Today Hawthorne police begin investigating an incident in which an officer Tasered a 12-year-old school boy, according to the L.A. Times. The story, citing descriptions of the boy as violent and autistic, says that the cop was called to Hawthorne Middle School last September to quell the youth, who had attacked a counselor. The unidentified boy, who was 5 feet 7 and weighed between 130 and 150 pounds, had also gotten the better of a campus security guard as hundreds of children watched. The boy immediately set upon the Hawthorne cop, who arrived without backup, and then ran toward an area where a phys-ed class was being conducted.
That's when officer Vincent Arias Tasered the boy, whose parents later complained to the school. The Times piece quotes people on both sides of the ensuing finger-pointing and it's clear the incident wasn't a cut and dried event -- nor something out of anyone's training manual. An ideal scenario might have had four cops on hand, each to secure an arm and foot of the boy, with a fifth calmly standing by holding a neatly pressed straitjacket. Still, the article quotes an Amnesty International stat claiming that 334 Americans have died from Taserings since 2001.
Only last month a man filed a lawsuit against the sheriff's department
claiming he was Tasered by deputies while standing on a bunk at the
Lakewood station; the resulting fall left him paralyzed from the chest
down. On the same week of that suit, Lakewood deputies Tasered and
And a 2004 incident at a Florida elementary school drew national
attention when a six-year-old boy was Tasered by police as he allegedly
menaced them with a piece of broken glass.
I suppose there
really are moments when an officer would need to give a child 50,000
volts of low-wattage electricity, and it's easy to wear a
Monday-morning quarterback's helmet when arguing about the kind of
incidents that give us a different kind of shock when we read about
them. But the fact that they seem to be on the rise should make us
wonder if our growing dependence on remote-control gadgets has made it
just a little easier for us to shrug and apply the Taser darts when it
comes to dealing with unruly people. (California, by the way, tops the
list of state deaths on that Amnesty report.) And I'm not even
referring to incidents when prison guards or hospital staff members
have gratuitously Tasered or pepper-sprayed a tough customer once he
was already in constraints. It seems that between psychotropic drugs
such as Ritalin and Tasering, America is groping toward a totalitarian
model of handling disruptive children without getting its hands dirty.
may argue that among the naked and the dead, some of those caught
running down the street nude and fat would've simply been shot in the
past. You can't say that about the Tasering incidents involving school
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kids, though. As we accept technology's cold embrace we become a nation
less inclined to search for root problems and face-to-face solutions.
Spoil the rod and spare the child, we say, but we're really spoiling
ourselves from having to handle messy situations.