(Miami Herald) BRADENTON, Fla. — Authorities say a Bradenton man died after being stunned by a Taser as he attempted to flee arrest.
Police say an officer tried to pull over 38-year-old Derrick Humbert in a residential area just after midnight Monday, but Humbert jumped out of his vehicle and started to run away through the yards. An officer chased Humbert and stunned him with a Taser.
Officials say paramedics took Humbert to a nearby hospital, where he died.
Humbert was wanted on a warrant for possession of marijuana.
I can just hear the law and order crowd saying, “Well, if he hadn’t have run, he never would have been tasered!” Sure, because we can’t have someone wanted on a marijuana possession warrant eluding police. Think of the danger he presents to the community! Had he escaped from police, he might have, uh, smoked a bowl?
What motivated him to run from a mere possession charge? In one of the thirteen decrim states, he would have only faced a ticket for his marijuana possession, something he probably wouldn’t have tried to run away from, but in Florida, he could face a year in prison for a joint and a felony conviction and five years for three-quarters of an ounce. Even the federal government won’t give you a felony for possession unless it is your third strike.
Even then, what is the justification for electrocuting a guy over a little weed? (Let’s not mince words: tasering is electrocution.) Remember when tasers were introduced and we were told they would be a non-lethal way of subduing a dangerous criminal and protecting police lives? We were told that tasers would reduce the number of shootings of suspects because police could use the non-lethal taser instead?
Because Tasers are often seen as completely safe and non-lethal, they are often used as a weapon of first rather than last resort. They have become less an alternative to deadly force than an alternative to less-intensive policing techniques. In the more than 351 cases Amnesty International has tracked where individuals died after being shocked, in only a small fraction –about 10 percent — of the incidents was the individual carrying any kind of weapon.
In Houston, for example, department policy has allowed for Tasers to be used when an officer feels he or she is going to be physically threatened — but without an imminent danger. Houston officers have shocked more than 1400 individuals since 2004. Hundreds of those individuals were not charged with a crime. An audit found that police shootings of suspects had not decreased after the introduction of Tasers in the city — which had been one of the primary stated goals of using the weapons.
My friend Pam Spaulding at Pam’s House Blend has been following these cases for years and there is also the excellent blog Electrocuted While Black that chronicles this horrendous abuse of police power. This injudicious use of tasers must end! The use of a taser should have to meet the same prerequisites as the use of a handgun in policing. Police should not be allowed to use tasers on citizens merely because they are being argumentative, uncooperative, or fleeing, unless the citizen is armed or presents an imminent danger to the community.
Surely a guy wanted for smoking a little weed doesn’t fit those prerequisites.