Apparently cops are quite likely to taser first and ask questions later (or never). The Epilepsy Foundation has a story about Daniel Beloungea, an epileptic from Michigan, who was tasered, beaten and handcuffed at gunpoint while having a seizure:
According to police reports, when Mr. Beloungea was unresponsive to police direction, the bag he was carrying was kicked by police from his hand, and when he flailed his arms involuntarily, he was tasered, sending 50,000 volts of electricity through his body (risking serious injury or death); hit with a police baton; threatened at gunpoint; and handcuffed behind his back. (The handcuffing itself is dangerous for persons experiencing a seizure, as it can lead to further seizure-related agitation and struggling, possibly causing asphyxiation or even cardiac arrest.) He was then prosecuted for assaulting police officers and disorderly conduct, notwithstanding considerable evidence, including the state’s own mental health evaluation, confirming that his actions were involuntary and solely the product of a seizure.
I’m sorry, but this would be fucking hilarious if it wasn’t so sad. I mean, this is a classic comedy setup of the mistaken-identity sort (medical identity in this case — the cops ignored his medical alert bracelet) in which our hero is repeatedly beaten by idiotic cops. Of course, in this case it actually happened and the protagonist in this tale is a real man who suffered real consequences, including having to plead before a judge.
It’s just another example of how our legal and law enforcement system has become a piece of machinery, devoid of human considerations. For the cops, lawyers, judges, etc. it’s just a job. They get so used to dealing with “guilty” people that they start to assume everyone they encounter is guilty, rather like the old proverb: If you only have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.
We need to get a sense of humanity and blind justice back into our system. As is, the legal system is becoming an end unto itself, existing for its own benefit rather than for ours.
Police officers need to remember that people are innocent until proven guilty and that strangeness or rudeness is not illegal behavior. It might be convenient and efficient for cops to shoot/taser first and ask questions later, but that doesn’t make it right.
We would have crime-free cities and efficient courts if police officers were given more powers and if our rights were stripped away. North Korea, by most estimates, does not have a significant crime problem. But would you want to live there? That’s the curse of Freedom. We have to accept some bad with the good.
Update: It turns out that Norman Abrams, the Acting Chancellor of UCLA has written a book called Anti-Terrorism and Criminal Enforcement, (2nd ed., 2005) which makes me wonder if his views about combating terrorism have affected the way he “protects” students on campus. I suppose if you’re jumping at shadows and seeing terrorists in every corner (or library) then you might be inclined to overreact to minor incidents, turning a molehill into a mountain. Something to consider as the investigation (assuming there is one that’s more than a PR whitewash) continues…