Sunday, January 3, 2016

Taser Hysteria

NOTE: I am trying to fix the links in a number of old posts, and have reproduced a number of essays from my now defunct blog in order to allow myself to create working links to them.

I was watching the news today and saw a story notable for two bits of stupidity. The story concerned a man who was behaving erratically when pulled over, who eventually injured several police officers before eventually being subdued with a taser. As he went into cardiac arrest, it was headline news. The first bit of foolishness was the revelation that the man was a diabetic and, allegedly, his diabetes was somehow to blame for his behavior. We will get to the second stupidity in a moment.

Now, let me say that my family has a history of diabetes. Both men and women have had insulin dependent diabetes. In addition, my wife is an RN, and having worked in a hospital and now working as a school nurse, she has a lot of experience with diabetes. However, with all that experience, we are not familiar with diabetes causing violent attacks on others. I know that in extreme cases diabetes can result in coma, can cause neuropathy and other issues, but behavioral issues are not normally associated with diabetes. 

However, even if diabetes could somehow cause the behavior described, the news was making the absurd implication that, because diabetes caused the behavior, the police were wrong in using force on him. Of course this makes absolutely no sense. The police have no way to know if a man's behavior is through choice, illness, alcohol, drugs or any other cause. They can only respond to the actions they observe. And, even if they could tell, how should they have behaved differently? The man injured several officers before they stopped him. Should they have let him injure more because it was caused by a disease? Thier use of force was not punishment, it was prevention, and so it did not depend on his guilt, simply on his actions, and thus the cause is not important.

But the second idiocy was even more foolish, though quite familiar. Ever since police have started using tasers there have been constant reports about "taser abuses". The complaint, inevitably, is that the taser is "not really non-lethal", pointing to the fact that some individuals die after being shot with a taser.

But that argument is foolish, for two reasons. First, almost every policy I have heard basically limits the use of tasers to circumstances when using deadly force would be justified. In other words, if the use of a gun would be allowed, then so would the use of a taser, and, conversely, if the use of a gun would not be permissible, then a taser is not allowable. So, even if a taser results in death, it would be justified, as the individual shot was behaving in a manner justifying deadly force. 

But there is a second, even more significant problem. Those fighting the taser are forgetting that the taser has basically replaced the sidearm. Were the taser to be banned, then the police would return to using firearms rather than tasers, which would mean rather than risking death from the occasional taser accident, these criminals would face almost certain death from gunshot. Yet that is precisely what these people seem to be promoting.

Of course, were the police to return to using guns, then these same people would criticize gun violence, because they are not so much interested in rectifying abuses as in criticizing police. Whether militants of the left who imagine the police a tool of "the oppressors" or libertarians who fear government and thus side with murderers and other criminals, they are more interested in stopping effective policing than in protecting innocents. In fact, they seem uninterested in whether the criminals in question are innocent or not (though they always insist every one is innocent), they are convinced from the beginning that the police are guilty. And that is all that matters.


I have mentioned briefly in a few posts that the right has sometimes made the mistake of too ardently supporting the police and military, making them unwilling to recognize even real abuses. On the other hand, no matter how ardent the support offered to the military and police, the right is nowhere near as single minded as the critics of the left (and libertarians of the nominal right) who seem convinced the police and army exist solely to oppress and kill civilians. I still think the right needs to be careful not to seem mindless cheerleaders for the military and police, but the left is far more excessive in their single minded fear and hatred of the same. (I may actually write on this topic shortly, as in some ways the right's military cheer leading can sometimes make it hard to discuss real issues, such as using the military as an example of excessive bureaucratization, or discuss the need to limit the discretion of police and military. Of course one must also be careful to balance the need for civilian oversight with excessive civilian control, which the left often proposes to hamper the function of the police and military. It is a topic that deserves a little analysis, and so I may write about it in the near future.)

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2010/05/28.

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