Monday, August 12, 2013

Set Phasers to Stun

Phaser - Superdrag (mp3)

The Gene Rodenberry estate recently unearthed a Star Trek script that never got made.

In the episode (“Set Phasers to Stun”), the crew visits a planet where a Tribble Collector’s prized possessions run amok and they must track down “The Collector” before the planet is overrun. Apparently due to their breeding abilities, it’s illegal in most galaxies to collect Tribbles, but because they’re so harmless and cute, an underground industry has thrived.

When they finally find The Collector, the feeble man attempts to flee, and Kirk says to Spock, “Set phasers for stun.” Spock does, and Spock shoots, and the sweet alien Tribble Collector they were trying to stun ends up dead. Spock and Kirk go on trial because the planet's leader needs a scapegoat even though he called the crew to investigate. Scotty beams 'em up right before they're executed.

Of course that's not true. I made all of that up. Or did I?
BAY HARBOR ISLANDS, Fla. — Israel Hernandez-Llach, a skateboarder and 18-year-old artist, was typically adept at dodging police officers while he tagged Miami Beach walls with his signature, “Reefa.”
This was the lead for the New York Times’ surreal report on the seemingly accidental death of Mr. Hernandez-Llach. This young man was tagging a building. The cops showed up. He ran. They chased. They shot him with a Taser. Israel died.

Amadou Diallo. Tragedy. Oscar Grant. Tragedy. John Torretti, recently beaten to death in Sacramento. Tragedy. Hell, there are dozens of tragic and unfortunate deaths at the hands of overzealous, even bloodlusty, police officers every year. But from everything in the write-up from the August 8 New York Times, the death of Israel Hernandez-Llach was not one of those kinds of tragedies.

That an 18-year-old is dead is unfortunate, to be sure, but articles like this practically spoon-feeds chum to conservative radio and Fox News types always eager to show how quick "lib'rul" newspapers are to create the tragedy needle in a healthy haystack. The article first introduces the main character, the now-dead “artist” whose first failed attempt to “adeptly dodge” police ended with him dead. Oh yeah, we forgot to mention, it’s graffiti. Graffiti is his "art."

An "unbiased" reporter might call it "non-commissioned art on other people’s property," to make it seem like a charitable act, a donation of his time and talent. And I know when I’m watching trains roll through Chattanooga with 214 different dudes’ names tagged “artfully” on the sides of the railcars, I’m totally in awe of the artistic abilities on display. It’s breathtaking. I want to go and thank the nice “artists” who are out there “expressing their inner muse” all over the place.

In the Times' article, because there is so little merit to accusing the police of doing anything all that off-the-wall -- other than chasing a fleeing suspect who was, um, actually doing something illegal -- the article quickly delves into all the past wrongdoings by police officers. Apparently the only people who are guilty in the present based on past behavior are police officers. Even more frustrating, it doesn't even have to be the same cop(s) in the same town(s). One bad cop makes all other cops bad.

Israel’s grieving family came back with this quote: “Art is nothing to be killed for.”

Yes, because clearly the police are Art Killers. Masterpiece Murderers. They were originally on the trail of Gustav Klimt and Frida Kahlo -- the Bonnie and Clyde of the paintbrush world -- until they found out both of them were already dead, and the dang cops were so angry about it that they just tracked down this poor innocent 18-year-old “artist” and shot him a bajillion times.... I mean, hit him one single time with a much safer device, a friggin’ Taser.

Swimming pool deaths of children 0-14 per year: 390.
Police-related Taser deaths in 13 years: 500.
Yet somehow this is where we want to pitch our tent on police brutality?

Five hundred Taser deaths in the 21st Century ain't ideal, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s a teensy weensy fraction of deaths from police gunshots. Especially 10, or 24, or 41 Shots, which sometimes happens when police trigger fingers get itchy and the adrenaline kicks. So forgive me if I’ll take my chances with the dang Taser. Or, better yet, maybe I’ll just not flee when police officers are chasing me. Or, better yet, maybe I won't go around defacing property that ain't mine.

Maybe Israel’s parents will also sue McDonald’s for closing down and shuttering that restaurant he was tagging. If McD's hadn’t closed down, Israel would never have tagged it, and thus never be Tased. They’ll probably win millions, because McDonald’s has been guilty of this kind of thing before, as the New York Times will happily report in their next story on the matter.


Bob said...

I think your apparent dislike of graffiti clouds your judgement here. Since I've participated in a community service project that involved scrubbing it off buildings, maybe I'm not much of a fan either. But Tazing someone who has committed graffiti seems like excessive force to me, a blunt instrument that does not take into account the condition of the tazed. To the wrong person, tazing him is like shooting him in the heart with a gun. I hope you would concede that there are potentially good reasons to flee the police. When this story first came out, there seemed to be an understanding that if the police caught him they would "beat the shit out of him." If true, I'd run too. There does seem to be a pattern of over the top police behavior in this country these days though, or maybe for centuries even.

Billy said...

My dislike of graffiti is buttressed by the fact that, for many justifiable reasons, it's illegal.

An accidental Taser death is not unlike police car chases that end up in accidents with injuries or fatalities. The wisdom of those are also hotly debated, and I support the police in those situations as well. Except in a car chase, innocent people are likely to be victims, while in most Taser incidents the only one at risk is the man or woman attempting to flee.

They didn't beat him. They Tased him. And he, unfortunately, died. Their only other options were likely to beat him until he stopped trying to flee, shoot him, or let him escape. Tasing seems better (and wiser in the age of cell phone videos) than shooting or batons. Some argue for the last option, but they mostly argue for the emasculation of law and order in general.

The question is not whether those with power sometimes abuse it. That story is as old as time, and it pertains to politicians and businessmen as much as to police. In this case, I don't see how using the safest option to stop a fleeing suspect is some gross abuse of power. And most importantly, I don't see why we aren't pointing any fingers at the man doing the illegal activity and his supporters who seem to ignore "REEFA" being in the wrong.

Reefa wasn't Trayvon, and no Taser stat can make it so.