Shock to the system: Use of Taser feels sinister

In the modern world, fans generally have no objection to patdowns and other security measures aimed at ensuring that no one entering a given venue is packing heat, or worse. (And to anyone who objects, we invite you to sit right next to the guy who’s keeping himself warm with a vest made of dynamite sticks.) But the notion that anyone is capable of being a terrorist or a violent criminal (my 6-year-old nephew was patted down at Sunday’s Canadiens-Penguins game) needs to yield to common sense when the contact being made involves not open palms but electric shocks.

Security draws a bead on this frolicking fan.
Security draws a bead on this frolicking fan.

Monday night’s events in Philadelphia represent, unfortunately, an excellent example of common sense yielding to a badge. The logic had the kind of bright-line appeal that would make Dwight Schrute nod approvingly: 1. Suspect entered the field in violation of the law; 2. Suspect was therefore violating the law; 3. Suspect failed to heed a command from a uniformed officer to halt; 4. Officer halted suspect with Taser.

Many have glossed over the thorny question of whether a blast of electrified justice was truly necessary; they’ve launched a parade of potential horribles that simply doesn’t reflect the realities of the situation. Folks who "get it" can see when a kid running on the field intends to harm someone, and when the kid merely is acting like a goof for the sake of acting like a goof. (Or, like George Costanza faux streaking in a flesh-colored bodysuit, trying simply to get fired from his job.)

Video of the incident leaves no doubt. Apart from the blades of grass on which he was running, the only thing to which the boy posed a threat was the ego of the slow, out-of-shape police officer whose primary "protect and serve" activities apparently have been confined to the pastry case. (Hey, at least I tried to come up with a different spin on the "cops eat donuts" thing.)

Again, watch the video. The police officer has the Taser gun out at least 10 seconds before he gets off a shot. And the guy’s internal monologue likely was going a little something like this: "I finally get to use my Taser. I finally get to use my Taser. I finally get to use my Taser. And people are actually watching me do it."

After the kid had his face resting on some of the blades of grass on which he’d been running, the cop adopts a Dirty Harry demeanor, hovering over his fallen prey and shifting his weight from side to side. "Yeah, I Tased you, bro. I Tased you good. And people were actually watching me do it."

The damage control quickly began on Tuesday, lest the boy file a lawsuit for brutality and/or violation of his civil rights. A police spokesman claimed that "the officer had acted within the department’s guidelines, which allow officers to use Tasers to arrest fleeing suspects."
 
This rationale assumes that the kid was actually fleeing. But he was in a baseball stadium. He was on the field of play. Despite the Keystone Cops similarities between Monday’s incident and the 2002 Falcons-Vikings game during which Mike Vick riddled the Minnesota defense for a game-winning touchdown in overtime, the kid wasn’t going to get away. The only thing he was "fleeing" was his inevitable capture in the open spaces of the vast expanse of outfield.

Let’s not forget one very important fact here: Tasers aren’t exactly safe. Death, though remotely possible, is still possible. The police and the Phillies should consider themselves fortunate that no serious injury was inflicted, and they should immediately review the wisdom (or lack thereof) of using Tasers on paying customers who possibly have spent too much additional money buying beer.

Hopefully, every team will engage in a similar review. And, hopefully, they all will decide that Tasers should be used not on rowdy fans, but on actual criminals. If cops assigned to a given game can’t tell the difference, they shouldn’t be there. 

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

In the modern world, fans generally have no objection to patdowns and other security measures aimed at ensuring that no one entering a given venue is packing heat, or worse. (And to anyone who objects, we invite you to sit right next to the guy who’s keeping himself warm with a vest made of dynamite sticks.) But the notion that anyone is capable of being a terrorist or a violent criminal (my 6-year-old nephew was patted down at Sunday’s Canadiens-Penguins game) needs to yield to common sense when the contact being made involves not open palms but electric shocks.

Security draws a bead on this frolicking fan.
Security draws a bead on this frolicking fan.

Monday night’s events in Philadelphia represent, unfortunately, an excellent example of common sense yielding to a badge. The logic had the kind of bright-line appeal that would make Dwight Schrute nod approvingly: 1. Suspect entered the field in violation of the law; 2. Suspect was therefore violating the law; 3. Suspect failed to heed a command from a uniformed officer to halt; 4. Officer halted suspect with Taser.

Many have glossed over the thorny question of whether a blast of electrified justice was truly necessary; they’ve launched a parade of potential horribles that simply doesn’t reflect the realities of the situation. Folks who "get it" can see when a kid running on the field intends to harm someone, and when the kid merely is acting like a goof for the sake of acting like a goof. (Or, like George Costanza faux streaking in a flesh-colored bodysuit, trying simply to get fired from his job.)

Video of the incident leaves no doubt. Apart from the blades of grass on which he was running, the only thing to which the boy posed a threat was the ego of the slow, out-of-shape police officer whose primary "protect and serve" activities apparently have been confined to the pastry case. (Hey, at least I tried to come up with a different spin on the "cops eat donuts" thing.)

Again, watch the video. The police officer has the Taser gun out at least 10 seconds before he gets off a shot. And the guy’s internal monologue likely was going a little something like this: "I finally get to use my Taser. I finally get to use my Taser. I finally get to use my Taser. And people are actually watching me do it."

After the kid had his face resting on some of the blades of grass on which he’d been running, the cop adopts a Dirty Harry demeanor, hovering over his fallen prey and shifting his weight from side to side. "Yeah, I Tased you, bro. I Tased you good. And people were actually watching me do it."

The damage control quickly began on Tuesday, lest the boy file a lawsuit for brutality and/or violation of his civil rights. A police spokesman claimed that "the officer had acted within the department’s guidelines, which allow officers to use Tasers to arrest fleeing suspects."
 
This rationale assumes that the kid was actually fleeing. But he was in a baseball stadium. He was on the field of play. Despite the Keystone Cops similarities between Monday’s incident and the 2002 Falcons-Vikings game during which Mike Vick riddled the Minnesota defense for a game-winning touchdown in overtime, the kid wasn’t going to get away. The only thing he was "fleeing" was his inevitable capture in the open spaces of the vast expanse of outfield.

Let’s not forget one very important fact here: Tasers aren’t exactly safe. Death, though remotely possible, is still possible. The police and the Phillies should consider themselves fortunate that no serious injury was inflicted, and they should immediately review the wisdom (or lack thereof) of using Tasers on paying customers who possibly have spent too much additional money buying beer.

Hopefully, every team will engage in a similar review. And, hopefully, they all will decide that Tasers should be used not on rowdy fans, but on actual criminals. If cops assigned to a given game can’t tell the difference, they shouldn’t be there. 

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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