During the past 20 years, the stun gun has become a popular weapon in the American law enforcement arsenal. First marketed as a “non-lethal” device, the deployment of stun guns has not decreased brutal police violence.
In the U.S., most law enforcement agencies rely on stun guns. Taser is the most popular stun gun. The device is manufactured by Axon Enterprise, Inc., and Axon has succeeded in having approximately 94% of law enforcement nationwide use its device. Tasers were marketed as a direct way to reduce police violence in America. Claims were made that this weapon would alleviate deadly encounters. The reality has turned out to be quite different. The years 2000 – 2018 saw a documented 1,000-plus cases in which being Tasered led to someone’s death. In fact, the cause of death was a direct result of the device’s electroshock in over 150 of those deaths. This was one of the primary arguments made by critics from the beginning—electroshocks themselves can be deadly. “Tasers were originally touted as these ‘non-lethal’ weapons. We’ve always said they are lethal and here to murder and cause extreme harm,” said Hamid Kahn, organizer with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and critic of the L.A. police department’s use of Tasers.
This is why law enforcement and Axon finally acknowledged Taser’s deadly potential and relabeled them as “less lethal.” Axon has clarified its position by noting that the weapon is “not risk free,” but Axon still claims the device is “the safest and most effective less-lethal use of force tool available to law enforcement.” Even if Tasers are technically less deadly than firearms, the statistics are clear. Tasers kill, and they are not decreasing use of firearms by police. A 2018 Chicago study found no decrease in police shootings. In fact, Tasers are being used in situations where it was unnecessary, and it has escalated too many situations.
Los Angeles civil rights attorney V. James DeSimone said, “Tasers are being used essentially as a torture device when people are perceived as not complying.” John Hamaski is a criminal defense lawyer and a member of the San Francisco police commission. He cites a 2009 University of California, San Francisco (“UCSF”) study and says, “Tasers are to make somebody do something, like get out of a car. Using a deadly weapon should not be authorized under those circumstances.”
The UCSF study found in-custody deaths and fatal shootings increased the first year of Taser deployment in 50 cities. Critics also warned of this potential: police mistaking their Taser for their firearms. That is exactly what happened to Daunte Wright of Minnesota just this year. There have been 15 similar cases in the last 20 years where police claimed that the intent was to deploy their Taser but instead someone was fatally shot. Only three officers have ever been convicted for such egregious conduct.
“We are still seeing the same violence…. Whatever tools that police officers have at their disposal will be used to physically harm those people, whether it’s a billy club, hose, a dog, a Taser or a gun,” says Jenn M. Jackson, political science professor at Syracuse University.
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