Law and Orders #4: Wichita cops take control by shocking a deaf man for not following orders he couldn’t hear

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies. In order to get control of situations that they forced their way into, they routinely hurt people, use force first and ask questions later, and pass off even the most egregious violence against harmless or helpless people as self-defense or as the necessary means to accomplish an unnecessary goal. In order to coerce compliance with their arbitrary orders, they have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women, or an already prone and helpless student who may have been guilty of using the computer lab without proper papers on hand. They are willing to pepper spray lawyers for asking inconvenient questions and to beat up teenaged girls for not cleaning up enough birthday cake or being out too late at night. They are willing to shock you and leave you lying on the side of the highway in order to make sure they can serve you with a dubious traffic ticket. It hardly matters if you are an 82 year old woman supposedly benefiting from a care check, or if you are sound asleep in your own home, or if you are unable to move due to a medical condition. It hardly even matters if you die. What a cop can always count on is that, no matter how senselessly he escalates the use of violence and no matter how obviously innocent or helpless his victims are, he can count on his bosses to repeat any lie and make any excuse in order to find that Official Procedures were followed. As long as Official Procedures were followed, of course, any form of brutality or violence is therefore passed off as OK.

One increasingly popular means for out-of-control cops to force you to follow their bellowed orders is by using high-voltage electric shocks in order to inflict pain.Tasers were originally introduced for police use as an alternative to using lethal force; the hope was that, in many situations where cops might otherwise feel forced to go for their guns, they might be able to use the taser instead, to immobilize a person who posed a threat to them or to others, without killing anybody in the process. But in practice, police culture being what it is, any notion of limiting tasers to those situations very quickly went out the window. Cops armed with tasers now freely use them to end arguments by intimidation or actual violence, to coerce people who pose no real threat to anyone into complying with their instructions, and to hurt uppity civilians who dare to give them lip. Among civilized people, deliberately inflicting severe pain in order to extort compliance from your victim is called torture; among cops it is called pain compliance and is considered business as usual. So shock-happy Peace Officers can now go around using their tasers as high-voltage human prods in just about any situation, with more or less complete impunity. In comments at The Agitator, Robert, referring back to John Gardner’s taser assault on Jared Massey, gets the situation exactly right:

Seriously though, I’m much more worried about being tased by some overzealous cop that has had a bad morning than I am about being assaulted by a real criminal. Maybe I just read this blog too much.

MikeT makes a good point. Take the video of the guy stopped in the construction zone. Granted, arguing with a cop is stupid (you’ve got a pretty good shot at getting tased), but how would people have reacted if the guy had turned around and the cop took out his nightstick and gave the guy a couple of kidney shots with it?

Cops’ contemptuous indifference to anything other than their own domineering control of the situation, and their hair-trigger readiness to start shocking in order to coerce compliance, has led to predictable results over and over again. In California, a gang of three cops pepper-sprayed, and tasered, and beat the hell out of a 17-year-old non-verbal autistic teenager for failing to obey commands that he didn’t have the linguistic capacity to understand. In Alabama, a gang of cops tasered a man who was unable to respond to their commands because he was half-conscious from a diabetic episode. And this week, in Wichita, Kansas, a gang of cops forced their way into a deaf man’s house, found him coming out of the bath wearing nothing but a towel around his waist, and promptly immobilized him with painful electric shocks for failing to follow bellowed commands that he could not hear. At the time he was shocked, Donnell Williams was holding his hands to his ear and yelling I can’t hear!

As always, The Incident Is Being Investigated. But the people doing the investigating are more cops, i.e., people who have a personal and professional interest in making sure that they and their buddies aren’t subject to any particular kind of standards whatsoever in the use of force. Here’s how that’s going:

Officers were worried about their own safety because at the time it appeared Williams was refusing to obey their commands to show his hands. That’s when they shot him with a Taser.

Deputy Chief Robert Lee of the Wichita Police Department says, This one occurred on the worst of calls, that being a shooting. The first few minutes getting control of the scene are very, very important.

Once the facts were all sorted out, officers repeatedly apologized to Williams. Police wish it never happened, but with the information they had at the time, their choices were limited.

Do I wish there would have been some way they were notified in advance this gentleman was hearing impaired? I certainly do. No one is happy with the way it worked out, says Lee.

— Michael Schwanke, KWCH (2007-12-03): Hearing Impaired Man Tased by Police

In other words, nothing is going to happen as long as the cops can manufacture the flimsiest possible excuse that a half-naked man with no pockets or anywhere else to conceal a gun might be posing a threat to the safety of several cops with their weapons already drawn, or that they just had no way of knowing that a man is deaf when he’s pointing to his ears and yelling I can’t hear! Gosh but the boys in blue feel mighty sorry, but of course they’re not going to do anything about the fact that they tortured an innocent man over a complete mistake.

In real life, outside of government power trip la-la land, if you or I did something like that we would be expected to take some minimal responsibility and pay to make it right for the victim of our fuck-up, even if our options seemed mighty limited at the time. But since these guys are on the State’s official goon squad, some crocodile tears and an Oops, my bad will have to do.

(Story via Radley Balko 2007-12-04.)

Further reading:

6 replies to Law and Orders #4: Wichita cops take control by shocking a deaf man for not following orders he couldn’t hear Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. nath

    I think you are getting to the point where you could put together a small book on the escalation of police violence in the US. The main theme is the same in all your posts of course, but it would be valuable to provide summaries of each report in an extended article.

    Incidentally, I wonder if it’s possible to get hold of policy documents of some kind to see what the procedures of “controlling the situation” actually are.

  2. Iowan

    Everyone should read Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America by Kristian Williams (ISBN: 0896087719, South End Press, 2007.)

    “Beginning with its provocative title, Williams’ account of contemporary law enforcement argues that instances of police brutality in the U.S. are not aberrations but, instead, reflect the long, symbiotic relationship between those in power and the police hired to protect that power, a relationship.”

  3. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-12-23 – Law and Orders #5: Daytona Beach cop takes control at Best Buy by shocking an unarmed, “retreating” woman:

    […] asleep in your own home. It hardly matters if you can’t move due to a medical condition, or can’t hear their bellowed orders because you’re deaf. What a cop can always count on is that, no matter how aggressively he escalates the use of […]

— 2008 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-05-10 – Cops are here to protect you. (#3):

    […] asleep in your own home. It hardly matters if you can’t move due to a medical condition, or can’t hear their bellowed orders because you’re deaf. It hardly even matters if you die. What cops can always count on is that, no matter how […]

— 2011 —

— 2012 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People's Daily 2012-08-08 – Cops are here to help you: Officer Ryan Koskovich and Officer Michael Young, Tacoma, Washington taser, handcuff and imprison a deaf assault victim for not obeying commands that she could not hear.:

    […] is of course not the first time this sort of thing has happened. See for example GT 2007-12-07: Law and Orders #4: Wichita cops take control by shocking a deaf man for not following…, GT 2007-11-11: Taser first, ask questions later, AP 2005-03-22: Autistic Teenager is Beaten by […]

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