May 4, 2010, 1:25 PM EDT
Let me start out by acknowledging a couple of things:
1. That kid at the Phillies game had no business whatsoever being on the field last night. He should be arrested and charged to the fullest extent the law allows.
2. Fans on the field represent a threat to the athletes. I remember the Monica Seles incident. I remember Tom Gamboa being attacked in Chicago. That’s scary stuff and no one should abide threats to the players, coaches or officiants at a sporting event.
That said, I do not agree that the guy at the Phillies game should have been subdued with a Taser. It was too much force, in my view, and was disproportionate to the threat presented.
And make no mistake: a Taser is designed to be use to combat threats, not merely to help subdue drunks or trespassers. Indeed, the very company who makes the Taser calls it a product that “protects life.” One that is designed to “incapacitate dangerous, combative, or
high-risk subjects who pose a risk to law enforcement/correctional
officers, innocent citizens, or themselves.”
Watch the video of the incident here. Can anyone point to a moment where the kid threatened or even came near anyone on the field? Any point where he appeared to be “dangerous,” or “combative?” Any point where he appeared to “pose a risk to law enforcement officers?” If you can identify it please let me know, because to me it looks like the whole scene was calling far louder for an overdub of “Yakety Sax” than the use of high voltage force. In the grand scheme of things, this kid represented a threat somewhere below that of your average streaker and somewhere above Morgana the Kissing Bandit.
The most common response I’ve heard to this argument today is “but Craig, we don’t know what the kid could have done! There was so much uncertainty!” My response to that: every single encounter between law enforcement and the public brings uncertainty. Ask a cop and he’ll tell you: even the most mundane traffic stop has the potential to turn dangerous quickly. That’s just a fact of life when you’re dealing with people who do wrong, or who are at least suspected of such.
But we don’t allow police officers to use force at every traffic stop or whenever they encounter a drunk or a trespasser. Why? Because such force is not necessary to accomplish the goals of police work. Force — and the the use of a Taser is definitely force — is a last resort, only to be used in a manner commensurate with the threat presented and to overcome the obstacles which prevent the accomplishment of the officer’s goal. This is the law. It also happens to be a pretty good idea.
Late this morning the Philadelphia police issued a statement standing behind the police officer who used the taser. The rationale was that “the officer had acted within the department’s guidelines, which allow
officers to use Tasers to arrest fleeing suspects.” To which I respond: where was he fleeing? He was in a walled off stadium surrounded by police and security guards. He was almost certain to just stop and give up as soon as his beer-fueled bravado ran its course, which appeared to be within approximately 10 seconds of when he was tased. He wasn’t going anywhere.
I know that people worry about the safety of players. I do too. I also worry, however, about what happens when the government uses its most serious power: the power to exert force over citizens. There are over 2000 baseball games a year. In any given year there
are very, very few incidents of fans running on the field. Of those, incidents in which the fans get anywhere near a player before being subdued are even rarer. If more attention were paid to in-stadium security, the incidents would be even rarer than that.
Now think about what we risk when we tell police officers that it’s
perfectly acceptable to use force without heed to the actual threat — as opposed to potential threat — posed by the suspect. Because make no mistake, that’s what anyone who uses the “but we have no idea what could have happened” argument to support the police officer is really saying. Personally I find that unsettling.
Based on what their web site says, I think the folks who make Tasers would find that unsettling too.
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