheld stun device and zapped them with 50,000 volts of electricity.

The children, whose ages are not available, reportedly yelped in pain, fell to the ground and grabbed red burn marks on their arms. One was taken to a nearby hospital.

DOC spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff said in an e-mail, "We believe that a number of children may have received a shock."

Schmidt, the arsenal sergeant at the Panhandle prison, said he asked parents for permission to shock the kids.

"When they said 'sure,' I went ahead and did it," he said by phone Friday.

Three days after the April 24 incident, Warden Duffie Harrison wrote Schmidt that his "retention would be detrimental to the best interests of the state" because he had "engaged in inappropriate conduct while demonstrating weapons...to several kids during a special event at the institution."

"You tased at least two kids to demonstrate the EID, which is in direct violation of procedure and placed the department at risk of litigation," Harrison wrote.

Schmidt was terminated after 14 years with the Department of Corrections.

"It wasn't intended to be malicious, but educational," Schmidt said. "The big shock came when I got fired."

Do you think Schmidt's little pun was intentional?

Sure, that one is just plain stupid, and might leave you chuckling. But think about the implications. We assume - we hope! - this guard wouldn't have demonstrated to the kids how it feels to be shot, or clubbed over the head. Why did he assume he could demonstrate what it feels like to be tased? Does he think his taser is a toy? Is he not sufficiently aware of the lethal potential of this weapon?

* * * *

As long as the taser death toll mounts, and police forces continue to dissemble and deny, every good cop out there, every Mountie that joined the force to help people, has their reputation damaged, and their job made more difficult. Their credibility, their intentions, and their actions in times of crises, come under more intense scrutiny by an increasingly skeptical public.

It's time to end this experiment in technology that supposedly save lives. It's been a great success for the shareholders of Taser International Inc., but a disaster for the rest of us.

As long as cops still carry these supposedly non-lethal weapons which are killing so many people, we are all at risk.

11 comments:

M@ said...

This topic also intersects with something that I think has been discussed here recently.

Tasers are bad policy because they can give police personnel, who act exactly as they're instructed to in a given situation, into murderers because they use what they're repeatedly told is a safe, non-lethal weapon.

I'm not excusing any of the officers, especially the RCMP, by any means. But it's important to remember (for the media and the general public -- not presuming to address anyone here with this) that the four RCMP officers are the symptom of a huge, systemic problem. (In the RCMP's case it goes far beyond tactical issues like tasers.) And they're going to pay for that problem with their careers and with immense damage to their own psyches. Needlessly so.

By the way, another important bit of the story is that the RCMP seized the cell phone where the video had been taken and initially refused to release it. All credit to the guy who cared enough to get it back and bring the truth to light -- and shame on the RCMP for trying maliciously to obstruct justice, in yet another way.

L-girl said...

Thanks, M@. These points cannot be repeated often enough - systemic problem, for both victim and abuser (intentional or not), and cover-up.

I remember blogging about the guy who video'd the incident, how he initially turned over the phone because he thought it was the right thing to do, then realized the RCMP was misusing it. He's a real hero, too... although I cannot think of his name. Going now to look.

L-girl said...

Paul Pritchard. I posted Gary Mason's column on this here.

M@ said...

Aha -- no surprise that you blogged about Pritchard at the time. I wasn't directing it at you or anyone here, of course, as people tend to be pretty well-informed 'round these parts. But I notice that the "gee whiz" attitude of the RCMP is taken pretty uncritically by the media, and the Pritchard part of the story completely blows that out of the water. I wonder if the Braidwood inquiry will look into this. I don't think they have so far.

Btw, for some excellent commentary on the RCMP issue and especially the Braidwood inquiry, Dr Dawg is not to be missed.

L-girl said...

Thanks for the link, M@.

(I knew you weren't directing it at anyone here, and the media does take it at face value, almost as if the video came from the RCMP themselves!)

Cornelia said...

Tasering needs to be stopped. It's dangerous!! I think Amnesty international has raised objections to it also?

L-girl said...

Amnesty on tasers

L-girl said...

M@ and others, that link re Amnesty also has something about Paul Pritchard, who was welcomed and thanked at a memorial service for Dziekanski.

impudent strumpet said...

On top of everything else:

Schmidt, the arsenal sergeant at the Panhandle prison, said he asked parents for permission to shock the kids.

"When they said 'sure,' I went ahead and did it," he said by phone Friday.
He never asked the kids for permission to tase them, just their parents!

L-girl said...

"He never asked the kids for permission to tase them, just their parents!"

Right, kids are property, even their bodies. Ask their parents, then help yourself.

Disgusting!

Cornelia said...

That's really awful!!! Torturous and dehumanizing patriarchal!!! The parents were just as criminal as those who did the tasering. Some people ought to be locked up.