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Police with Tasers will be more violent, not less

March 19, 2012

With new “non-lethal” weapons, the temptation for Police is to taser first and ask questions later.

Starting in Ballarat and Geelong, uniformed Police in Victoria are now being equipped with new “non-lethal” weapons, tasers.

Victoria’s Liberal government has trotted the usual series of lies to justify giving Police this new weapon. We’re told these new toys will reduce Police reliance on firearms, and result in fewer people being killed by Police. It’s garbage, each new “non-lethal” weapon handed to Police has resulted in an escalation of Police violence, not a reduction.

In a recent TEDx talk in Canberra, Stephen Coleman showed how the introduction of another non-lethal weapon, capsicum spray, in Queensland had no impact on Police use of firearms. When CS spray was introduced in Queensland, the Labor government argued that it would give Police “an option in between shouting and shooting” and thus result in fewer fatalities at the hands of Police. This simply did not occur.

In Australia Police shoot and kill around half a dozen people a year. Since the introduction of capsicum spray in Queensland, Police have used CS spray around two thousand times a year. The notion that CS spray was used in these situations in order to avoid shooting people is self evidently absurd.

The research on Police use of “non-lethal” weapons in Australia shows that Police do not use these weapons in situations where they would otherwise have used firearms, instead new “non-lethal” weapons are used in “compliance situations” (see NSW Ombudsman’s report on Tasers). “Compliance situation” is bureaucratic code for refusing to follow Police instructions.

Lt John Pike casually pepper sprays seated protesters at Occupy Oakland

Compliance situation? Lt John Pike casually pepper sprays protesters at Occupy Oakland.

In practice, tasers involve causing pain, and threatening further pain, in order to force a person to follow Police instructions. If this sounds dangerously like torture, that’s because it is.

The delusion that weapons like the taser are non-lethal contributes to their over use, and a corresponding increase in the number of deaths caused by Police. Taser’s are not non-lethal, as the NSW Ombudsman’s report and a multitude of deaths by taser have highlighted. Whilst use of a taser on a healthy adults the likelihood of death is incredibly low, this changes when drugs, alcohol, heart conditions, other illnesses, and multiple taserings enter the equation.

In practice, Tasers are rarely used against healthy sober adults. The vast majority of taser victims are the mentally ill, who when they encounter Police are routinely affected by prescription or other drugs.

People who are mentally ill are not somehow inherently dangerous and in need of violent restraint, yet that is how Victoria Police often react.

The taser provides Victoria police with yet another potentially deadly way of responding, and escalating, situations that require appropriate training, compassion and de-escalation.

When you have a “non-lethal” weapon, why engage in the hard work or talking, when you can just taser first and ask questions later. The affects of this attitude are all too clear. The propaganda about “non-lethal” weapons further encourages use.

So why eqquip Police with tasers?

Compliance issues.

The state and capitalism require a Police force that is capable of keeping us in line and protecting the interests of the ruling class. Each new weapon increases their ability to do this.

In the past year we’ve seen the emergance of the Occupy Movement, easily crushed in Australia, but due to weight of numbers far more resiliant in the United States. People power overthrew regimes in Tunisia and Egypt when the Police forces of those countries were defeated in the streets. In Australia a militant picket line with strong community support at a Baiada chicken processing plant in Laverton successfully defied the Police and won major concessions from a union busting employer.

The state and business need their Police and they want their Police to have the weapons necissary to keep us in line. Simply beating and shooting people who refuse to comply with Police instructions is increasingly unacceptable, it provokes public hostility that the state would rather avoid.

New “non-lethal” weapons are required, so demonstrators can be casually pepper sprayed and a person who sits down and refuses to follow Police instructions in a Police station can be repeatedly tasered.

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