Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Roadside Torture: Official Policy of Travis Co. Sheriff's Department

I defy anyone to watch this video and give me one good reason why Travis County Deputy Chris Bieze was justified in Tasering a 72-year-old grandmother during a traffic stop.

Yes, she was argumentative. Yes, she failed to comply with the officer's order. But does this justify use of the Taser?

Originally, Tasers were intended to be used by police only in situations where a gun might otherwise be used--that is, in situations where lives might be in danger. Rule of thumb: If a situation doesn't require a gun, it shouldn't require a Taser.

And yet, increasingly, police are using the Taser not in dangerous situations, but simply to enforce compliance.

In the video, the situation is under control at first. Then the woman refuses to sign the speeding ticket. This, of course, is her right.

Deputy Bieze then orders her out of the car. This is his right.

She argues with him, which may not be smart, but it is her right.

Bieze responds by screaming in her face and shoving her backwards. This is not his right.

Later, he will say he shoved her for her own safety, to get her out of the traffic. But it is quite apparent that the shove was not kindly meant.

You know the kind of shove. It is the same shove that has started many a bar fight—a hard shove, a bullying shove, ugly, vicious, violent, and mean, nothing nice about it.

And it escalates the situation, of course. The woman gets angrier. So angry that she gets in his face, saying, “You’re gonna’ push me? A 72-year-old woman?”

This, by the way, is her right. She has been physically assaulted by this "man," and is well within her rights to object, whether the bully who shoved her is in uniform or not.

A few minutes pass, during which time Bieze talks on his radio. She stands there quietly, arms folded. Bieze orders her to stand back. She continues to stand right where she is, arms folded. Again, not a good idea, but is it a threat to the officer’s safety? Of course not.

Bieze next tries to grab her arms in order to handcuff her. She pulls away. Again, not a good idea, but is it a threat? No, it is not. This isn't a 35-year-old, 200-pound maniac high on PCP. This is a 72-year-old woman pulling away, not attacking. Only the most pathetic, sissy-pants baby could feel threatened in this situation.

Bieze threatens her with the Taser. She dares him to try it. Again, not a good idea, but again, no credible threat to the officer's safety.

In short order, Bieze removes the Taser from his belt and zaps her—a great-grandmother, mind you—with enough electricity to send her flying backwards to the ground.

And then, while she’s lying there screaming, Bieze orders her once again to put her hands behind her back.

Now, perhaps, until now you've seen some justification for Bieze's actions. But where is the justification now? How is she still a threat? And how, exactly, is she going to obey the order while she is paralyzed with pain?

Between screams, she manages to choke out the words that she cannot comply with the order, and somehow—by a miracle of God, I guess—this maniac Bieze manages to get a grip on himself and decides to stop torturing her.

Which is a good thing, because a lot of cops don’t stop Tasering someone after they’re down. They’ll keep on and on Tasering three, four, five, six, a dozen, fifteen, twenty times, until they get tired of it, or the victim dies.

Is this the kind of society we want? A society that sanctions the roadside torture of elderly women for not following orders?

It's not the kind of society I want, but apparently it's what the Travis County Sheriff’s Department wants, because in the video a department spokesman actually defends Bieze’s actions.

This tells us all we need to know about the Travis County Sheriff's Department: roadside torture is official policy and everyone—even little old ladies—are fair game.

This does not make me feel safe. In fact, I think we would be safer without police if this how they serve and protect.