Today, Black bloggers around the web (including Afrospear members and The Electronic Villiage) are setting aside the day to stand up against the use of tasers by the police. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) refers to them as “Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs)”. Some of the bloggers refer to their use as “Police Pre-Trial Electrocution”.
AroundHarlem.com is strongly against the use of tasers. We have based our decision on information revealed by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and the fact that the use of tasers are harmful and dangerous to potentially innocent people. The NYCLU states that the NYPD has instituted the use of a leathal weapon without proper research or public dialogue. While the NYPD did conduct a Rand Study, according to Donna Lieberman (NYCLU executive director), the NYPD commissioned the study on important public policies without involving the public or anyone outside the NYPD. As a result, the NYCLU and AroundHarlem.com doubt the thoroughness and objectivity of the study.
The Rand Report, which was supposed to be aimed at evaluating the racial disparities in NYPD practices following the Sean Bell Incident (two black men and one latino man were shot at 50 times by the NYPD [Sean Bell was killed]), focuses on supporting the increased use of tasers as a replacement for handguns. The use of these weapons has been linked to hundreds of serious injuries and fatalities.
Last year police fatally tased Iman Morales, a 35 year old man suffering from mental illness. The police responded to a call by Morales’ mother, who had resorted to calling the NYPD after her son had stopped taking his medication. The incident left Morales standing on a metal box that was on top of a store’s security gate, naked, screaming incoherently with an 8 foot fluorescent light tube in his grasp.
Lt. Michael Pigott issued the order to shoot Morales with a taser which was a clear violation of NYPD guidelines stating that “when possible, the CED (taser) should not be used in situations where the subject may fall from an elevated surface.” As a result of being tased, Morales fell head first onto the pavement below and was killed. The was incident was captured on camera by an onlooker. (Lt. Pigott committed suicide shortly after the incident occurred.)
Months before this tragedy 17 year old Alexander Lombard 3rd, son of a NYPD veteran, was tasered 4 times, hit 15 times with a nightstick and put in a choke hold by a NYPD officer. Lombard suffered serious injuries (video) as the result of excessive use of force by an officer at a community sponsored barbecue in Harlem. No charges were filed against Mr. Lombard indicating that he was neither resisting arrest nor carrying a weapon. The use of the taser against Lombard can only be described as excessive and unnecessary.
In 2008 the NYPD had approximately 500 tasers in use which were assigned to supervisory staff and trained Emergency Service Unit officers. However, The Rand report and the NYPD are recommending that the use of these weapons be increased (Chapter 6). The problems associated with this increase are numerous and extremely serious.
First, it appears that the police are failing to recognize how dangerous these weapons are, and there is a risk that officers will see them as a less dangerous weapon than a handgun, when in reality both are capable of taking a life. Also, the racial bias in policing has yet to be properly acknowledged let alone confronted and eliminated and until the issue is resolved the chances of tasers being used disproportionately on Blacks and Latinos will steadily increase.
Finally, it is our belief that the NYPD has replaced the use of one fatal weapon with another and there needs to be strict guidelines instituted and a public discussion regarding the use of tasers in New York City.