Steve here, back for a brief visit because, well, because someone has to post during the Thanksgiving vacation when no one is reading the site.
I’ll try to check in a few more times during the long Holiday weekend, before disappearing again next week. After that I’ll be back “fulltime.” Meanwhile, continue to enjoy the superb work of our guest bloggers.
Even when judged by the often troubling standards of “routine” law enforcement use of tasers, a recent incident out of Utah is particularly disturbing. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s worth investing a few minutes: as a citizen in an allegedly free nation you need to know what’s being done in the name of enforcing your laws.
Digby has the YouTube link here.
This particular incident is bad enough that it won’t surprise me terribly if the officer involved ends up being reprimanded, notwithstanding the normal tendency of police forces to protect their own. But there’s more at stake here, obviously, than the isolated actions of one zap happy law enforcement officer. We are dealing, instead, with the broader trend toward increasing police use of tasers, not in self-defense, but to compel compliance with police orders, or even just to punish back talk.
And what’s particularly troubling is the fact that all this is happening within the context of an increasing consensus within this country that when a street cop issues an order to a citizen, even in a non-emergency situation, that citizen is duty bound to snap to attention, regardless of the validity of the officer’s actions.
But that isn’t freedom. And if freedom doesn’t exist in the streets where people actually live, then what’s the point of it anyway?
Believe it or not, the common law actually recognized a legal right to use reasonable non-lethal force to resist unlawful arrests. That’s how seriously it took the right of a citizen to be free from wrongful restraint. Modern statutes and court decisions have moved away from this position — probably wisely given the risk of violence — but the underlying point remains valid: the fact someone carries the commission of a law enforcement officer gives that person no greater right, outside of the carefully defined powers of their office, than anyone else to boss other citizens around.
Here, of course, we’re not talking about merely bossing people around, but running 50,000 volts of electricity though them. And to use what is for all intents and purposes an instrument of torture to compel compliance with the non-emergency orders of a street cop isn’t just abusive: it’s un-American.
As I noted a year ago in discussing another controversial taser incident:
Presumably this same technique could be used to good effect to breakup any politically motivated sit in. Instead of carrying the protesters off to the paddy wagon, just zap ‘em until they finally crawl over to it themselves.
But there are lines you simply don’t cross in a liberal democracy, like, oh, say, torturing suspects (yeah, I know). And allowing the government to use high-voltage electrical shock as a method of compelling compliance to its dictates is one of those things. You can’t do that and still use words like republic and democracy to describe yourself as a nation: They just don’t fit anymore.
This is a road we’ve already gone far too far down.