by Phil Turner
From Unity, anti-racist and anti-fascist magazine September-October 2016, issue 17. Email UAF to ask for printed copies firstname.lastname@example.org
The recent death of former professional footballer Dalian Atkinson has again highlighted the dangers of the increasing use of Tasers by police, particularly among black communities.
Officers raised, aimed or fired a Taser 3,128 times in 2009, but this figure had tripled to 10,062 by 2014.
Tasers were first used by firearms officers in 2004, and then specially trained units from 2008. Initially they were described as a non-lethal way of restraining people.
However, following at least 10 deaths that have occurred in the UK following the use of Tasers, they are currently described as a “less lethal” self defence weapon. Meanwhile in the United States, Tasers were linked to 49 deaths in the last year alone.
Black people are six times more likely than white people to be stopped by the police, and in some areas, such as the West Midlands and Dorset, that figure is much higher. Since 1999 stop and search among black people has risen by more than 120 percent, while amongst white people it has risen seven percent.
The circumstances of Dalian Atkinson’s death are still being investigated. But the anti-racist campaign Show Racism the Red Card said, “Rather than to simply retroactively look at the use of Tasers, stop and search and their impact on communities, we need to proactively use this opportunity as a springboard to have education and discussion around the issues of institutional racism that means black people are looked upon with more suspicion by those in positions of authority.”
Tasers fire two barbs into a victim’s body then discharge 50,000 volts of electricity through their central nervous system. This can disrupt the heart’s rhythm.
Police officers receive training in the use of Tasers, including the deployment of judgement, how to read situations, and when and when not to deploy the weapon.
But black people are more than three times more likely to be tasered than white people.
An Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report released in early September said that Britain’s biggest police force, London’s Met, had significant weaknesses in handling discrimination.
Following an earlier report in 2013 the EHRC stated “the overall disproportionality in the use of the powers against black, Asian and mixed race people remains stubbornly high”.