Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It couldn't happen here: A Day of Blogging For Justice - A Day of Blogging Against Extra-Judicial Electrocution (Tasers)

Here in America, where justice is "for all," we don't execute people unless they are found guilty in a fair and speedy trial. (Frankly, I disagree with all forms of execution, but that is a discussion for another day.) Summary execution--that is uncivilized. It is anti-American. It is the domain of the third world. It is the tool of sick societies controlled by mad men--Saddam Hussein...Augusto Pinochet...Idi Amin. No, these things don't happen here. Or do they?

WINNFIELD, La. - At 1:28 p.m. last Jan. 17, Baron "Scooter" Pikes was a healthy 21-year-old man. By 2:07 p.m., he was dead.What happened in the 39 minutes in between--during which Pikes was handcuffed by local police and shocked nine times with a Taser device, while reportedly pleading for mercy--is now spawning fears of a political cover-up in this backwoods Louisiana lumber town infamous for backroom dealings. Read more...
Here's what we know about how 17-year-old Darryl Wayne Turner died: He had cardiac arrest after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer shot him with a
Taser gun.

Yet what we don't know about that shooting is just as important. Police and prosecutors should say how many times Mr. Turner was shot and make public a surveillance videotape that captured much of the confrontation. That's the only way to settle questions about what happened.

Prosecutors announced last week that Police Officer Jerry Dawson acted appropriately when he shocked Mr. Turner during a March confrontation at a north Charlotte grocery store. Officials said Mr. Turner was shocked more than once after he advanced on the officer. Read more...
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A mentally ill homeless woman died after she was arrested outside a shelter and stunned with a Taser while she was on the ground in
handcuffs, authorities and witnesses said.

An autopsy was performed on Milisha Thompson, 35, but her cause of death has not been determined pending toxicology tests, police Sgt. Paco Balderrama said Tuesday.
One witness, Edwin Davis, said onlookers began yelling, ``You killed her! You killed her!'' as Thompson slipped out of consciousness during Saturday's confrontation outside the City Rescue Mission. Read more...
In Gwinnett County, Georgia, an un-edited police videotape shows 31-year-old Deacon Frederick Williams being struck with a TASER five times in 43 seconds, just 4 minutes after being led into the jail. He was handcuffed behind his back and in leg restraints, following an epileptic seizure at his home; an ambulance was called by his wife and son, but the police arrived first. (Warning: This video is searing and I found it very hard to watch.)
People are being executed by Taser without benefit of trial. Here. In America.

According to Wikipedia, the head of the U.S. Southern regional office of Amnesty International, Jared Feuer, reported that 277 people in the United States have died after being shocked by a Taser between June 2001 and October 2007. He also noted that about 80 percent of those people were unarmed. "Tasers interfere with a basic equation, which is that force must always be proportional to the threat," Feuer said. "They are being used in a situation where a firearm or even a baton would never be justified."

The site also says: "The United Nations Committee against Torture reported that the use of Tasers can be a form of torture, due to the acute pain they cause, and warns against the possibility of death in certain cases. Amnesty International has reported several alleged cases of excessive electroshock gun use, that possibly amount to torture, including the death of an individual after being struck 12 times with a Taser in Orange County, Florida.

"They have also raised extensive concerns about the use of other electro-shock devices by American police and in American prisons, as they can be (and according to Amnesty International, sometimes are) used to inflict cruel pain on individuals. For example, Eric Hammock of Texas died in April 2005 after receiving more than 20 taser shocks by Fort Worth police officers. Maurice Cunningham of South Carolina was subjected to continuous shock for 2 minutes 49 seconds, which a medical examiner said caused cardiac arrhythmia and his subsequent death. He was 29 years old and had no alcohol or drugs in his system.

"In response to the claims that the pain inflicted by the use of the Taser could potentially constitute torture, Tom Smith, the Chairman of the Taser Board, has stated that the U.N. was 'out of touch' with the needs of modern policing."

I feel I must say a word about these people who have been executed. You are thinking, perhaps, that these people are different from you. You are thinking that these people did something wrong and paid a price. You are thinking that you are lucky that you are not poor or homeless or mentally ill, because only people like that face hardships like this.

It is true that many of the executed were the people who most often have contact with police. Some were the types of people that make you uncomfortable. Some were not "good" people. They were not law-abiding citizens. They had records. They ran from police. They sold drugs. They menaced neighborhoods. I know that I would not have wanted many of these people living next door to me. But, each and every one of these victims was most assuredly a human being. And, let me tell you, a justice system only works if it works for the least of us. Justice for the rich and powerful, and for the saintly, is easy to achieve. But we must fight for justice for the poor and weak, the mentally ill and for the "evil," if justice is what we truly believe in.

Brilliant lawyer and leader of the ACLU Clarence Darrow said, "You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man's freedom. You can only be free if I am free."If we--the law-abiding, "good" folks-- let suspects be executed in American streets, then we jeopardize our own freedom. We make it okay for our sons and daughters--ourselves--to be brutally dispatched as well. But I fear that is what it will take. Some errant college student or some rowdy, suburban soccer dad will need to die for America to care, but by that time we will have already failed. The test is whether we care about taser deaths NOW, when the victims are mostly among the marginalized.

Someday soon there will be a loud public outcry against improper force by law enforcement and summary executions by Taser--not just in the black blogosphere, but everywhere. It will happen. I know it will. After all, we don't allow those things here in America. Do we?

Learn more about the abuse of Tasers and read what other bloggers are saying on this Day of Blogging for Justice at Electrocuted While Black and Tasered While Black.



Can you spare a dime (or, more like $25) to fight rightwing lies on MTV?

From Moveon.org:

MTV just started accepting political ads. And the first political ad that millions of young people will see is a negative attack on Barack Obama—saying he's "worse than a flip-flopper" and accusing him of no longer being against the war.1 It's outrageous.

The Republicans' strategy is clear: kill the hope that's brought millions of new young voters out of the woodwork.

We can't let that happen. And as it turns out, we've got a funny, positive, hopeful way to fight back.

The "funniest ad" award winner in our Obama in 30 Seconds contest is a perfect counterpoint to the cynicism-mongering ad on MTV. Plus, it was made by actor (and MoveOn member) Rider Strong.




We just found out that we can run this ad on MTV and Comedy Central (as their first political ad ever) for $150,000. If 6,000 of us contribute $25, we can do it. Can you check out the ad—and if you like it, will you chip in to get it on the air?

Contribute at https://pol.moveon.org/donate/brainonhope.html?id=13345-9170166-yzVIhCx&t=4

Thanks for all you do.
–Peter, Ray, Daniel, Justin and the rest of the team

Tami's Note: If you're tired of Republicans using lies and distortion to mislead the American people...if you think our kids deserve better than this...put your money where you mouth is. Lay off the Starbucks and iTunes downloads for a week and contribute to this worthy cause. I did. Remember folks, it's a long way to November and we haven't won yet.

1. "Barack Obama Attacked In First National Political Ad Ever To Air On MTV," MTV News, July 23, 2008, http://www.moveon.org/r?r=3983&id=13345-9170166-yzVIhCx&t=5

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