Why Are Cops Tasering Grandmothers, Pregnant Women and Kids?
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Tuttle conceded that death, and some applications of the taser, are unnecessary and improper.
"We specifically tell someone not to use a taser when a suspect is elevated," he said. "It could cause death. The anus is clearly a misuse of the device. We're not averse to discussing these things."
But it is clear from the increasing penetration of the taser into pop culture that use of the weapon within, and without, legally limited guidelines -- the gray area so beloved by lawyers, marketers, and law enforcement -- carries some kind of cachet. The shady corporation in charge of chasing down mutants, and perhaps destroying the world (depending on the season), in NBC's Heroes openly use tasers, glorifying the weapon for prime-time. Tasers have also shown up in comics, lately in DC Comics' otherwise cool Doom Patrol series. The latest lovers on ABC's hit show Lost first met when one tasered the other. Even the world's finest detective, the Dark Knight himself, took darts and wires to the chestplate for his girlfriend in Batman Begins.
"We've seen it used spectacularly," Tuttle explained. "I've seen hundreds of cartoons that have it. I saw three shows last night that had it, including a Disney kids' show and a Cops episode. It's out there in pop culture. That poor yahoo that said 'Don't tase me bro!' got us tremendous name recognition. We do provide them to prop houses, which give it to movies that use them. But sometimes the exposure isn't a pleasant experience, especially when it's a trademark violation."
To be sure: In April, Taser sued Linden Labs, creators of the online virtual world Second Life, for trademark infringement after the San Francisco-based company allowed virtual tasers for sale in the alternative world's marketplace. That's the kind of bizarre twist pop culture can create when it mashes reality and hyperreality too hard. You can see that process of glamorization and trademark in different form on Taser's own site: It currently alternates shots of founders and brothers Rick and Tom Smith in posing in taser-matching hero outfits with information on its new weapon the X3, which can now strike three people at once. And then there's Taser's keynote video, delivered during a training conference, which features kickass metal music and is emceed by an announcer who sounds as if he's on loan from the Academy Awards.
But glamorization doesn't come cheap, as Taser will find out the more its company name and controversial weaponry go viral. Those costs eventually come home to roost, and when they do, it is usually the glamorization that takes the bullet.
"I do believe that Taser International is partly to blame," argued Peter Bibring, staff attorney for ACLU's Southern California chapter. "Their marketing, particularly their initial marketing, overemphasized the safety of tasers. Taser International publishes the training used by most police departments. It deliberately cites medical research that it sponsors. If you give officers a device that is a substitute for a gun and tell them it can't hurt anyone, they're going to use it over and over again, in circumstances that don't call for use of force and on potentially vulnerable populations like pregnant women, the elderly and children."
"There's a learning curve when departments get tasers," Tuttle concluded. "Cops aren't perfect. They're human, but we expect them to be Robocop."
A fitting description, given the fantasy of power and technology that tasers and other weaponry imbue their carriers with. Compelled by an increasingly permissive militarism that has gone supernova since 9/11 and arrmed with state-of-the-art force technology, taser-happy cops are in danger of becoming cyborgs out of step with the humanity they're in charge of pacifying. Characterized as Heroes or elevated to the status of Robocop, without fully understanding the weapons that can save their lives, and kill those they're supposed to protect, they're walking a tightrope between thuggery and enforcement, and losing their balance with every bad episode.