Yesterday a young man in his prime died needlessly following an incident with the police where a Taser gun was allegedly used by officers. The case has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It would be premature for me to claim that police had been unreasonable in this case or to cast aspersions on Dale Burns, however the case has led to calls for a rethink over the use of Tasers by Amnesty International, and I echo their sentiments.
This is not the first time someone has died suspiciously not long after being subject to a Taser ‘shock’, yet still this and the previous government have both ordered their wider usage to please the ‘hang-em-and-flog-em’ brigade – no doubt they will be used more extensively as a method of crowd control following the riots. If police leaders can question politicians’ orders to use water cannon and rubber bullets where needed, citing Britain’s century-and-a-half long tradition of unarmed community policing, then why have they not criticised the authorisation of these brutal weapons? Anyone who has seen a video clip on Youtube where someone has volunteered to receive the shock treatment will tell you that it does not look pleasant.
Police officers are only human beings who can overreact like ordinary citizens, and in many public order situations can fear for their lives. However these weapons have not only been used against armed assailants but also when carrying out routine arrests on the most unthreatening of suspects, and in the US it has even been reported that sick and bored police have been ‘testing out’ their device on farm animals to pass the time. These weapons are lethal and do not discriminate between those bent on harming others and innocent bystanders caught in the wrong place at the wrong time; they do not ask questions. There are millions of people walking along Britain’s streets with heart problems – what if one of these went on a legitimate peaceful protest which turned violent and were Tasered trying to restore calm or quickly leave the scene?
Since the tragic cases of John Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson, the tuition fees protests and following the riots of this month, police are in an unenviable position where they don’t know whether they are being too harsh or too soft in the heat of the moment. Despite this, however, the monstrous Taser should have no place on our streets.