Sunday, November 18, 2007


What's the chance of Lingle's "Unified Command" using excessive force?

by Larry Geller.

What will happen should there be demonstrations against the Superferry when it finally sails to Kauai or Maui?

Are the harbor police and Coast Guard polishing their equipment in preparation for their assault against the demonstrators? Of course, that's what it will be, because the only way to remove someone from the water in front of a ferry will be to take action against them in some way.

We don't know what kind of weapons or other gear has been ordered up for the harbor police because the Coast Guard has declared the purchase to be secret (See the State Procurement Office website for the  procurement request). I wonder if there are Tasers  in their arsenal that might be used should there be protests?

Police and other law enforcement across the country are becoming increasingly casual and complacent about using extreme and sometimes deadly force against unarmed and unthreatening citizens.

They have also, for some time, demonstrated that they could care less about free speech and constitutional rights. After all, there are few consequences for police misconduct. Courts in New York dismissed charges against nearly all of the 1,700-1,800 people detained (some just passing by) during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Cops certainly knew that what they were doing was illegal, but they also obviously didn't care. They lied and altered evidence. Police don't usually pay for their actions. Someone gives the orders and they carry them out. Someone gives them Tasers and they use them. It's the civilians who are hurt.

The combination of increased police interaction with peaceful protest and their increasing willingness to use excessive force has revived a Kent State mentality in law enforcement. Triggers are being pulled and capital punishment is being delivered by ordinary beat cops. Some people can survive the torture of having 50,000 volts applied to their bodies, others die.

A man died today in Maryland after being tased. Less than a week ago a man was killed with a Taser in Canada.

Can it happen in Hawaii? You bet. The Superferry issue has polarized people to the extent that some kind of protest is likely, and at the same time, Governor Lingle has chosen to deal with it in military fashion by forming her "Unified Command." This is a recipe for trouble if her intent is to escalate force against unarmed citizens.

Not only are police around the country interfering in peaceful protests and other constitutionally protected activities, but more of them are being equipped with Tasers. With these weapons they can kill without cause. Deaths are predictable and are occurring. Yes, people are being electrocuted by police, not by decisions of any jury.

Will police or the Coast Guard use Tasers in Hawaii?

When police use force, it's increasingly possible that people will be killed, especially if Tasers are involved. Amnesty International notes that:

More than 11,000 US law enforcement agencies (mainly police departments but also prison and jail agencies) are reported to use Tasers or similar devices: dart-firing electro-shock weapons which can also be applied directly to the body in what is known as "drive stun" mode (similar to traditional stun guns). From June 2001 to 30 September 2007, Amnesty International has recorded more than 290 deaths of individuals in the USA and Canada struck by police Tasers. While the organization does not reach conclusions regarding the role of the Taser in each case, it believes the deaths underscore the need for thorough, independent inquiries into their use and effects.


Of the 291 reported deaths, the organization has identified only 25 individuals who were reportedly armed with any sort of weapon when they were electro-shocked; such weapons did not include firearms.

Amnesty International acknowledged in its statement that there may be "stand-off" situations where Tasers in dart-firing mode could effectively be used as an alternative to firearms to save lives. However, the potential to use Tasers in drive-stun mode (where they are used as "pain compliance" tools when individuals are already effectively in custody), and the capacity to inflict multiple and prolonged shocks, renders the weapons inherently open to abuse.

Most readers will be familiar with the September 17 incident at the University of Florida when  police forcibly removed a student who was questioning Sen. John Kerry at a Constitution Day forum. After the student was already restrained, the police used a Taser in drive-stun mode. The incident was captured on video so the world was able to see someone blasted with electricity for his act of speaking out. The student was already down on the floor when they zapped him. There clearly was no danger to the police.

I debated whether to include the video here. Parental guidance would be good (no matter how old you are). I decided to include it because this is a serious issue. And if anyone protesting on the Neighbor Islands is tased, this is what they will be experiencing.

Remember, you don't have to watch this. Just skip over and read on.

On October 14, Canadian police killed an unresisting man at Vancouver Airport. He died after being tased multiple times. It's all on video. The police at first confiscated the video but legal action broke it loose. And no, you don't have to watch it, but here it is if you would like to witness a police execution unfold:

This next clip is of the UCLA student who was tased when he did not have his student ID with him. It's famous for the police line, "Back up or you'll get tased too" when students afterwards asked police for their badge numbers. It's pretty horrible to watch.

At UCLA, police freely chose to use a potentially deadly weapon when there was no threat to their safety whatsoever. The threat against the students asking for their badge numbers is troubling because it shows that they were willing to use their weapons quite casually. I hope they aren't allowed to take them home, just in case their kids act out or they get into a fight with their wives.

It's not just Tasers, of course. Police have used guns repeatedly in New York City against unarmed African-American men. The latest incident was last week, in which a man holding a hairbrush was pumped full of 20 shots. Also in New York, police showered 51 bullets at a black man leaving a bachelor party who was also no threat to anyone. At least in the latter incident, three officers will face charges.

What's important is to understand that interactions with armed law enforcement can turn deadly very quickly. These days they wield more than wooden batons.

Maybe this post will discourage confrontation. I hope it will lead the Governor or other authority to require that Tasers and similar weapons be left back at the police station if there is a ferry protest.

The Legislature should also debate banning these weapons from use in Hawaii. Capital punishment is illegal here, and Tasers can and do kill.

If I am overreacting, so be it—this post won't hurt anyone.



The probability of excessive force use is zero IF all protesters stay well within the defined lines for such activity AND do no more then wave their signs.

If anyone gets in the water, blocks traffic, etc, I sincerely hope they are personally damaged and then subjected to the full extent of the punishment available.

Protest from the sidelines, if you must, but interfere in absoutely no way (actively or passively) with any aspect of HSF operations.

If you do, I'm all for "as much force as is deemed necessary".

I hope the HSF dies a nice slow death. Its too big, can't function profitably unless it ups its rates and its entered Hawaii the wrong way. I can't wait for it to hang itself.

Gadfly, blocking traffic outside the security zone should not be grounds for being "personally damaged."

Also, Larry, water cannons are intended to be used and they are just as dangerous on people in the water as tazers would be on people on land. Water cannons can permanently disable. They are inappropriate.

There are 300 Coast Guard on Kauai right now, normally less than 30. They are having a Thanksgiving meal at one of the hotels on Kauai tomorrow. It is clear the "unified command" intends to use excessive force.

Anonymous, you're a mind reader. I have been gathering pictures of water cannons to post. They are used in Hawaii to fight fires from the ocean but can be used against demonstrators.

And yes, they would kill, if used against someone in the water. They kill on land. People have suffered broken bones and burst spleens.

The way to avoid being hit by a water cannon is to not be in any target zone!

If people voluntarily put themselves in such harm's way merely to protest the HSF, they are idiots and deserve what they get.

And, yes, purposely blocking traffic to hinder HSF operations also deserves as much punishment as can be meted out.

HSF is just another means of public transportation. Get over it. And, its 100% legal based on our legal system.

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