UCLA Campus Police Brutality

11:53 Fri 17 Nov 2006. Updated: 17:40 19 Nov 2006
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Here’s a cellphone video of a UCLA student getting electrically shocked by police after refusing to show ID in a library—shocked apparently to coerce him to leave after they had already subdued him.

After seeing incidents like this one, I feel hopelessness and despair. First disgust and anger, but then that washes away, because it seems that apologists and authoritarians never fail to crawl out of the woodwork.

I do not care if the student refused to cooperate by going limp. I do not care if he shouted. I do not care if he made it difficult for the police to remove him easily after they subdued him. None of that makes it okay for them to shock him repeatedly. They can be heard clearly telling him that if he doesn’t stand up they’ll taser him again.

Think about that. He clearly presents no danger to them, since at that point he has already been handcuffed (and shocked). Even treating his refusal to stand as active resistance (rather than a lack of ability to stand given previous treatment), what does this make him to them? A threat? Not at all. It makes him an inconvenience. It inconveniences them to have to deal with him while he doesn’t cooperate.

On that video, you can hear him scream in pain when they shock him. I suppose the possibility exists that he’s exaggerating, although it seems unlikely, and in any case I’ve never heard any reports that electrical shocks don’t cause a lot of pain. After all, if they don’t cause a lot of pain, the officers wouldn’t bother threatening him with them.

So, these officers apparently regard it as just fine to inflict significant pain on someone who inconveniences them. I don’t see how any other conclusion comes out of this evidence.

Hence the anger and disgust. The hopelessness and despair show up because lots of people defend the police action. I have difficulty comprehending this. I have difficulty not drawing conclusions about the apologists that seem disturbingly ad hominem—primarily that they lack empathy. But what other conclusions can I draw? That the defenders have some need to see authority as intrinsically morraly righteous? That they have internalized an obedience morality that justifies violent coercion (what else do you call inflicting pain to get someone to do what you want?) in the name of authority? That they have effectively rendered themselves blind to abuses of authority because it disturbs them too much to see them, never mind to consider their implications for society?

Power and authority tend towards abuse. We requires checks and balances to prevent this abuse. If we treat power and authority with reverence and submissiveness (particularly morally or intellectually), we will fail to prevent abuses. Therefore we should (must) err on the other side, and treat power and authority with skepticism and distrust.

More than this, of course, we must reject the casual application of violence in any scenario, and recognize that we really desire the elimination of violence, not its monopolization by certain groups.

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