Footage of the altercation between Sandra Bland, the Black woman found hanged to death in a Texas jail, and Trooper Brian Encinia has hit TV, computer and phone screens across the nation. Encinia is seen threatening to “light her up” with his taser if Brand doesn’t get out of her car. The Atlantic says the video raises questions about police officers’ use of tasers.
The taser was designed to be a non-lethal weapon used to subdue suspects without killing them, but The Atlantic states cops often use it to punish people who fail to follow their orders.
“The footage is disturbing, but it also reflects a common problem: Tasers are not only used by law-enforcement agents as less lethal alternatives to guns, or even as weapons for self-defense—but often as tools to get people to do what they want,” said Atlantic writer Robinson Meyer. “Bland does not appear to endanger Encinia, but she is not complying with his order, so he threatens to tase her.”
TASER International heavily promotes the taser as a weapon that protects both officers and suspects.
“A US Department of Justice (DOJ) study conducted by Wake Forest University School of Medicine showed that 99.75 percent of 1,201 suspects who encountered a TASER device as a means of force received only bruises and scrapes or were uninjured,” said the company’s website.
TASER’s website also stated more than 800,000 weapons have been sold since 1994 to more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies. The company reported $44.8 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2015.
Although TASER claims their weapon is non lethal, it has killed people. A report from The Guardian says 33 people have died from tasers since the beginning of the year. This figure is disputed by TASER officials, who claims the deaths were from health problems or drug use.
“If someone dies following a TASER incident, The Guardian is automatically and erroneously assuming causality,” said Steve Tuttle, the company’s vice president of communications.
However, a 2013 Amnesty International report said 540 people had died from tasers since 2001.
The real problem seems to be with police officers’ overuse of tasers. The Atlantic said too many times officers are not using tasers to end life-threatening situations; they’re using them to inflict pain on suspects who don’t follow their orders.
“Tasers are undoubtedly safer than firearms: No one, not even the company’s harshest critics, contend that,” said The Atlantic. “But they are often used not on violent or combative suspects, as William Bozeman (a lead researcher in the Wake Forest study) says, but on people simply failing to comply with officer orders. They are effectively ‘pain-compliance tools,’ not less lethal weapons.”
It seems many police officers have a real problem with rage. Across the country we are seeing several cases of out of control police officers. A Chandler, Ariz. police officer arrested Esmarelda Rossi while she was naked, after she questioned why he had illegally entered her home. And, New York Detective Patrick Cherry was captured on video berating an Uber driver in a racist tirade after the driver gestured for him to use his blinker. Cherry also threatened to arrest the driver, who later filed a formal complaint.
Rapper Immortal Technique told Hiphopdx.com police officers’ rage can often turn minor incidents into violent altercations.
“Because they obviously, in my experience, get very aggressive very quickly,” said Immortal Technique. “They’ll arrest you just because you hurt their ego. You could break the law and they’ll let you walk away, but if you hurt their ego, they’ll arrest you or they’ll hurt you or they’ll f**k with you.”
For Sandra Bland, hurting an officer’s ego turned out to be fatal.