Taser Nation: Pain Compliance 101

A decade ago, ordinary Americans would not have tolerated such widespread use of the Taser, a stun gun delivering a 50,000-volt shock. They would not have tolerated the electrocution of unarmed, non-threatening civilians without following the normal "escalation of force" policy.

Ironically, American political leaders and the media once cast aspersion on the regimes of Guatemala and Argentina, which used cattle-prods on prisoners. Cattle-prods only deliver 25,000-volt shocks, half that of the Taser.

Guantanamo helped condition the American public. It raised the threshold of what Americans consider reasonable in violating personal space by the state – or by its private contractors, like Halliburton, which has built parts of Gitmo, or Lockheed Martin, which has provided professional interrogators.

The transfer of violations from Guantanamo to the US "Homeland" might be one purpose behind Guantanamo in the first place. After all, hardly any real terrorists were convincingly exposed at Guantanamo, and even some federal authorities wonder aloud that more than one-third of the detainees might be entirely innocent. By and large, Gitmo was populated with taxi cab drivers, goat herders and even teenage students, most having been delivered to US forces by bounty hunters and opium warlords.

What Naomi Wolf wrote about Guantanamo may be true:

"If you torture prisoners, you will certainly obtain an endless stream of false confessions. In this sense, Guantanamo is an efficient machine for producing a high-value political product: false confessions by brown people with Muslim names." (Naomi Wolf, The End of America).

Another "show" also helped lower America’s tolerance for pain compliance. The Fox program "24," starring Kiefer Sutherland, has plenty of prime-time torture. The Secretary of Homeland Security (in real life) even appeared alongside the producers of "24" (a TV show) at an event sponsored by the Heritage Foundation (a neo-con think tank). As Jon Wiener described in The Nation, "24" features at least one torture scene in every episode:

"In ’24,’ Sutherland plays special agent Jack Bauer, head of the Counter Terrorism Unit. He fights some of his biggest battles not with the dark-skinned enemies trying to nuke L.A., but rather with the light-skinned do-gooders who think the head of the Counter Terrorism Unit should follow the rules.

Back in season four, for example, the bumbling bureaucrats released a captured terrorist before he could be tortured – because a lawyer for ‘Amnesty Global’ showed up whining about the Geneva Conventions. Jack had to quit the Counter Terrorist Unit and become a private citizen in order to break the suspect’s fingers."

Reality and fiction, Guantanamo and "24", worked in tandem during a time when the police use of Tasers became widespread, especially against unarmed and non-threatening civilians, as reported by John W. Whitehead of Rutherford Institute, in Police State Tactics:

"Amnesty International reports that in instances where Tasers are used, 80 percent of the time they are used on unarmed suspects. In 36 percent of the cases, they are used for verbal non-compliance, but only 3 percent of the time for cases involving ‘deadly assault.’"

Arguably, the Taser, as an electroshock weapon, could be used by police to subdue a truly dangerous suspect in an extreme situation (for example, such as when someone on drugs, drooling and spitting, is holding a child hostage at knifepoint, in front of a convenience store, and making some nonsensical demand).

Instead, police reach for the Taser gun and electrocute argumentative motorists who’ve been pulled over; loud-mouthed university students (Don’t Tase Me, Bro!); university students failing to produce IDs in a library; and even unruly schoolchildren.

Actually, Tasers are frequently used on children according to news reports:

"In another incident in Florida, an officer chased down a 12-year-old girl who was skipping school, and shocked her with a Taser.

In the past few weeks, police officers have tased high school students in schools in Madison, Wisconsin and Prattville, Alabama. Officers in the St. Paul, Minnesota high schools will soon carry Tasers, and in Jacksonville, Florida – over the objections of The Jacksonville Leadership Coalition, a citizens group – Duval county sheriffs officers will soon be patrolling the local middle and high schools with the weapons in their holsters."

If the authorities are going to electroshock children, then they should consider using the stun gun on pregnant women and the elderly as well, just to round out the representation of vulnerable people. Wait, pregnant women and the elderly are already being tasered, according to John W. Whitehead in Police State Tactics:

"Incredibly, police officers have tasered pregnant women, even when they are fully aware of their pregnancies. In 2001, Cindy Grippi was tasered in the back for entering her house against the instructions of police officers, despite the fact that she was not engaging in any truly disruptive or criminal behavior. As a result, Grippi fell onto her stomach and recounts that she "felt a sharp pain in her abdomen as the Taser struck her." Hours later, doctors diagnosed Grippi with "fetal demise," and she delivered a stillborn child. Tianesha Robinson was tasered by police officers in 2006 for resisting arrest during a traffic stop. Days later, she suffered a miscarriage.

In other cases, police officers have continued to shock individuals repeatedly, despite the fact that the first shock achieved their goal of thoroughly immobilizing the target. In 2003, an elderly blind woman, who was also extremely hard of hearing, was struck by a taser three times for failing to respond to police officers. As a result of the taser shocks to her back and the pepper spray to her face, the woman’s prosthetic right eye was ultimately dislodged from its socket.

Clearly, the use of tasers should be suspended immediately-or at least until a comprehensive medical study can be conducted proving they are safe to the general public when used by police officers…

Otherwise, we are opening the door for rampant abuse and police state tactics…"

But is there be a more vulnerable group of people left to electroshock besides pregnant women? How about mentally ill people in wheelchairs?  As reported by Orlando news:

"Officers said they arrived to find Delafield in a wheelchair, armed with two knives and a hammer. Police said the woman was swinging the weapons at family members and police.

Within an hour of her call to 911, Delafield, a wheelchair-bound woman documented to have mental illness, was dead.

Family attorney Rick Alexander said Delafield’s death could have been prevented and that there are four things that jump out at him about the case.

‘One, she’s in a wheelchair. Two, she’s schizophrenic. Three, they’re using a Taser on a person that’s in a wheelchair, and then four is that they tasered her 10 times for a period of like two minutes,’ Alexander said."

Amnesty International has documented hundreds deaths from tasers around the world, with anywhere from 150 to 200 of them in the United States (including children). And the United Nations has concluded that tasers cause "acute pain, constituting a form of torture."

Dr. Michael Janusz, a heart surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital explained, "Tasers almost certainly can cause cardiac arrest in humans, particularly in people with underlying heart disease."

Still, it could be argued that tasers should remain in the police arsenal for rare situations, but to equip police with tasers as ordinary weapons is madness. The insanity is also evident north of the border, in Canada, where Vancouver police have taken to tasering people trying to ride the Metro for free according to Canadian organization:

"According to documents provided in response to a Freedom of Information request, police patrolling public transit in the Metro Vancouver area have used Tasers 10 times in the past 18 months, including five occasions when victims had been accosted for riding free… In one incident, a non-paying passenger was Tasered after he held onto a railing on the SkyTrain platform and refused to let go."

What is even more outlandish is that Taser manufacturers want to make the gun as ubiquitous as pepper spray. Naomi Klein, in Hooked on Shock, finds the following:

"Yet, despite repeated calls for stricter regulations for police, Taser International is racing to get its devices in the hands of civilians, marketing the product as not just safe but fun. In the United States the company has been aggressively pushing its line of C2 "personal protectors" – available in pink, leopard print, and in holsters with built-in MP3 players. (The weapon is nicknamed the "iTaser.") Tupperware-style taser parties are springing up in the suburbs of Arizona."

It does not stop there. Just as the "War on Terror" conditioned Americans to accept the Taser, so too is the Taser conditioning the nation to accept more behavioral control and pain compliance technologies.

One such technology under consideration is the "shock bracelet" for airline travel today – and for the anti-war dissidents or unruly schoolchildren of tomorrow. As Karen De Coster asks: Will the Militarized Police State Shock You into Submission?

"This bracelet will replace the need for a ticket and contain all necessary information about the person, and as a bonus, it can allow the passenger to be tracked through the terminal. Crew members would be empowered with radio frequency transmitters to subdue ‘hijackers.’ The technology will override a person’s central nervous system and zap them down quicker than you can say ‘Homeland Security…’

The patent actually reads this:

Upon activation of the electric shock device, through receipt of an activating signal from the selectively operable remote control means, the passenger wearing that particular bracelet receives the disabling electrical shock from the electric shock device… Depending on the type of transmission medium used to send the activating signal, other passengers may also become temporarily incapacitated, which is undesirable and unfortunate, but may be unavoidable."

Perhaps there is a larger historical context in which shock devices makes sense. AsGeorge W. Bush said, "This is still a dangerous world. It’s a world of madmen and uncertainty, and potential mental losses."


Andrew Bosworth, Ph.D. is the author of Biotech Empire: The Untold Future of Food, Pills, and Sex. Photo from Indymedia.