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The Taserification of America

The whole justification for police to get tasers in the first place was to subdue potentially violent suspects -- but it's gone way, way, past that.

Unless you've been living in a Waziristan cave for the last 24 years, you've heard about the unfortunate misdemeanor-breaking dude who got Tasered at a Philadelphia Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park Monday night. My computer screen here at the Philadelphia Daily News went all a-Twitter about it even before all the electrons had even stopped flowing through 17-year-old suburban high school senior Steve Consalvi.

My gut instinct when I first learned of it was the same as I feel about it a day later: That while it wasn't exactly a Rodney King affair, clearly the officer had used excessive force. I've been watching baseball games for more than 40 years, and the drills is always the same. The fan isn't trying to do harm, just get attention; it used to be that the TV cameras never even showed a field-jumper for exactly that reason, back before ESPN needed an endless stream of fodder for its "Top 10 Plays."

People forget that the whole justification for police to get Tasers in the first place was to subdue potentially violent suspects in cases in the past in which they might have been tempted to use lethal force. But the notion that the cops would have pulled a gun and shot 17-year-old field jumper Steve Consalvi is absurd, which means the rationale for tasing him is...what? There's something oddly funny about zapping a fellow human for some reason, but Tasers are no joke to the loved ones of the estimated 50 people who died because of their use.

Consalvi didn't have the risk factors of most of those killed or injured -- he is young, healthy, and wasn't drunk or on drugs. But he still -- while committing a misdemeanor, let's remember -- was subjected to the brief, intense pain of 50,000 volts of electricity. There was a simpler, quainter time when causing pain to another person was called...violence.

I guess that quaint time was America before 9/11 -- after which for some reason we lost all sense of proportionality on how to respond to various levels of wrongdoing. After my low-key blog suggestion that Tasering a mildly lawbreaking fan wasn't a great idea, I got an email from a reader. He said, in part: "Were you there last night? I was. Idiots like that are unpredictable at best! The days of "Morgana (sic) the kissing bandit" are gone. We live in a post 911 world." I don't mean to be harsh to the emailer -- he actually made some decent points about security entering Citizens Bank Park.

But I also had to wonder: Must we see every single act of wrongdoing, even minor ones, through the prism of 9/11? Is a fan running on a field in the same ballpark with killing nearly 3,000 people? What has happened to us in this country. Did anyone call for stun-gunning " Morganna the kissing bandit" in the 1970s because we lived in "a post-JFK assassination world" and that maybe she had a concealed weapon inside of those, um. concealed weapons. Of course not. Americans have changed ...and not for the better.

Make no mistake -- the 9/11 attacks were the most cowardly acts of pure evil ever committed on U.S. soil -- but the American ideals of civil liberties should be so sacrosanct they should not have been unduly violated even for the people who planned and executed 9/11, but of course they were at Guantanamo and with the John Yoo-justified torture regime that was expanded to many people who had nothing to do with 9/11 and eventually to people who were innocent of any crime altogether.

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