Tasers are often cited as a crucial tool in combating police violence in America, with proponents claiming that the “less lethal” weapons can help departments avoid deadly encounters.
But the police killing of Daunte Wright in Minnesota – in which officials say an officer mistook her gun for her Taser – has resurfaced criticism of stun guns.
Experts and advocates have raised several major concerns about the mass deployment of Tasers in recent years: that police mistake them for guns (often in cases where no force or violence is justified, and where that explanation is disputed); that stun guns aren’t used as alternatives to guns and instead lead to increased brutality and escalate encounters; and that the electroshocks themselves can be deadly.
“Cities are spending millions of dollars on this technology that is not saving any lives and is just expanding the repertoire of violence available to local police,” said Alex Vitale, a Brooklyn College sociology professor and policing expert. “Tasers are used to punish people … and it has led to a lot of abuse and death.”
The Derek Chauvin murder trial heard closing arguments on Monday before the jury began considering a verdict over the death of George Floyd that is anxiously awaited by millions of Americans.
Tensions are high in Minneapolis, with hundreds of national guard soldiers deployed. Last year, video of the former police officer’s alleged killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, prompted days of protests, riots and looting, and demonstrations across the US and world.
Protests flared up again earlier this month, over the shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, by officers during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb.
Many Americans have reached their own verdict in the Chauvin case, and see the trial as part of a reckoning in the broader struggle for racial justice. Nonetheless, on Monday lawyers focused on persuading the jury.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher said the key to the case lay in video footage of Chauvin pressing his knee on to Floyd’s neck even as he pleaded for his life, right to his very last words of “I can’t breathe”.
“This case is exactly what you saw with your eyes. It’s what you know in your heart,” he said.