No Tasers for the SFPD

Originally posted here on 2/22/13.

This month, SFPAW/HAVOQ joined a broad coalition of community groups opposing the acquisition and use of tasers by the SFPD.  (Read some powerful words from the Coalition on Homelessnesshere and from Poor Magazinehere) Tasers are a deadly weapon and do not make our communities safer.

SFPAW/HAVOQ opposes tasers because they contribute to and exacerbate the violence and racism endemic to policing.   Recent study found that deaths due to police shootings more than DOUBLED in the first year of taser implementation.  Sudden deaths in police custody increased almost SIXFOLD.  Tasers are particularly deadly when used on people with a history of mental illness and addiction, the very communities that this technology is purported to help.

We know that the majority of violence that trans women of color face is at the hands of the police. We know that in San Francisco, 40% of homeless youth are queer and are therefore more likely to come into contact with the police. We know that queer communities have high rates of drug abuse and addiction. Queer and trans folks, particularly people of color, immigrants, youth, and poor and homeless folks are going to be disproportionately targeted by tasers as these communities have been systematically denied access to affordable and competent mental health care.  But we don’t only oppose this move because it affects members of our community, we oppose any action that criminalizes and marginalizes survival strategies and results in the incarceration of so many of us seen as undesirable in a racist and classist system.

But we don’t need statistics to know that tasers are not de-escalatory or less than lethal.  While the police say they need tasers to deescalate mental health crises, we know it is ridiculous to suggest that de-escalation can be facilitated through the use of violent force.  The police are not trained in crisis intervention and are not the people we trust in a crisis.

We saw this when Johannes Mehserle murdered Oscar Grant while supposedly trying to reach for his taser.  If the police are not trained to recognize the difference between a gun and taser, they certainly cannot discern when taser use would be appropriate.  We saw this during the uprising surrounding Occupy Oakland.  We saw rubber bullets, flash bang grenades, tear gas, and other “than than lethal” weapons send our friends to the hospital, some with life changing injuries.  As we continue to take to the streets to demand justice, and as many continue to be queer and black and brown and poor, we are reminded once again of the dangers of an increasingly militarized and always racist police force.

Police tase a young man in downtown Oakland during the May Day
General Strike May 1, 2012. – Photo: Michael Short, special to SF Chronicle

Policing doesn’t make our communities safer and a better armed police force certainly doesn’t make us safer.  Just as hate crimes legislation fails to keep queer communities safe and instead functions to prop up a racist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, and ableist prison industrial complex, policing is not a redeemable form of care.  Communities that have borne the brunt of police violence are not fooled by this friendlier face that calls police tactics de-escalation, that calls police units community outreach teams, and that calls tasers less than lethal.

We support moves to disarm cops, not to add a weapon to their arsenal. No tasers for the SFPD.

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