Taser Use During Foreclosure Demo at DOJ Raises Questions


May 22, 2013; Rolling Stone

A coalition of housing advocacy groups, including the Home Defenders League and Occupy Our Homes, protested at the Department of Justice last week, calling for Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute the bankers that caused the foreclosure crisis. (See Matt Taibbi’s “Gangster Bankers: Too Big To Jail” for more on this issue.) The protest involved 400 homeowners, many of them black and Latino, and 100 supporters. When officers moved to arrest them, several applied tasers despite the absence of violent resistance to arrest. There is video of one of these incidents involving Carmen Pittman, an activist with Occupy Our Homes in Atlanta.

The use of tasers in situations where someone nonviolently resists a police command is disallowed in most police departments, according to a study by the National Institute of Justice. NYU law professor Sarah Knuckey, who co-authored a report on the suppression of the rights of Occupy activists, comments, “The incident needs to be thoroughly investigated, there must be a public accounting of what happened and why, and any wrong-doing must be punished.” 

Last week, the DOJ was also under fire for seizing phone records of journalists and investigating reporter James Rosen of Fox News. Does the Department of Justice have a problem with free speech?—Ruth McCambridge 

  • Johnny Canuck

    Tasers are not without risks that can cause death. Unlike your toaster or hair dryer, they remain untested, unregulated electrical devices. Are most rank & file police unaware of this? Even the manufacturer is admitting this now, even though they claimed the devices were ‘non-lethal’ a decade ago. Check the company’s training material and volunteer waivers and you’ll see this. The fine-print wording is strange but it reads, “Risk of an ECD deployment, application or discharge having a negative effect on a person’s heart is not zero”. Or this: “The ECD can produce physiologic or metabolic effects which include, but are not limited to changes in acidosis, adrenergic states, blood pressure, electrolytes, heart rate and rhythm, lactic acid, myoglobin, PH, respiration, stress hormones or other biochemical neuromodulators.” Then on the next page, “Adverse physiologic and metabolic effects may increase the risk of death or serious injury.”. As well, the training material says Tasers were never scientifically tested on pregnant women, the infirm, the elderly, children or low-body-mass index persons and that deployment “could increase the risk of serious injury or death.”

    The Braidwood Commission Inquiry into Taser use in Canada concluded in 2009 that Tasers CAN kill. The Canadian blog Truth Not Tasers has been tracking the number of Taser-related deaths in North America, based on media reports, and the death toll sits at 780. If this was a defective car part or prescription drug associated with this many deaths, there would be a lot more howling, but because it is a police tool and we are taught to trust law enforcement, they are given a free pass?
    Police routinely measure their radar guns, breathalyzers, defibs and the like, but a device that allows electrical current to enter the body is NOT? Something is very wrong with this picture.

  • B Rouson

    It is heartening to see attention to news that has gone largely ignored by the mainstream media. However, I am mystified by the use of tentative language — i.e., that police “may have” used tasers. What gives? Let’s count on NPQ as a voice for free speech, not simply raising questions but making statements.