Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A couple of recent police killings

Not longer after the execution of Mark Duggan, I read a story about a man who was pepper sprayed and tasered to his death by police.  Dale Burns, it seems, was tasered several times and pepper sprayed while police were arresting him.  He died.  The IPCC are investigating but, as usual, it is very unlikely that anyone will be prosecuted or charged as a result.  Jacob Michaels was pepper sprayed repeatedly while being arrested by eleven police officers, after he had called the police over a threat made to him.  Eyewitness accounts suggest the eleven officers beat him and punched him while he was on the ground, handcuffed.  He died.  The IPCC are investigating.  In both cases, the police will no doubt argue that each arrestee was belligerent and a danger to the public.  That is the pretext for using such weapons.  They are retailed as safer alternatives to lethal weapons such as pistols or rifles where immediate, debilitating force is necessary.  

In fact, both weapons simply tend to increase the range of possibilities for use of potentially lethal force.  Amnesty points out that most cases where people have died from the use of Tasers involved unarmed people who did not pose a risk to anyone.  (Neither Michaels nor Burns, as far as we know, were armed.)  Similarly, pepper spray is associated with positional asphyxia, as it makes breathing much more difficult.  So when a high-strength dose is used repeatedly on someone, there is a real risk of their being killed.  Yet despite scientific reservations about its use, and worries over its potentially carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic effects, it was approved for widespread use in the US and is now being used by UK police.  Self-evidently, the tendency for the UK to imitate US methods of repression is a danger to the public.  And it could get much worse, particularly with all of this hysterical nonsense about 'feral youths' which could easily lead us down the route of turning schools into prisons and disseminating lethal technology among wider cadres of security officials and so on.  In the US, tasers are routinely carried by security personnel in schools, and have been used on a number of children, in one case resulting in the child's death.  And that could be coming to a school near you soon.

This is the problem with moral panics.  A lot of people showed some very nasty streaks during the UK riots.  Social media was groaning with almost Streicherite hate-mongering and calls for violent repression that a Ustashe would think twice about.  Bring in the army!  Water cannons!  Plastic bullets!  Live bullets!  Shoot them all!  Massacre them!  Massacre them!  And now that's all over and the state has regained control, and the explicit bloodthirst has receded back into its usual subterranean psychic flow, there's no need to do anything rash.  The police will simply take whatever new repressive technologies are handed to them, add them to the repertoire and continue to maim and consume bodies, perhaps at a slightly higher rate.  The intensified social antagonisms will be resolved with the carefully scripted, bureaucratic application of violence.  A few hundred deaths, a few thousands injuries, a few bad headlines, a little more fear and resentment, more CCTV, and the retooling of the state for the age of austerity is complete.