Audit Shows African Americans Most Likely to be Tasered
By Gerri Elder
In 2004, the city of Houston, Texas spent $4.7 million on Taser weapons for the police force. Now a new city study shows that the cops are putting those Tasers to use- primarily on African-American people.
According to a recent report by CNN, the city audit showed that police officers in Houston have used the Tasers on black suspects more often than on any other ethnicity. The audit was performed by a team of criminology, statistics and mathematics experts.
Between December 2004 and June 2007, officers in Houston deployed their Taser weapons 1,417 times. The city audit revealed that in nearly 67 percent of those deployments, a black person was the target. Throwing this statistic even more out of whack is the fact that only 25 percent of Houston's population is black.
The Houston police department has no policy restricting the number of times a suspect may be shot with the Taser weapon. A single 50,000-volt jolt with a Taser weapon can cause serious injuries or death. With multiple shocks, the risk is greatly increased.
Houston Mayor Bill White requested the audit in 2006 after several highly publicized incidents in the city involving the police and Taser weapons. During 2006, Houston Texans offensive lineman Fred Weary was shot with a Taser during a traffic stop, and an officer dispatched to quiet down a noisy nightclub shot musicians and people attending the concert with his Taser gun. The nightclub incident was caught on videotape and ended up on YouTube.
Despite criticism that the use of Tasers in Houston is racist and discriminatory against blacks, the Houston police say that the use of the Taser weapons has not been tied to race, but to the behavior of suspects.
However, those in touch with reality can see that the statistics show a different story. The study also showed that black police officers were less likely than white or Hispanic officers to use Tasers on a black suspect.
City Controller Annise Parker, whose office oversaw the audit, says that more time must be spent to determine why the racial and ethnic differences exist. She points out that ignoring the statistics or acting as though they are not significant won't make them go away.
The report did not break down arrests by minorities but showed that the Houston police make more than 100,000 arrests per year. Of those arrests, less than one-half of 1 percent of suspects is shot with a police Taser weapon.
Houston spent millions on Taser weapons a year after the shootings of two unarmed teens. However, the audit found that the Tasers did not reduce the number of officer-involved shootings, despite being touted as an alternative to deadly force.
Approximately 11,500 law enforcement agencies across the country do business with Taser International and arm their officers with Taser guns.
Amnesty International has found that since 2001, 290 people in the United States have died after being shocked with police Taser guns. The group has called for a "rigorous, independent, impartial study" of the use and effects of Taser weapons.
Taser International has been the subject of many personal injury lawsuits concerning the deaths of people after being shocked with the weapons. Recently the company was found liable for a man's death in a product liability lawsuit and was ordered to pay $5 million.
The officers who repeatedly shot the man with the Taser weapon until his heart stopped beating were not criminally charged or found liable for his personal injury and subsequent death. Therefore, in this case and many that have come before it, the police were given no incentive to stop using their Taser weapons however they see fit.