In 1992, when I was 17, I traveled with my father to the US for a few weeks. We had a family friend living in Huston, whom we wanted to visit. He was away and due back a day of so after we arrived so he gave my father the alarm access-code so we can help ourselves in. We arrived at the house late at night, something went wrong with entering the code, and the alarm went off. Almost instinctively my dad rushed me to the car and we drove off to check into a motel for the night. My dad explained that we were likely to end up in jail if the police got to the house, regardless of our explanation. Back then I thought it was a bit extreme; surely we can reason our way out of it, like we would be able to back in Israel. Looking back at it, it was probably a reasonable choice given the circumstances.
Today, if we were caught, in addition to being arrested we would surely be additionally tased for bad measure. The near-daily news of people being tased for no good reason reminded me of my story above. Some taser cases and videos can be found on top hits from reddit on the topic; Andrew Meyer coined the “don’t tase me, bro” catch phrase while being tased after making a bit of a fuss asking John Kerry some questions; here’s the comic. Some people die after being tased, though the marketing says that the tool is supposed to be non-lethal. But when you give people a “non-lethal” alternative to verbally or physically dealing with other people, it is a natural outcome that it turns from an alternative to a norm. This is the situation today, with cops tasing without much thought and it seems as though the chances of being tased is largely random, mostly depending on how the cop feels at the moment. With the general sense of paranoia and justification that anything is permissible in the name of security and anti-terrorism, all you have to do is act out of the ordinary, like being slow to hand a cop your proof of insurance; Schneier calls this “The War on the Unexpected“.
This arbitrary taser treatment given by trigger happy cops is scary, and certainly does not contribute to a general feeling of security it was meant to promote. The long term effect is the continuous erosion of trust in police and the “system” — not that it is in any good shape currently — which will be difficult to recover from even if tighter controls are placed on taser use. When this happens the unintended consequence would be that police lost the “touch” of actually dealing with people, and even worse, they would use their lethal weapons (guns) more casually than before. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear in the near future of a case where a cop claims that he/she reached for the taser, but instead shot the poor speeder in the chest with a lethal bullet.