UCLA and the Taser Incident – We Tase in the Stacks Now

I don’t go to UCLA, but because I live in LA this incident hits close enough to home to draw some reflection and criticism from where I stand. If you’re not sure what I am talking about Slashdot has a succinct explanation based on the article in the Daily Brun. This action has brought national criticism, and as well as a student uproar.

People are feeling less safe rather than more, a common thing in the States these days. One student at UCLA reported, “As students we feel our safety is endangered, and we do not feel safe on campus,” said Sabiha Ameen, president of the Muslim Students Association.

You can see the camera-phone video posted to youtube here, but be forewarned even though you can’t see much the screaming is disturbing.

Boing Boing posted at least two articles about it, one stating threats that the cops made to on-lookers, and the second claims that the officer who did the tasing has a record of brutality.

Some musings on this situation:

1. There is no reason why a student who is not putting up a fight should get tasered, ever. Why on earth are the police patrolling the stacks anyway? Whatever happened to librarians dealing with issues that involve the library? Or is asking for students ID’s that dangerous of a job? How long before post security starts checking out books? And if we’re going to be okay this kind of policing activity then there needs to be a limit put on those using force so they don’t get carried away as exemplified in this instance.

As it states on the Daily Brun,

The policy does not specify how many times a Taser can be used on a subject or for how long the Taser can be held to the subject’s body, and it is in the officer’s hands to determine whether the use of pain compliance is necessary in a given situation.

2. When do we stand in the gap, and try to stop brutality, using our bodies as shields for others? In the video there are a lot of students standing around not helping this guy out. Are we Americans that apathetic? And though I wasn’t there and don’t know what went through their minds, it’s worth asking myself what I would have done, and would I have been willing to stand in the gap? I am not sure, but I know that I hope I do help someone in a situation like that.

At the Center for a Stateless Society the author argues for disarming the police in an instance like this, while I think people can be even more effective by using non-violence as a way of breaking up an instance like this, the commentator makes some good points.

3. In what ways have our policies enslaved us? Not just in our businesses and in our schools, but in our nation as well? Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for people, not the other way around, and when the he saw the Sabbath used to enslaved and dehumanize others he denounced it. It’s the church’s responsibility to denounce this kind of violence.

4. Racial Profiling is still an issue, and we have to be sensitive especially during this time of heightened awareness because of the war. Whether the student was being singled out or not isn’t the base issue, we have created the kind of culture where our minority people in this country are often times put on the defensive and this isn’t the way it should be. I wonder if and how the school will try to reconcile with this student? Or if it will be more concerned with protecting it’s own image? Unfortunately, saving face is an important American value these days.

5. Christians are called to stand up for and look out for those outside the status quo. I think God’s call to love aliens and strangers in the Bible (and Jesus’ very practice of doing it in the NT) fits well with this situation. But it also challenges our racism more broadly speaking and racism exemplified in our public schools, the way many of our cities run, some of our feelings about immigration and our raised suspicions of those who are Muslim and/or from the Middle East. Priority for the oppressed is how we Quakers have always read the Bible and for this I find myself continually praying and rooting for the underdog. We need less excuses why we’re not being “racist” and more examples of us actually expressing love and reconcilation to those who are different than us.

5 responses to “UCLA and the Taser Incident – We Tase in the Stacks Now”

  1. This went over the wires at my college job (at a local community college) about, basically, what should *not* happen. As a librarian, I (and my colleagues) are responsible for what happens in the library while we are on the reference desk. I would ask, in this instance, where were the librarians in charge during this time?

    This was quite disturbing to watch and listen to, as well as to think, personally, that it could happen to me at my work. I think it’s particularly difficult in LA where the cops don’t have a particularly stellar reputation, but then in a city of 29 million, is it really a surprise there are bad cops on the force?

    I’m glad you brought up the concern of how to put oneself into the gap, Wess. I, myself, would probably be shocked to see this, as it seemed many of the students were, and knowing the right thing to do when it’s happening can be difficult unless you have practice or experience, especially with police violence. Personally, the intimidation factor is quite high. If I were an employee at that time, in that situation, I’d prefer to step in on those grounds.

    Thank heaven for the video on the cellphone.

  2. Chad,
    Great to have you chime in here. It would be really interesting to know who was on staff that night and what they were doing. I suspect that the way the policies have been penned at the school they have little power over things like that.

  3. In reply to point 5, I find myself watching this video with my common paradox of thought when confronted with a moral problem: “What did the guy do wrong?” Part of me desires justice as well as fairness, so I am paralyzed by the crippling effect of complacency. I think this is where we find ourselves as Christians quite often when confronted with stepping up and owning someone else’s problem(s). It would appear to me that the only proper attitude in this situation is to be one way or the other, whether you think you are standing up for the individual being arrested, or the community being liberated. You get in front of the police and say “What are you Doing?” or you get students out of the way and say I saw him do something terrible. Do I think he should be physically hurt? Probably not… he seemed not to be posing much of a threat at first glance of the video and articles written on the subject. Therefore I think people need to be actively confronting the officers with questions. Kudos to those asking for badge numbers, but once again we find ourselves in a place of complacency in saying “We’ll resolve the problem later” by just getting badge numbers. I don’t really think I have a solid answer here outside of saying that I think there will always be risk in standing up for people, and to deny that or try to avoid it will always result in doing less of what “could have” been done.

  4. Josh, thanks for the comment. I hadn’t thought about the guilt of the student, “What had he done?” And I think it’s an appropriate question to be asked, because it may even lead to an answer like, “Nothing, he was singled out.” But in either case, you’re right to point out our problems with wanting to deal with things later. Is our society becoming less and less confrontational?