How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Taser

Remember “don’t taze me, bro“? Good times. Over the years, we’ve watched cops deploy their Tasers and, on occasion, people die. It got so bad that Taser International had to revive a debunked cause of death to explain it. Tasers characterization was changed from “non-lethal” to “less-than-lethal,” because while they weren’t as deadly as guns, they weren’t undeadly either.

It got so bad that Taser International had to change its name to Axon.

But now, Tasers aren’t deadly anymore, and Taser has Rayshard Brooks to thank.

It’s not that a Taser is a deadly weapon. It’s that it isn’t an undeadly weapon. It’s not that a Taser is as deadly as a gun. It’s not. But it’s not incapable of causing death or serious bodily injury. What it is, however, is that we’ve just flipped the narrative because this time, this one time as opposed to all the other times, the Taser was taken from the cop and, while Brooks fled, fired at the cop. The cop shot him. The cop killed him. The cop had a gun. Brooks had the cop’s Taser. And now a Taser is not a deadly weapon.

Graham v. Connor controls the use of deadly force by a police officer, giving rise to the “Reasonably Scared Cop Rule.” The fear is not just one of death, but serious injury. Can a Taser cause serious injury? If it can cause death, then it would not seem much of a downward stretch to conclude that serious injury can occur as well. Even if a Taser isn’t a deadly weapon, that doesn’t mean it falls outside the scope of the Rule.

Still, there are significant doubts as to the legitimacy of shooting Rayshard Books, whose identity was know to the police. Let him run, catch him later. No, it’s troubling that some would expect a cop to take a potential taze from a stolen Taser, and the less passionate might recognize that the expectation that cops would let a fleeing defendant taze him without taking action is unrealistic. What’s a cop to do?

Then again, a tazing might hurt, even kill, but shooting a guy three times in the back is surely a more definitive use of deadly force. Once the Taser was fired and the cop wasn’t harmed, was there still a need to fire? There might have been a second set of prongs in the Taser, with 50,000 volts of their own, but if he stayed out of range, any potential harm would have been avoided. There are a lot of moving pieces to what happened, and there is a very strong argument to be made that killing Rayshard Books wasn’t justified.

But in the process, we learned that the Taser was no big thing. Why did we spend all those years, all those words, all those lives, thinking it was a bad compliance tool and one that could very well kill people only to learn that it was no big deal?

19 thoughts on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Taser

  1. L. Phillips

    A few observations on Ms. Abrams argument from a simple man way out in flyover country:

    “A taser is not a deadly weapon. A gun is.” A taser and a gun are inanimate objects. The training, intent, and latent stupidity of the person (or domestic animal in a few cases) who pick them up controls whether or not they are “deadly”.

    “Adrenaline and irritation are not the same as mortal fear.” Yeah, actually they pretty much are. Fight/flight reactions are soaked in adrenaline regardless of whether or not they are truly dangerous to life.

    “Running away should not be punishable by death.” In very limited instances it is according to the law in the states where I worked.

    “Public safety must mean the public is safe. All of us.” Public safety has nothing to do with “all of us” being safe, apparently all the time. Society chooses winners and losers, hopefully based on observable behaviors. Being cowards, or at least squeamish, at heart they pay folks like me to go out and round up the losers, then pay more for a system to sort out the losers because honestly done that job is mentally and emotionally hard and occasionally dangerous, too. Topping that off they then pay for a place to keep the losers separated from the winners.

    Other than that her argument was spot on.

    If we were having an honest societal discussion about where the line between winners and losers should be rather than tangential, inflamed rhetoric about the mechanisms created to enforce the existing line I would be impressed. For now, it’s time to feed the livestock.

    1. SHG Post author

      I, for one, find it unsurprising that sides switch arguments when it’s convenient to achieve their ends. What’s unfortunate is how few people are principled enough to admit they’re full of shit and will say whatever serves their end.

  2. Casual Lurker

    As you might expect, we receive “deliveries” accompanied by LEOs on a fairly regular basis. I’m friendly with several of the regulars, and they occasionally unburden themselves and voice their concerns to me. I sometimes ask about various use-of-force scenarios.

    Extremely recently, one LEO, while talking about the recent turmoil prompted by George Floyd’s murder, and in particular, the riots here in NYC, briefly touched upon the Taser incident involving Rayshard Brooks.

    He was blunt. Whether the device was lethal or not was irrelevant to him. As he put it “At minimum, there’s always one gun present.” From his point of view, if someone aims any type of at-a-distance weapon at him, that could potentially render him incapable of keeping his service weapon secure, he had no choice but to “light ’em up”, and the consequences be damned.

    As much as I would have liked to have suggested an alternative to deadly force, I was at a loss for anything that would not potentially put him at risk of loosing his weapon and having it used against him and/or others.

    1. SHG Post author

      We all want everyone to live. Sometimes, the answer to how we manage it isn’t as easy as it seems and it ends up being post-hoc review of what could have gone differently, as if anyone could know that with certainty beforehand.

  3. YourMotherIsACunt

    Where and when is the Klan meeting today? I have buffalo wings, cheap beer, a dozen crosses, lighter fluid and a whole lotta nooses.

      1. Casual Lurker

        We appreciate how much crappola* you trash on a regular basis, leaving us blissfully unaware of the amount of garbage you must deal with.

        I fully understand why some of the sillier and off-the-wall comments from the regulars get shit-canned.

        But other than reminding us of what you must deal with, so that we may share the pain, what purpose is served by letting this type of brain-dead, invective bullshit through?

        It’s lunchtime, and I’m already somewhat dyspeptic from dealing with a combination of near-brain-dead staff and patients, and GI is closed today. No need to exacerbate it.

        *For those outside NYC, ‘Crappola’ is a regional term of art.

        1. SHG Post author

          This particular one made me smile just a little bit, and it’s important to remember the mentality and depth of thoughtfulness of the tribe.

    1. John J

      It appears to be educated as it knows how to put a sentence together, use the appropriate punctuation and capitalization, and it even avoided the Oxford Comma. It’s another fine product of the universities. You are honoured to have a critical thinker commenting on your blog. Perhaps you should take on he/she/they/hir/zir/em/xem/ver/shazam as your editorial adviser? The place needs a shakeup.

    2. Richard Kopf

      Dear YourMotherIsACunt,

      Mine is dead. But she was as you describe when she was alive.

      All the best.


      1. Bryan Burroughs

        Pretty certain I’m going to have to demand your impeachment, Judge. I danged near sprained a muscle laughing at your response.

  4. Hunting Guy

    Why take a chance?

    Arnaud Amalric

    “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.”

    1. Skink

      “Related” is not cause and an ME’s manner of death as homicide is not murder or any statement of wrongdoing.

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