Trigger-happy cops kill with 'non-lethal' Tasers

Use of shock weapon leads to growing death toll, injuries

On Sept. 24, New York City police officers tasered and killed Iman Morales, an emotionally-disturbed man from Brooklyn. Morales, 35, had been standing on a ledge, and after being tasered, fell ten feet to his death. The Morales killing, captured on video and in photographs, is just the latest in a string of deaths caused by tasers.

In recent years, Tasers have been advertised to the public as "less-lethal" or "non-lethal" weapons so that cops can be free to use and abuse these extremely dangerous "stun guns" with little repercussion.

Police officer fires Taser
Despite numerous deaths, police
use Tasers freely against victims
who pose no threat.

Law enforcement agencies and police departments use the shock guns, which deliver 50,000-volt shocks when fired, as an alternative to firearms. The use of the shock guns has come under greater scrutiny recently, following instances of Taser use by the police that have resulted in injury and death to the victims.

One especially troubling incident occurred on Jan. 17, when 21-year-old Baron Pikes was confronted by police in Winnfield, La., on charges of an outstanding arrest warrant for drug possession. Officer Scott Nugent claims he spotted Pikes walking down a street. When the officer confronted Pikes, he allegedly ran and was chased to a nearby shopping center, where police officers subdued and handcuffed him.

While on the ground and handcuffed, Pikes was ordered by Nugent to get up, and when he could not, Nugent punished him with a series of nine Taser shocks over 14 minutes. Pikes was shocked while on the ground and again in the police car and at the police station.

Witnesses at the shopping center reported hearing Pikes pleading with the officer to stop tasering him. Two other officers also witnessed the incident. Pikes later died under the custody of the Winnfield police.

According to the initial police report, Pikes told Nugent and the other officers that he suffered from asthma and had ingested both angel dust and crack cocaine preceding his arrest. The official story stated that Pikes resisted arrest and had to be tasered to be subdued, and that his death was the result of the drugs he had taken.

The truth surfaces

Dr. Randolph William, the medical examiner who performed Pikes’ autopsy, however, found no evidence of drugs in Pikes’ system, and no history of asthma—a fact confirmed by Pikes’ family. In light of this evidence, Williams concluded that it was therefore unlikely that Pikes’ would have told the police he had asthma or that he had ingested drugs.

Williams reviewed his findings with two nationally renowned forensic pathologists before issuing his conclusion as to the cause of death, one of whom, Dr. Michael Baden, described the homicide as "tantamount to torture."

The medical examiner also found that all nine shocks were delivered after Pikes was handcuffed, and that the last two tasers were delivered after Pikes was unconscious and unresponsive. In fact, one of the policemen at the scene wrote in his report that Pikes was foaming at the mouth at that point, a sign which the medical examiner said is caused by lung surfactant that comes out when someone is struggling to breathe.

Nugent was fired from the police force in May. He appealed the firing, which was upheld on Sept. 11. A trial set for Oct. 23 will consider charges of manslaughter and malfeasance, which carry prison sentences of 40 years and five years respectively.

According to Winnfield Police Department’s records, in the one year since officers received Tasers, the shock guns have been used 14 times, 12 of which involved Black suspects. Ten of the 14 incidents involved officer Nugent, yet the first disciplinary action against Nugent only came after he killed Pikes.

The U.N. Committee Against Torture has determined that the use of Tasers is a form of torture, and concluded that Tasers violate the U.N. Convention Against Torture. The committee reported that the shocks delivered by Tasers cause extreme pain and, in some cases, death.

Nevertheless, Taser devices are not considered "lethal weapons" by the U.S. government, and they can be legally carried—concealed or not—without a permit in 43 states. Amnesty International has documented over 245 deaths caused by Tasers since the introduction of the devices onto the market.

The Taser’s false reputation as a safe weapon allows cops to use it indiscriminately and unnecessarily, often against defenseless victims. African Americans, particularly those in low-income communities, are often the victims of these vicious assaults, much like they are often the victims of police brutality in general. In a society where cops serve and protect the interests of a rich, primarily white minority, this comes as no surprise.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation believes that fighting against police brutality is a top priority in the struggle against racism. It is a fight that must be carried out not by politicians, but by an organized mass movement. For each cop who is sentenced in a case of police brutality—usually receiving a slap on the wrist—countless others never even face trial. Top officials and rank-and-file cops must be charged and punished for their inhuman crimes.

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