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Tasering Kids: Better Than Ritalin?


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

pepper-sprayed an obese man who was running down a street naked; the man died while handcuffed, according to City News Service.

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.

You

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

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.


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