From whips and chains, to badges, nightsticks, bullets and tasers, youth activist Divine Allah spoke with trepidation regarding the news that NYPD sergeants will now be carrying the controversial Taser gun on their belts.
“Now you’ll have 50 cops tasing one person at the same time. They are saying that it is some sort of safer alternative to a gun, but this is no such thing. The Taser is still a deadly weapon.”
The Sean Bell 50-shot case polarized the issue of police-Black community relations in the city. This week, the NYPD said that in a response to a study brought about by vocalized community concern regarding the use of guns and alleged police brutality, they are initiating the removal of the Taser from a sergeant’s vehicle to his person, for easy access–and a non-deadly alternative to his firearm.
But, the civil rights organization 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement is quick to point out that sergeants have had use of Tasers for a while, and this is by no means any type of reform.
“People are being conned into believing that the NYPD is responding to the community call for reform,” said the group’s spokesman, Marquez Claxton. “This is another distraction. This does nothing to address the issue of police brutality in our community, nor the unaccountability of police officers who abuse their power.”
The acquittal a few weeks ago of detectives Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Michael Cooper in the November 2006 police shooting of an unarmed Sean Bell on his wedding day has fueled the demand for real reform and consequences for unprovoked use of deadly force by members of the NYPD.
Since cops in the Bell case claimed that they thought that one of Bell’s group had a gun, and yelled out that inaccurate assumption, the NYPD-hired Rand Corporation determined Monday that the phrase “he’s got a gun” be included in NYPD training. It was also this organization that proposed the Taser pilot program for certain precincts.
Although Rand did not investigate the Bell shooting, hired for $350,000 almost two months after that deadly police encounter, the RAND Corporation, looked into the NYPD’s response to almost 500 shootings. Rand praised the department’s procedures and collecting of the facts in their reports. Rand concurred that the use of a Taser could adequately deescalate a confrontational situation.
Bernard Rostker of the Rand Corporation proclaimed, “It’s not an alternative to guns. If anything, it’s an alternative to your fists. You don’t want to use a Taser if it’s appropriate to use a gun.”
A published report cites Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stating that the Taser “may be a little cumbersome, but we believe that it’s necessary at this time.”
According to Claxton, Tasers fire about 50,000-watt bolts of electricity at a target along two metal wires that embed themselves into the flesh of the victim. “They have to be removed by medical personnel at a hospital,” he told the AmNews.
Christopher Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union raised concern about the need for significant training and supervision regarding the use of such a powerful weapon.
Kelly announced that by week’s end, 3,500 sergeants on patrol will have access to 520 Tasers.
In response to AmNews questions, Assistant Chief Michael Collins said a Taser actually works is when “an electric current temporarily disables a person.” Asked how long sergeants have had them and if they have specific training, Collins replied, “All supervisors have been trained upon their promotion, and they have been available to supervisors since 1984.”
The AmNews asked, how often have they been used?
“Last year, approximately 350 times,” said Collins. With a number of deaths and subsequent protests and lawsuits being reported around the country, the paper asked Collins, what is the number of Taser-related deaths nationally?
“We have never had one. but I do not know the national statistics,” said Collins.
According to Taser International, in a published report, up until April, 68 wrongful-death or injury lawsuits have been dismissed or lost.
When The Amsterdam News asked, does the department have any concerns regarding the use of Tasers? Collins answered, “We restrict their use to supervisors only and to specific situations and review each and every use to see that they are not misused.”
Two years ago, Amnesty International decried the deaths of 150 people following the use of Tasers.
“Amnesty International has reviewed the cases of the 152 [[EDITOR: SAYS 150 IN PREVIOUS GRAPH.]] people who have now died in the U.S.A. since 2001 and reiterates its call for the use and transfer of Tasers to be suspended pending an independent, impartial and comprehensive inquiry into the effects of their use.”
Furthermore: “Since June 2001, more than 150 people have died in the U.S.A. after being shocked by a Taser. Of those deaths, 85 have occurred in the U.S.A. since Amnesty International released its report (in November 2004) calling for a suspension on the use and transfer of these weapons. Amnesty International raised its concerns in its previous report that the number of Taser-related deaths had been rising each year. There were three deaths reported in 2001, 13 in 2002, 17 in 2003 and 48 in 2004. In 2005 there were 61 Taser-related deaths, and by mid-February 2006, there have already been 10 deaths.”
The organization continued, “In light of these concerns, and pending the results of a comprehensive, independent and impartial medical study, AI is reiterating its call on all police departments and authorities to suspend their use of Tasers or strictly limit their use to deadly force situations as defined under international standards. Strict guidelines and monitoring should govern all such use.’
There was no response from Taser International by press time.