Saturday, January 26, 2008


I've been hearing about a lot of taser-related deaths lately, as well as various stories of police officers using tasers when victims are already on the ground or when they simply have no need to. Which may not sound like a big deal compared to Iraq, but it's hard not to be horrified by some of these stories. Why do you need to give people a 50,000-volt shock when they are on the ground? Why would they even consider using it when four or five officers are trying to arrest a single individual? Why would they use it repeatedly?

Like the story of mentally handicapped woman in a wheelchair who, suffering from schizophrenia, called 911 claiming to be in danger. Soon after police arrived, she was tasered ten times for two minutes and forty seconds, and died as a result. Good heavens, doesn't the battery ever run out on these things?

Let's see, what else... Now comes the most disgusting taser death story yet, not so much because of the excessive taser use (it was used just twice, reportedly) but because of bad behavior from all officials involved.

I wanted to quote a helpful summary of what happened to Robert Dziekanski, but I couldn't find a news article that told the entire story. Most news stories start when the RCMP (Canadian federal police) arrived, but one should really start at least 11 hours earlier, when Mr. Dziekanski got off the plane at the Vancouver Airport. I let this post gather dust for over two months, thinking I would write it when I got a more detailed news article, but I never found one.

In short, when Mr. Dziekanski (how can you pronounce that?), who spoke only Polish, came to Canada, he had agreed with his mother to meet her in the baggage claim area. The problem: the baggage claim area is a secure area that his mother was not allowed to enter. His plane touched down at 3:12 P.M., and 11 hours later, at 2 A.M., he was dead. During that time his mother made numerous attempts to get help from airport staff, which fail.

There's this timeline but it doesn't explain all the things that I've heard. It says "he would not have been able to leave the secure zone", but not why (the Calgary baggage claim area is also secure, but of course passengers can leave--I've done so myself). It says that a customer service agent pages Mr. Dziekanski, without telling his mother that the announcements don't reach the secure area--but not whether his parents mentioned that she thought her son was there, which to me seems like an important point. It says that Ms. Cisowski and her husband leave the airport and return home to Kamloops (355 kilometres away), but not that they left because they were told that their son wasn't there. Finally, though observers thought he spoke Russian and the RCMP were told that he speaks only Russian, a translator who spoke Russian and Polish wonders why he wasn't notified (and may have been fired for talking to the press).

Meanwhile, the rest of us wonder why the airport's official translators weren't summoned and why these RCMP would use a taser on him for failing to obey their English instructions. I think it's for the same reason this Utah Highway Patrolman tasers a guy after he takes more than a few seconds to find his license and registration: they were just really eager to use their toys. Paul Pritchard, a passenger who took a video of the incident, say the RCMP mentioned taser use to one another before meeting him; I guess when they arrived, their groupthink stupor led them to carry out their unjustified idea.

You can see the whole damn thing on youtube if you like. By my stopwatch, it was just 25 seconds from the time that the first two (of four) RCMP officers reached Mr. Dziekanski, to when (judging by the convulsions) they zapped him with a taser. And why the hell is that RCMP officer ramming his baton into the ground? It is the ground, and not Mr. Dziekanski, right? No wonder the mounties took away the memory card with Pritchard's video on it, and refused to give it back until he went to court.

And all I can do is stand by and blog about it.

It's such a sad story because it seems like there were so many opportunities for officials and airport staff to help, and they didn't. A little compassion is that was needed! Although Mr. Dziekanski was acting badly near the end, throwing two large objects to the ground, I would keep in mind that this man had been cooped up in there for ten hours after a flight halfway around the world. He can't communicate a single word to anyone and he can't even get anything to eat. He must have been exhausted, otherwise two taser zaps wouldn't have been enough to kill him. Perhaps he thought by breaking something he would finally get some helpful attention. In the aftermath of the incident, my home province of Alberta issued new taser use guidelines. Did they tighten them up to discourage unnecessary zappage? Hell no! Police in Alberta can taser people just for threatening to resist arrest! Hello? Tasers are clearly more dangerous than traditional methods of arrest. Why would it ever be the first choice? It seems like an emergency measure to me, something a policeman should use only if he or she is alone, and lacks any other means to arrest someone. And once the suspect is on the ground, you don't just continue to zap them until they lose consciousness. If the suspect is on the ground, the cop should be too! Put on those handcuffs, don't just stand there squeezing your trigger. If they continue to resist arrest after you zap them, well, duh! You just gave them a blast of searing pain... of course they want to get away from you. Gah.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't taze me bro.