The Beat Goes On: Torture, Tasers and American Tradition

Another day, another citizen killed by a police Taser. From the SF Chronicle:

A man in his 20s died after a struggle with San Jose police during which he was jolted with a Taser, police said Thursday. The man, whose name was not immediately released, died in the backyard of a home on the 2200 block of Amador Drive in east San Jose after being jolted with the stun gun, said Officer Enrique Garcia.

Police had chased him there after trying to detain him a short distance away. They jolted him after a violent struggle in which they also clubbed him with batons, Garcia said....

According to police watchdog groups, the death is the sixth to occur after the use of Tasers by San Jose police since 2004.

This brought to mind a perspicacious comment left here the other day by long-time reader -- and very fine writer -- Jimmy Montague. Reacting to a post about the Bush Administration system of torture that the Obama Administration has been defending and covering up quite vigorously, Montague makes a very important point -- torture is nothing new on the American scene, nor is it confined to foreign policy:

Torture was legal for civilian law enforcement long before torture became official government policy. Away back in the 1980s, the U.S. Supreme Court -- in deciding a drug case -- ruled that 'coerced testimony' is admissible as evidence in criminal trials. 'Coerced testimony,' of course, is testimony extracted from suspects while police beat the dog shit out of them. Civilian cops don't mess around with sissy stuff like waterboarding. When they got a suspect they think has something they want but will not tell them, why they just go to work with their clubs and their fists until something useful falls out of the guy's mouth. If the judge wants to know why the guy looks like a lump of week-old, fly-blown, unrefrigerated foie gras, the cops just say he fell down the stairs at the jailhouse something like fifty or a hundred times before they managed to restrain him.

Stuff like that was commonplace in American jails ever since paramilitary police were invented by NYPD Chief George Matsell away back in the 1830s. But Matsell, of course is another story. Point is that American cops, if they want you badly enough, have always had recourse to techniques that are guaranteed to make any but the very toughest of men rat out their own mothers. If you don't believe it, you WILL believe it if you ever have the misfortune to find yourself a suspect or a suspected key witness in some major criminal case -- of if you're black or brown or queer or just some asshole who gets pulled over by cops who've had a bad day for one reason or another and happen to be in the mood for a little fun.

Jimmy knows whereof he speaks. Anyone who has any acquaintance at all with the incarceration practices of the law enforcement community -- either directly, professionally or through the experiences of a close friend or relative -- is well aware of the rampant and routine brutality that pervades the system. The Taser has simply added another deadly refinement to the fun and games. Whereas in the old days the San Jose police probably would have been content with just clubbing a prisoner with batons, now they can whip out a handy-dandy ray-gun and shoot him full of electricity as well. Sure, sometimes the suckers die -- but because the ray-gun is not, ostensibly, a lethal weapon, the deaths can always be written off as an unintended consequence caused by an unknown pre-existing condition or something.

Of course, you can sometimes get a "pre-existing condition" from, say, being clubbed into bloody goo by batons -- or, as in a recent case of my personal knowledge, being handcuffed from behind and having your face slammed repeatedly into a concrete floor by a five or six deputies for the heinous crime of "sass." But it's best not to delve too deeply into these matters. After all, the Taserers and clubbers are only trying to keep us safe from terrorists -- sorry, from criminals. And as our entire bipartisan political class has taught us -- and keeps teaching us every day -- brutality, torture and murder should never be prosecuted if they are committed by government officials in the name of "security."