I can remember many decades ago reading a story about efforts to develop a nonfatal “stun gun,” which, we were told, would give police an alternative to using deadly force. It sounded like a good idea, like something that might actually save a few lives.
But I guess one should never forget the Law of Unintended Consequences:
The Law of Unintended Consequences holds that almost all human actions have at least one unintended consequence. In other words, each cause has more than one effect, including unforeseen effects.
As a liberal, I certainly don’t offer a wholehearted endorsement of this so-called law, given that it’s generally employed by conservatives arguing against the wisdom of all forms of economic regulation and other public programs. But in the case of the taser (the trade name for a stun gun now widely used by law enforcement agencies), it applies with frightening precision.
The video begins in the study room of UCLA’s Powell Library, a beautiful, ornate sanctuary that I inhabited as often as possible. The library looked how a library should look: Imposing, serious, grave, and somewhat holy. And in response, all of us who entered it became slightly hushed, felt an inch more intellectual, became a bit more serious in our academic purpose. Which makes it all the more jarring to hear the screaming, the yelling, the pleas for peace as a student who refuses to produce a Bruin ID card is tasered again and again and again; shrieking in pain and defiance each time.
(John at AMERICAblog has been following the case closely)
Unfortunately, this incident is far from unique. Controversies involving the questionable use of tasers by law enforcement personnel are becoming very common. It turns out that what’s most appealing about police use of the devices, the fact they usually cause no permanent injury, is the very same thing that leads to their misuse.
The most disturbing feature of what happened at UCLA, for example, is the fact the officers appear to have used the device multiple times, not to protect themselves or to restrain an out of control suspect, but, instead, to compel the suspect’s cooperation. He refused to stand up, so they tasered him again and again until he did.
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.