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When I started to contemplate what I was going to write for this day of blogging action on the use of tasers… i.e., “electrocution” to control and/or stop what are considered dangerous, anti-social behaviors… what stood out in the forefront of my mind was that in the past, electrocution (called Electroconvulsive Therapy), was also widely used for a similar purpose: as an approved, standard medical/psychiatric procedure for “supposed” dangerous and anti-social behaviors deemed to be mental illnesses, which included homosexuality and political dissent.
As a police officer (in Canada), my initial point of view is that I will use whatever level of force I deem necessary, when dealing with a violent criminal suspect, to protect the life of others and/or prevent bodily harm, but more importantly… to ensure that I go home to my family at the end of my shift! Presenting my wife and son with a Canadian flag and a hug or handshake at the end of a memorial service in my honor, just isn’t a life-affirming ambition of mine. With that being said, the police organization I work for, like most if not all police services in North America, are mandated and trained to follow some sort of “use of force continuum model”, which dictates what level of force is to be used in a given situation.
However, what this type of model does not show are the individual, environmental and societal factors that may influence how an officer will react to a given situation or person. It does not consider what are the beliefs, values and more importantly, the prejudices that may spur an individual officer’s action or reaction, to a particular situation or person. For example, for years my service used a black silhouetted target during firearms training and requalification, similar to the one below:
What are the psychological effects of always viewing an image like this one, which resembles a Black male, as a serious threat to be dealt with by lethal force? How does this training aid, which a police officer will fire numerous rounds of bullets at every year, for a number of years… how does it shape one’s perception and the automatic-like reaction to situations involving a person who is represented like this image?
Now the fact is that while thousands of people have been tasered by law enforcement officers in North America, since it became a standard use of force option, only a very small percentage of deaths have been attributed to its use. According to truthnottasers, “at least 405 people have died in North America proximal to taser use since 2001.” Further it states that: “the taser has been identified as either a cause or contributing factor in at least 50 of the deaths, according to Amnesty International (Dec. 16/08).” This is not meant to defend the use of tasers… quite the opposite, in fact it raises some serious questions about its continued use.
First, let me state that perceiving the number of deaths caused by the use of tasers as a statistical exercise, when compared with the total number of times it has been used, minimizes the sanctity of human life. Even 1 death is troubling… much less 405 since 2001!
Second, according to all the use of force continuum models, tasers are supposed to be a non-lethal use of force option. Then why have they resulted in lethal outcomes… and specifically… why for so many Black men, women and children!?
Third, in regards to Black people, are the inordinate number of deaths by tasers a result of it’s more frequent use against us? AND if this is the case, is it because we seen as being more dangerous, anti-social and aggressive by those of the dominant culture, specifically by those given the authority to keep the peace? Also, has the training and training aids used by police academies like the target above, cause officers to subconsciously use non-lethal use of force equipment in a lethal manner, when dealing with Black men, women and children? Or could it be something more… like physiologically it has a more lethal effect on our being?
My organization’s policy is that only supervisors are trained and authorized to carry and deploy a taser. Their rational is that an experienced officer, with proven decision-making abilities, will make better judgments in determining when it is to be used. So far, we have few incidents of taser use and there has only been 1 taser-related death that is currently being investigated, since we began using tasers in 2003. Still, it’s 1 death too many!
On this day throughout the afrosphere, Black bloggers throughout the world are bringing much needed attention to this issue. Now to be clear, I am not personally calling for a ban on the use of tasers by police officers. My position is that any and all non-lethal use of force options that I am able to utilize, provides an increased opportunity for everyone to go home at the end of an incident… me, the accused, victims, witnesses, bystanders, etc. However, we need to address… once again… why members of the Black community are more likely to be killed by police action than other members of this society. Claiming that “it’s just a coincidence”, or projecting an attitude that “well shit happens”, is no longer an acceptable answer. Within a historical context, there are too many “coincidences” and instances of “shit happening” to us where we end up dead!
So a review of training standards, as well as organizational policies; more medical/scientific research on the effects of tasers… particularly on members of the Black community; a consideration of societal expectations; more law enforcement and community partnerships; continued grassroots advocacy and a commitment to individual responsibility, are some of the issues which needs to be addressed, in a concerted effort, to eliminate the unwarranted and unjustified deaths that is resulting from the pre-trial electrocution of Black children, women and men by tasers.
Here is an online petition to the U.S. Congress, calling for public hearings on the use of tasers:
Dispatches from the Front:
USS BOXER, At Sea, April 5, 2009 — Rear Adm. Michelle Howard assumed command of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 2 during a ceremony held on board USS Boxer (LHD 4) today and relieved Rear Adm. Terence McKnight, ESG 2’s commander since November 2007.
In addition to relieving McKnight as the ESG 2 commander, Howard assumes command of several U.S. 5th Fleet task forces, including Combined Task Force (CTF) 51 and 59, as well as CTF 151, an international maritime coalition created to disrupt, deter and thwart piracy.
“I’m very fortunate to follow behind Admiral McKnight,” said Howard. “He and the staff have done a terrific job in standing up CTF 151. His leadership will be missed on the waterfront.”
As commander of ESG 2, McKnight was responsible for all of the amphibious assets based on the U.S. East Coast and upon deploying to the U.S. 5th Fleet’s area of operations in January 2009, he assumed command of CTF 151.
McKnight said commanding ESG 2 has been an incredible experience and one he will never forget.
“This has definitely been one of the more exciting assignments of my career,” he said. “Not only did I never think I’d be sailing the ocean chasing pirates, I certainly never thought I’d be doing it alongside the navies of so many different countries, especially Russia and China.”
“My time at ESG 2 has been amazing,” McKnight continued. “In addition to all the exercises and contingencies we were involved with before we deployed, I was privileged enough to have hosted a Great White Fleet event in New York City along with my staff and we also played a big part in the grand re-opening of the Intrepid museum during Veterans Day Weekend 2008. Those two events will certainly remain cherished memories when I look back at my career.”
As the first African-American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship, Howard said she understands the magnitude of bridging cultural and international gaps.
“ESG 2 has executed the three missions they’re responsible for without missing a beat,” she said. “My top priority right now is to deter piracy here in the Gulf of Aden. I want to continue the extensive international coordination Admiral McKnight started. That’s the true key to defeating piracy. Piracy is a problem that affects all maritime nations and requires an international solution. I’m looking forward to working with naval professionals from around the world on this vital mission.”
CTF 151 is a multinational task force established to conduct counter-piracy operations under a mission-based mandate throughout the CMF area of responsibility to actively deter, disrupt and suppress piracy in order to protect global maritime security and secure freedom of navigation for the benefit of all nations.
Howard previously served as Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy.
(Report by Lt. John Fage, Expeditionary Strike Group 2 Public Affairs.)
U.S. Navy Bio: Rear Admiral Michelle Howard
Rear Adm. Michelle Howard Assumes Command of Counter-Piracy Task Force CTF 151, ESG 2
A worthwhile endeavor being organized by Africanamericanpoliticalpundit:
Afrospear Fam,As a folow-up to my recent conversation with Wayne Hicks (aka Villager) at Electronic Village regarding the continued spiral (upward) of blacks being killed by police with tasers. We both agreed that it was time to have another day of blogging for Justice.As you know The UN’s Committee Against Torture has declared that Taser use can constitute a form of torture, while USA: Amnesty International has a on-going concern about the use of tasers. With all the conversation about the Bush torture memos and torture in the United States, It may be the best time to bring up the issue of torture of black folks by Taser. With so many deaths occuring at the hands of police by taser use and abuse, I would like to ask everyone in the afrospear family to blog about the continued pre-trial electrocution of black children, women and men by taser.Let’s call it:“A day of blogging forjustice: Standing up against the police pre-trial electrocution of black children, women and men by taser.”This effort could take place on Friday April 24, 2009. I hope you can join us. You know how we do it. Everyone post a blog post about the Afrospears “A day of blogging for justice: Standing up against the police pre-trial electrocution of black children, women and men by taser.” Within the blog post do your thing. Talk about any of the cases or your concerns about the Tasering of blacks folks.If you agree to blog on Friday April 24th please send me an email at AfricanAmericanPoliticalPundit@gmail.com and also send this afrospear google group a link to your post.Thanks, I know hope we can count on you.AAPPPS: Here is just a few examples of black and other bloggers who have been reporting on the tasing of black folks in the United States and Canada. You can always go to Electronic Village, Tasered While Black, Pam’s House Blend, Electrocuted While Black for further examples.
I just suffered a dialog with someone of limited intellect about the impact of racial discrimination on the black community. There was a comment in my inbox about an article I wrote two years ago describing my theory of how America’s institutionalized slavery back in its infancy laid the foundation for the relationship between the black community and the racially generic dominant community that is predominantly white. I should have known the exchange wouldn’t be a good when I read the first sentence.
“You all need to suck it up and deal with the present, black people have not been enslaved in this country for a very long time…”
For the record we all agree that America’s institutionalized slavery is a thing of the past. The culture that considered black people little more than white people’s property is done. However, its sister culture, the culture that protects white privilege and superiority at the expense of the black community is alive and well.
When the institutionalized enslavement of black people came to its long overdue end, the dominant community didn’t turn to the black community and welcomed black people with open arms as equals. The dominant community continued to subject the black people to a perpetual condition of disenfranchisement. It started with denying black people humanity and it has continued with denying black people educational and employment opportunities.
The alienation of black people’s inalienable constitutional rights led to a condition of disparity that has persisted ever since black people were introduced to America as a lower life form to be bought and sold by the highest bidder. The enslavement of black people wasn’t the issue when people were putting signs in windows saying only white people were entitled to goods or services. The enslavement of black people wasn’t the issue when people were saying that separate facilities for black people were fair. The enslavement of black people wasn’t the issue when black people were fighting for civil rights. And yet, some people insist on trying to undermine any conversation about racial disparity that persist today with arguments that slavery ended years ago so black people need to just suck it up and deal with it.
I saw a report the other day that said that unemployment has reached a thirty year high of more than 8.5 percent. But while the white community has to suffer with a rate of about 7.9 percent, the black community has to deal with an unemployment rate of 13.4 percent. There was another report that said on a per capita basis, for each dollar of wealth owned by the white community, the black community has ten cents. The black community controls less than two percent of the wealth of the white community. And some people find this disparity tolerable because slavery ended so many years ago.
Regardless the reason we have a condition of disparity between the black and white communities. And instead of people having compassion for the black community, black people constantly hear attitudes that can be accurately summarized as “fuck you”. All too often people in America have more compassion for a rabid dog that needed to be put down than they would have for any child in the black community.
Whenever the idea that America should take steps to remedy the substandard conditions in the black community, it is inevitable that someone will perceive it as a free ride for black people. People from the dominant community will say that black people don’t deserve help because slavery ended years ago or black people sold Africans to the Europeans so Americans are absolved and don’t have to do anything today. Black people don’t want to work hard and black people are just bad people.
But the truth is that it doesn’t matter why the black community needs help. The fact of the matter is that the black community needs help. America stands ready to send a trillion dollars and well over four thousand American lives to fight and die in Iraq. But make the suggestion that America should invest in the black community and people’s ass get so tight that you’d need a shoehorn to squeeze a dime through their cheeks.
Black people in America have never deserved any help, black people don’t deserve any help, and black people will never deserve any help. It wouldn’t matter if a hurricane came and flooded an entire city. Black people would rot in the sun before America would do anything to help. That’s just the way it was, it is, and will ever be. Black people just need to learn to suck it the fuck up.
The Foul Legacy of Profit-Making
Healthcare is one of the most important issues in US political and social culture. Tho a catastrophic condition will not likely strike most individuals during their working lives, for those who themselves or family members have crucial health problems the matter of healthcare poses a concern.
Hospitals and nursing homes practices often leave many in the lurch. Profit making for healthcare institutions means that the bottom line means more than the old adage, “The customer is always right.” In this industry, people’s bodies have become commodities, and even if the quality of service is high, that nearly always depends on level of insurance as well as the condition for which they receive treatment.
For the most part, hospital workers remain overworked and underpaid. Short-staffing means that the institutions have nurses and aids serving more beds than is optimal. In some cases, the hospitals and nursing homes may even take more drastic measures.
In Pittsburgh, workers at two different healthcare systems recently filed lawsuits with the Department of Labor because they did not get paid for hours they worked. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS) must appear in court as defendants of cases where they cheated workers out of pay:
“Court documents reveal employees of the hospitals deducted half-hour meal breaks out of their paychecks even if they worked through their meal times. The legal action filed also alleges employees were not paid for work performed before and after scheduled shifts and not paid for required training. Any employer who fails to pay employees for hours worked and does not allow for breaks as required by federal guidelines is in violation of U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) http://www.dol.gov wage laws. On Monday, a federal lawsuit for two former Pittsburgh Mercy Health System nurses was filed by their employment attorneys. The documents filed in court state the nurses were not paid for training and work they performed during meal breaks over a three-year period.” (Justice News Flash Seo Company)
In a country where doctors typically graduate from medical $100,000 in debt, the finance world dominates even in education and medicine. Pressure to make high salaries and establish a practice ties them into a complex web filled with medical suppliers, pharmaceuticals, keeping apace with scientific advances, and their relationships with employers, patients and staff. Compare this with statistics that say doctors live an average of 55 years; profit making does not afford them time to care for their own health and fulfillment.
If one of the wealthiest segments of the population cannot find time to care for its own health, health professionals themselves, what does this say for the rest of us?
Even tho the average worker does not understand how the system of capitalism bases itself on their oppression and exploitation, nevertheless the level of dissatisfaction with the capitalist system continues to mount. With the present economic meltdown weighing heavily upon workers, the middle class and business, no workable alternatives for “weaning” people off of capitalism have become popular. People talk about weaning this country away from foreign oil, however the discussion about the evil of capitalism have yet to become serious.
For this discussion to become serious, the Left has to be courageous. Black Power advocates have to sharpen their line and push the Left. We must take on this role since the problems in our communities are sharper and deeper than in the white community. Imperialist exploitation and oppression concentrates on colonized peoples.
When the wealthiest sectors of the communities receive government giveaways, we have to push the Reparations question. When we see government merging with corporate finance institutions, we must form dual and competing political power. When the unemployment lines swell at the rate of 50,000 lost jobs per month, the time for shutting down capitalism thru strikes and plant takeovers is overdue.
What effective agitational components can we bring to unions and workers, to the churches and masjids, to community centers, small businesses and athletic associations? These are questions begging to be answered, if only the Left will first ask them. All power to the people, and Black Power to the Black Community!