Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The 50,000-volt question

Amateur provocateur Andrew Meyer sounds like a self-indulgent asshole, but Tasering him for hogging the microphone at a gab-fest with Sen. John Kerry is, without a doubt, excessive. Frankly, it sounds as if the boys and girls in blue were offended that somebody declined to display instant obedience to their commands, and elected to apply a little on-the-spot punishment.

The idea of Tasers and other less-lethal weapons is a good one. They're intended to be used in place of firearms to reduce the need for lethal force to conclude confrontations. Unfortunately, as in the situation with Meyer, it's proven too easy for police to instead turn to the new weapons as a means of escalating the use of force beyond that necessary to control the situation--but without incurring the consequences inherent in outright shooting a subject or jumping up and down on his head.

Of course, what technology giveth, it also bestows upon somebody else. Even as police zapped Meyer with 50,000 volts, they were being simultaneously video-recorded by members of the audience--recordings which then ended up on YouTube to convert a local outrage into national scandal.

Whether Meyer was hoping for a taste of martyrdom is beside the point. It's usually the worst troublemakers who are most willing to put the hard questions to politicians and say "no" to authority. They help to remind officialdom that they owe their power and privilege to those annoying folks out their in fly-over land. The troublemakers are often jerks, but they're frequently much-needed jerks.

And it's just never acceptable to shut them up by running 50,000 volts through their bodies.

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