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Political Rants

Abu Ghraib comes to Lexington?

Bush’s second term isn’t even a day old, and already US citizens are being treated as enemy combatants. Today started out peacefully, participating in the local chapter of the Drums for Peace ceremony to coincide with the swearing-in. Less than six hours later, I was watching Lexington police officers Taser a fifteen-year-old kid as he lay handcuffed on the ground. Why? Apparently just because they could.

As I was leaving campus after work, I passed an intersection where a small crowd had gathered to protest. They were scattered among the four corners, and, as the lights changed, some of them would cross the street with the light, holding up various pro-peace, anti-Bush signs facing the stopped cars.

I decided I really wasn’t in a hurry to get home, and might as well join the fun. So I found a parking space and wandered back to join the crowd, which was starting to grow. Eventually, some of Lexington’s finest arrived for a show of force. Some of their requests were reasonable (stay out of the street except when the lights allow crossing, don’t block pedestrian movement on the sidewalk, etc.), but there was an air of hostility and aggression that I thought was unnecessary in dealing with what was mainly a bunch of kids, college age and younger.

After a while, I noticed a scuffle on the other side of the street, and having more curiosity than common sense, ambled over to see what was going on. I didn’t see what precipitated the scuffle, but when I got there, a kid (I was later told he was 15) was lying on the ground in handcuffs, and, in spite of the fact that he was obviously no threat to anybody’s safety, was being jolted with a Taser.

When asked why they felt it necessary to do that, an officer replied “He didn’t do what he was supposed to”. “What was he supposed to do?” “Not what he was doing.” His friends said that after dragging him to the ground and cuffing him, the cops ordered him to roll over. When he didn’t comply quickly enough (have you ever tried to roll over quickly with your hands cuffed behind your back?), they zapped him.

While this was going on, I noticed another officer holding another kid who was mouthing off a little but not putting up any struggle. When the Taser-toting officers had had enough fun with the first kid, they came after this one. As they grabbed him, he said “Now I haven’t done anything to deserve being Tased!”, and, from my observation, I certainly agreed. The cops, on the other hand, didn’t agree. One yelled “Tase him!”, and he got zapped too.

In my opinion, this was completely unwarranted use of what is basically a torture device. When the Lexington police started carrying Tasers recently, there was some prediction that it would be a mixed blessing, and that appears to be coming true. In some situations, a Taser can provide a non-lethal alternative when strong force is necessary. An armed suspect who fails to comply with an order to drop a weapon needs to be stopped; if a Taser can allow an officer to take down such a suspect when the only other choice is shooting, that’s a good thing. But a handcuffed kid lying on the ground who refuses an order to roll over is no threat; the officers could have rolled him over if they wanted to. The use of force in this situation was not to protect anybody’s safety; it was simply for the officers to assert their authority.

After they were finished torturing their captives, the officers loaded them into a paddy wagon for transport to jail. Considering how aggressively they were addressing the crowd, I opted not to remind them to make sure the wagon doors were secure, to prevent a repeat of a recent occurrence of a handcuffed UK student being transported to jail with her head hanging out of the paddy wagon. I guess it’s some consolation that that was apparently due to gross negligence and not malice.

With Gonzales in the Attorney General’s office, I suppose we can expect a lot more of this kind of stuff for the next four years.

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