Use of tasers needs further scrutinization

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Fighting crime can be dirty, unfair and life-threatening – especially with a weapon in the wrong hands.

In recent years, a new weapon has appeared on the market claiming to have less lethal crime-fighting tactics.

Tasers, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington Web site, “are electronic stun weapons that are designed to temporarily disable or stop individuals without killing, thereby providing law enforcement, corrections personnel, or private citizens with an alternative to lethal force where appropriate.”

Undoubtedly, such weapons prove safe against violent offenders. Anybody can turn on the Spike TV channel and watch an “outrageous moments” special showing some knife-wielding maniac being tased when all else fails.

However, there are flaws in every case. The inappropriate use of tasers is one flaw that cannot be ignored. And no, I’m not going to mention the “Don’t tase me, bro” video on YouTube.com.

Far from that.

The Minneapolis/St. Paul StarTribune reported Jan. 18 the grim story of Mark C. Backlund, resident of Fridley, Minn., who died following a tasing from police after being involved in a rush-hour crash. Reportedly, Backlund was being “uncooperative,” in which case the police tased him. Backlund was rushed to a hospital, where he later died of heart failure. Details of the incident were not released, but the fact remains that Backlund became another statistic in the growing taser-related death count.

According to a report by Amnesty International released to the Department of Justice in September 2007, tasers are responsible for an estimated 300 deaths since 2001. Of these 300 deaths, only 25 of the victims were armed. Furthermore, the report introduces the chilling idea of possible abuse of power.

“We have documented disturbing instances where we believe that taser use has amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which is absolutely prohibited under international law,” according to the report.

I don’t personally condemn the use of tasers. But, as always, there are examples that back the notion Amnesty is trying to push. And it’s when you hear reports like these that you must question whether any of these are acts of self-defense.

On March 3, 2005, the Florida Times Union ran an article describing how police reportedly tased a young Jacksonville girl after apprehending her for arguing with her mother. After she slid out of her cuffs and resisted the police, a taser was used to stun the girl. She was only 13 years old.

However, that case is not even the tip of the iceberg.

On Sept. 19, 2007, the Orlando News reported that police were called to the home of a Clay County, Fla., resident in response to a family disturbance. There, the police found 56-year-old Emily Delafield, a mentally handicapped woman, armed with a hammer and two knives. She was bound to a wheelchair, and according to a family attorney, Rick Alexander, “They tased her 10 times for a period of, like, two minutes.” Delafield died shortly after.

A 13-year-old girl and a mentally handicapped woman bound to a wheelchair – the last people who should be victimized by such a weapon.

It’s true that police forces have come a long way in making law enforcement less lethal. Having 300 deaths caused by tasers since 2001 isn’t entirely apocalyptic.

But when there are stories like the few mentioned above occurring on a continual basis, one should look into the use of these weapons in the hopes of finding a key to truly making them less lethal.

Whether it’s the effects of the weapon or the mere conduct of those who use it, something must be done soon to control tasing.

Grady Bolding is a junior in theater. Please send comments to opinion@spub.ksu.edu.

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