Theory better than practice
In theory, Town Meeting is a classic example of democracy in action. In practice, it leaves much to be desired. Many community members cannot afford to take an entire day off; a choice between exercising one’s rights and putting food on the table is hardly balanced.
Why is Town Meeting Day NOT a state holiday? When agenda items are not on the ballot, even those folks who try to participate by voting are denied the right to participate in decisions which may affect them. This is neither democratic nor fair.
If town meetings are dominated by the same folks year after year because others cannot afford to spend a day, or are not allowed to do so by their employers, this is not really democracy.
Stun guns need restraint
The research regarding Tasers, including the manufacturer’s own publications, caution that this weapon not be used on “vulnerable populations,” unless no other means are available to control a grave danger. The many categories of vulnerable populations include: serious mental illness or cognitive disorders; pregnancy; medical problems including cardiac and pulmonary conditions, pacemakers, epileptic seizures and sickle cell; drug or alcohol intoxication; and severe agitation, as well as those who are deaf, hard of hearing or slight of build. Nor should a Taser be shot at the chest. Yet, the research further shows that it is precisely at members of these vulnerable populations that Tasers are usually fired.
When the police seek to acquire this weapon, they reassure us with “Trust us, we’ll be well trained and very careful.” But after they use it against a vulnerable individual, they take cover with, “Oops, sorry, but how could we know?” This “oops” defense is what the Attorney General and State Police are presently using to explain the death last year of Macadam Mason, an unarmed Thetford man who died immediately after he was tased. Mason was a member of the vulnerable populations in not one but several ways: He was in the throes of a severe mental health crisis and was threatening suicide. He had a history of epileptic seizures and had experienced seizures just the day before he was shot. He was also thin, and was shot in the chest.
Law enforcement can’t have it both ways, and they lose the public trust in trying. To the extent we permit the police to carry this weapon, Tasers should only be deployed under the same standards as a firearm, which is to say, when there exists “an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.” That way, they will only be used when there is truly no other public safety choice. Under such a standard, Macadam Mason would be alive today.
Tasers are too dangerous a weapon for public relations games. State law and police policies should allow Taser deployment only when no less-lethal weapon will meet and prevent a grave danger. That restraint on the use of Tasers means they will only save lives, not unnecessarily take them.
(Jeffrey Dworkin was chairperson of the Montpelier City Council’s Committee on Tasers.)
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