10/11/2008 Newsletter

Contents:

  • O22 Protest and Stolen Lives Remembrance
  • Phone in Against Phony Charges and Court Watch for RNC 8
  • US Army at the RNC
  • Thousands of Troops Deployed on US Streets to Carry Out "Crowd Control:
  • MD Police Put Activist Names on Terror Lists
  • SCOTUS to Decide How Much and How Often Government Can Violate Your Civil Rights
  • Torture on a Massive Level
  • Taser's New, More Lethal Toys
  • Tasteless T-Shirt Reveals Cops' Attitude Toward First Amendment, Police Violence

OCTOBER 22 NATIONAL DAY OF PROTEST AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY,
REPRESSION AND THE CRIMINALIZATION OF A GENERATION

From mass police brutality during the RNC to the everyday brutality against people of color and poor people in the streets and in the jails, something has got to be done to end the reign of terror.

  • Come out and demand REAL solutions:
  • We need a real civilian review authority that holds cops accountable and isn’t just a rubber stamp agency!
  • End beatings and abuse in the jails­and prosecute brutal jailers!
  • No more bogus charges against police brutality victims. Prosecute brutal cops!
  • Drop ALL charges against RNC arrestees. Dissent is not a crime!
  • Fire cops who lie in police reports or in court!
  • We must let the authorities know that we will no longer be silent in the face of police brutality!

PROTEST AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 22
4:30 p.m.
KELLOGG PARK, KELLOGG & WABASHA, ST. PAUL
*******************************************************************
STOLEN LIVES REMEMBRANCE
More than a dozen people have died at the hands of law enforcement officers in Minnesota in the past year. These people can no longer speak for themselves. We must speak for them. Join us as we commemorate these Stolen Lives.
Sunday, October 26 ­ 6:00 p.m.
Walker Community Church
3104 16th Avenue South, Minneapolis


PHONE IN AGAINST PHONY CHARGES!

RNC Arrestees Call-In Day of Action:
Monday October 13th (9am- 5pm)

6 of the RNC8 are attending court on Monday Oct 13th. In solidarity with them and the 800+ other RNC arrestees, we are asking folks to take 5 minutes to call Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner's office, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and St. Paul City Attorney John Choi and demand that ALL CHARGES BE DROPPED.

Call (651)266-8510 and tell Mayor Chris Coleman's office that the city of St. Paul must hold police accountable for their actions and brutality during the RNC and that all charges against protesters be dropped.

Call (651)266-3222 and demand that Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner drop the Felony charges against almost 2 dozen RNC protesters and that you are watching the "RNC 8" case very closely. Demand that her office not prosecute protest organizers as "terrorists".

Call City Attorney John Choi at (651)266-8710 and demand that all misdemeanor charges be dropped now! He has referred to RNC protesters as outsiders who wanted to "create mayhem." Let him know the hundreds Twin Cities residents arrested during the convention would probably disagree.

Please be polite, but firm. Remember that what you say will have an impact on everybody facing charges, and it could very easily have a negative impact if you are not careful.


COURTWATCH FOR RNC 8 ARRESTEES

Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center
425 Grove St, Rm 102, St. Paul
October 13, 1:00 p.m. Omnibus Hearing: Eryn Trimmer, Eric Oseland, Nathaneal Secor, Max Spector
October 23, 1:00 p.m. Omnibus Hearing: Luce Guillen Givins, Garrett Fitzgerald

These are the eight people being charged with "conspiracy to riot in the furtherance of terrorism," despite the fact that they were all in jail for the entirety of the RNC. Apparently even planning protest is now illegal. By putting heavy charges on these people, the government is trying to criminalize dissent and hold them out as an example so that others will shy away from challenging its policies. We must stand up with these people and force the government to back down. Part of this battle is to be in court with them every time. We need to visibly support them at every turn. HANDS OFF THE RNC 8!

For information on courtwatch opportunities for other RNC arrestees, go to http://twincities.indymedia.org/ and check the Upcoming Events section.


U.S. ARMY AT THE RNC

by Mary Turck
October 8, 2008
http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/blog-entry/2008/10/08/u-s-army-rnc.html#

Army Col. Michael Boatner admitted October 7 that active-duty U.S. military were sent to St. Paul for the Republican National Convention. Col. Boatner, the future operations division chief of USNORTHCOM, told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now that the army was “up there in support of the US Secret Service. We provided some explosive ordnance disposal support of the event.”

Col. Boatman denied that the army did any intelligence sharing. “They were just doing routine screens and scans of the area in advance of this kind of a vulnerable event,” he said. “It’s pretty standard support to a national special security event.”

This discussion follows the publication of an Army Times article last month announcing training of a U.S. Army unit for domestic operations under the control of U.S. Army Northern Command.

Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, expressed grave concern: “Now the Pentagon is doing sweeps of areas before, you know, a political convention? That used to be law enforcement’s job. That used to be domestic civil law enforcement job. It’s now being taken over by the Pentagon. That should concern us.”

The disclosure of U.S. Army operations at the RNC highlights the still unanswered questions about security forces there.

The RNC was designated as a national special security event. When the Secretary of Homeland Security designates a National Special Security Event, “ the Secret Service assumes its mandated role as the lead agency for the design and implementation of the operational security plan. The Secret Service has developed a core strategy to carry out its security operations, which relies heavily on its established partnerships with law enforcement and public safety officials at the local, state and federal levels.” (Secret Service web site)

Security forces deployed at the RNC included Hennepin and Ramsey County sheriff’s departments, Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments, the University of Minnesota police department, Minnesota Highway Patrol, National Guard, suburban and rural police, and out-of-state police. The Secret Service was here. The FBI was here, and active in raids on homes before the convention. And now it’s official ­ the U.S. Army was here as well.

The latest disclosure highlights many still-unanswered questions about security at the RNC:

• Who gave the orders for raids on private homes and the political headquarters of protesters? We know the FBI was involved, but what was the nature of their involvement?

• Who ordered the arrests and detentions of journalists and harassment of photographers in the weeks before the convention?

• Who searched the computers and cell phones and cameras of those who were detained?

• Where did the information seized from computer hard drives and cell phones and camera memory cards end up?

• What federal agencies now have the name-and-address information and the photos of people who were temporarily detained but never arrested or charged with anything?

And then there’s the $100,000 question: Will the investigation headed by former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger even address these issues?


THOUSANDS OF TROOPS ARE DEPLOYED ON U.S. STREETS READY TO CARRY OUT "CROWD CONTROL"

By Naomi Wolf, AlterNet
October 8, 2008
http://www.alternet.org/story/101958/

Background: the First Brigade of the Third Infantry Division, three to four thousand soldiers, has been deployed in the United States as of October 1. Their stated mission is the form of crowd control they practiced in Iraq, subduing "unruly individuals," and the management of a national emergency. I am in Seattle and heard from the brother of one of the soldiers that they are engaged in exercises now. Amy Goodman reported that an Army spokesperson confirmed that they will have access to lethal and non lethal crowd control technologies and tanks.

George Bush struck down Posse Comitatus, thus making it legal for military to patrol the U.S. He has also legally established that in the "War on Terror," the U.S. is at war around the globe and thus the whole world is a battlefield. Thus the U.S. is also a battlefield.

He also led change to the 1807 Insurrection Act to give him far broader powers in the event of a loosely defined "insurrection" or many other "conditions" he has the power to identify. The Constitution allows the suspension of habeas corpus -- habeas corpus prevents us from being seized by the state and held without trial -- in the event of an "insurrection." With his own army force now, his power to call a group of protesters or angry voters "insurgents" staging an "insurrection" is strengthened.

U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman of California said to Congress, captured on C-Span and viewable on YouTube, that individual members of the House were threatened with martial law within a week if they did not pass the bailout bill:
"The only way they can pass this bill is by creating and sustaining a panic atmosphere. … Many of us were told in private conversations that if we voted against this bill on Monday that the sky would fall, the market would drop two or three thousand points the first day and a couple of thousand on the second day, and a few members were even told that there would be martial law in America if we voted no."

If this is true and Rep. Sherman is not delusional, I ask you to consider that if they are willing to threaten martial law now, it is foolish to assume they will never use that threat again. It is also foolish to trust in an orderly election process to resolve this threat. And why deploy the First Brigade? One thing the deployment accomplishes is to put teeth into such a threat.

I interviewed Vietnam veteran, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and patriot David Antoon for clarification:

"If the President directed the First Brigade to arrest Congress, what could stop him?"

"Nothing. Their only recourse is to cut off funding. The Congress would be at the mercy of military leaders to go to them and ask them not to obey illegal orders."

"But these orders are now legal?'"

"Correct."

"If the President directs the First Brigade to arrest a bunch of voters, what would stop him?"

"Nothing. It would end up in courts but the action would have been taken."

"If the President directs the First Brigade to kill civilians, what would stop him?"

"Nothing."

"What would prevent him from sending the First Brigade to arrest the editor of the Washington Post?"

"Nothing. He could do what he did in Iraq -- send a tank down a street in Washington and fire a shell into the Washington Post as they did into Al Jazeera, and claim they were firing at something else."

"What happens to members of the First Brigade who refuse to take up arms against U.S. citizens?"

"They'd probably be treated as deserters as in Iraq: arrested, detained and facing five years in prison. In Iraq a study by Ann Wright shows that deserters -- reservists who refused to go back to Iraq -- got longer sentences than war criminals."

"Does Congress have any military of their own?"

"No. Congress has no direct control of any military units. The Governors have the National Guard but they report to the President in an emergency that he declares."

"Who can arrest the President?"

"The Attorney General can arrest the President after he leaves or after impeachment."

[Note: Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi has asserted it is possible for District Attorneys around the country to charge President Bush with murder if they represent districts where one or more military members who have been killed in Iraq formerly resided.]

"Given the danger do you advocate impeachment?"

"Yes. President Bush struck down Posse Comitatus -- which has prevented, with a penalty of two years in prison, U.S. leaders since after the Civil War from sending military forces into our streets -- with a 'signing statement.' He should be impeached immediately in a bipartisan process to prevent the use of military forces and mercenary forces against U.S. citizens"

"Should Americans call on senior leaders in the Military to break publicly with this action and call on their own men and women to disobey these orders?"

"Every senior military officer's loyalty should ultimately be to the Constitution. Every officer should publicly break with any illegal order, even from the President."

"But if these are now legal. If they say, 'Don't obey the Commander in Chief,' what happens to the military?"

"Perhaps they would be arrested and prosecuted as those who refuse to participate in the current illegal war. That's what would be considered a coup."

"But it's a coup already."

"Yes."

Naomi Wolf is the author of Give Me Liberty (Simon and Schuster, 2008), the sequel to the New York Times best-seller The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot (Chelsea Green, 2007).


MARYLAND POLICE PUT ACTIVISTS' NAMES ON TERROR LISTS: SURVEILLANCE'S REACH REVEALED

Note the creative use of language to cover up the spying on activist groups and violation of their rights. Apparently "situational awareness" is the new buzzword for surveillance on community organizers.--Editor

By Lisa Rein Washington Post Staff Writer
October 8, 2008
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/07/AR2008100703245_pf.html

The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief acknowledged yesterday.

Police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan revealed at a legislative hearing that the surveillance operation, which targeted opponents of the death penalty and the Iraq war, was far more extensive than was known when its existence was disclosed in July.

The department started sending letters of notification Saturday to the activists, inviting them to review their files before they are purged from the databases, Sheridan said.

"The names don't belong in there," he told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "It's as simple as that."

The surveillance took place over 14 months in 2005 and 2006, under the administration of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). The former state police superintendent who authorized the operation, Thomas E. Hutchins, defended the program in testimony yesterday. Hutchins said the program was a bulwark against potential violence and called the activists "fringe people."

Sheridan said protest groups were also entered as terrorist organizations in the databases, but his staff has not identified which ones.

Stunned senators pressed Sheridan to apologize to the activists for the spying, assailed in an independent review last week as "overreaching" by law enforcement officials who were oblivious to their violation of the activists' rights of free expression and association. The letter, obtained by The Washington Post, does not apologize but admits that the state police have "no evidence whatsoever of any involvement in violent crime" by those classified as terrorists.

Hutchins told the committee it was not accurate to describe the program as spying. "I doubt anyone who has used that term has ever met a spy," he told the committee.

"What John Walker did is spying," Hutchins said, referring to John Walker Jr., a communications specialist for the U.S. Navy convicted of selling secrets to the Soviet Union. Hutchins said the intelligence agents, whose logs were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland as part of a lawsuit, were monitoring "open public meetings." His officers sought a "situational awareness" of the potential for disruption as death penalty opponents prepared to protest the executions of two men on death row, Hutchins said.

"I don't believe the First Amendment is any guarantee to those who wish to disrupt the government," he said. Hutchins said he did not notify Ehrlich about the surveillance. Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor had no comment.

Hutchins did not name the commander in the Division of Homeland Security and Intelligence who informed him in March 2005 that the surveillance had begun. More than a year later, after "they said, 'We're not getting much here,' " Hutchins said he cut off what he called a "low-level operation."

But Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) noted that undercover troopers used aliases to infiltrate organizational meetings, rallies and group e-mail lists. He called the spying a "deliberate infiltration to find out every piece of information necessary" on groups such as the Maryland Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance. When Hutchins called their members "fringe people," the audience of activists who filled the seats in the hearing room in Annapolis sighed.

Some activists said yesterday that they have received letters; others said they were waiting with anticipation to see whether they were on the state police watch list.

Laura Lising of Catonsville, a member of the Baltimore Coalition Against the Death Penalty, received her notification yesterday. She said she wants a hard copy of her file, because she does not trust the police to purge it. "We need as much protection as possible," she said.

Both Hutchins and Sheridan said the activists' names were entered into the state police database as terrorists partly because the software offered limited options for classifying entries.

The police also entered the activists' names into the federal Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area database, which tracks suspected terrorists. One well-known antiwar activist from Baltimore, Max Obuszewski, was singled out in the intelligence logs released by the ACLU, which described a "primary crime" of "terrorism-anti-government" and a "secondary crime" of "terrorism-anti-war protesters."

Sheridan said that he did not think the names were circulated to other agencies in the federal system and that they are not on the federal government's terrorist watch list. Hutchins said some names might have been shared with the National Security Agency.

Although the independent report on the surveillance released last week said that it was part of a broad effort by the state police to gather information on protest groups across the state, Sheridan said the department is not aware of any surveillance as "intrusive" as the spying on death penalty and war opponents.

The police notified the protesters at the recommendation of former U.S. attorney and state attorney general Stephen H. Sachs, who was appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to review the covert monitoring. In a report last week, Sachs also recommended regulations that forbid such spying on protest groups unless the state police chief believes it is justified.

"I can't imagine getting a letter that says, 'You've been classified as a terrorist; come in and we'll tell about it,'" said Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel). Two senators noted that they had been arrested years ago for civil disobedience. Sen. Jennie Forehand (D-Montgomery) asked Sheridan, "Do you have any legislators on your list?" The answer was no.


SUPREME COURT TO DECIDE HOW MUCH AND HOW OFTEN GOVERNMENT CAN VIOLATE YOUR CIVIL RIGHTS

Cristobal Joshua Alex
October 8, 2008
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cristobal-joshua-alex/supreme-court-to-decide-h_b_133129.html

Qualified immunity is one of those absurd abstract legal concepts that you never care about until the police shoot you in the back while you're leaving the mall. (True story, but we'll get to that later.) The Supreme Court next week will hear a case that may lead to a drastic and dangerous modification of a judge-made government shield that allows police officers to do essentially anything unless courts have expressly told them that they couldn't. Remember that old preschool defense for stealing your playmate's carton of chocolate milk, that you didn't know any better because nobody told you not to? It's exactly like that, except the police aren't told to stand in the corner and think about what they did. They get medals and awards, while Americans with bullets in their back get hospital bills.

Now let's travel to Utah to see how this practically plays out...

Let's stick with our preschooler. Let's say he has a birthday party and invites Johnny. Johnny is friends with that annoying kid Sam, who follows him everywhere, including to the birthday party, even though he isn't cool enough to receive his own invitation. Now replace Johnny with an undercover police informant and Sam with the police, and you have the worst birthday party ever and what the courts call consent-once-removed.

So how did this birthday massacre end up before the Court? A Utah appeals court agreed that the police couldn't use an informant to crash a party and seize cake (or drugs) without a warrant. The party host, Afton Callahan, then turned around and sued the police for violating his civil rights.

When deciding whether officers can hide behind their government shield, judges are first required to confirm that a specific right was violated, and only then can they consider whether the officer should have known any better. The district court ruled that even if Callahan's rights were violated, the officers could have reasonably concluded that their party crashing was legal, thus resulting in the officers being able to hide behind the judge-made government shield. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and tossed out the consent-once-removed doctrine embraced by several other Circuits, causing a split between the Circuit Courts that the Supreme Court will resolve.

As part of the case, the Justices asked if courts should still be required to first ask if a person's rights were violated. Keep in mind that there is no textual support for the government shield in the Constitution or civil rights laws in the first place. Despite that, this Court won't yet toss out the judge-made government shield altogether, so if we're stuck with a failed policy, we should choose to opt for the failed policy that causes the least harm. For the time being, it would simply be absurd to stop considering whether an officer violated a person's constitutional right, before deciding whether the officer should have known better. At least under the current system, judges can tell victims of civil rights violations that their rights were in fact violated, clearly establishing that similar conduct will be unacceptable in the future, even if the officer then gets to cower behind the government shield. This could change for the worse if the Court's balance shifts further to the right, slamming the courthouse doors to even more victims of civil rights abuses.

Another example that shows how this judge-made government shield plays out can be seen by looking at what happens to the rights of protesters at political conventions. St. Paul police arrested more than 800 protestors during the Republican National Convention, along with dozens of journalists. The arresting officers will claim they were doing what any other officer would do at the time, and so they're entitled to hide behind the government shield. The group-think here protects officers from numerous legitimate claims, but government could care less because violating our rights is relatively inexpensive.

Constitutional rights are not worth that much money and damages may be relatively small, if not even nominal only. Claims that police stopped individuals from marching or protesting by dispersing or redirecting the crowd (in violation of the First Amendment) or that police temporarily seized them (without formal arrest or prosecution) will not produce large damages awards. Claims by those who were arrested and booked might be worth a little more. Claims that the city's pre-planned protest limitations (permit requirements, protest pens, distance rules, etc.) violated the First Amendment probably will be worth only nominal damages. Real excessive force claims with physical injuries (if any--I have not read reports) might be worth a lot more... Finally, officers will be able to argue in many situations that, given the facts at hand, their conduct was not what a reasonable officer would have known to be unlawful, therefore they are entitled to qualified immunity.

Following a precedent set by Denver, New York, and Philadelphia, St. Paul made the Republican National Committee pay for a $10 million insurance policy to cover charges of police brutality and civil rights violations, just in case an officer was caught outside the bounds of the government shield.  Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality called the insurance policy "an extraordinary agreement... the police have nothing to hold them back from egregious behavior."

Do you feel satisfied that your civil rights have been sold to the highest bidder?

The Supreme Court needs to cast aside this unjust judge-made government shield so officers can be held accountable for their actions. "I didn't know any better," wasn't an acceptable excuse when you were five and it should never be an acceptable excuse for officers who violate civil rights.

Oh, that whole getting shot in the back while leaving the mall thing? The guy's name was Maurice Anderson. David Russell, an officer moonlighting as a part-time mall security officer, approached him after a mall patron mistook Anderson's eyeglass case for a gun. When approached by Russell, Maurice Anderson reached into his pocket to turn off his walkman. Russell thought he was reaching for the gun, and shot him three times. Russell's arm and leg were permanently injured. He received no compensation. Anderson was protected by the government shield because nobody told him he couldn't shoot people in the back while they were leaving the mall. He just didn't know any better.


TORTURE ON A MASSIVE LEVEL

Keep in mind the recent announcement that the army is deploying troops on US soil as well as the militarization of policing seen on the streets of St. Paul and Minneapolis during the RNC. As the economy goes to hell and McBush tries to figure out how to steal another election, one can easily see these and other dangerous weapons being used to crush all dissent.

Army Orders Pain Ray Trucks; New Report Shows 'Potential for Death'
http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/10/army-ordering-p.html
By David Hambling
October 10, 2008

After years of testing, the Active Denial System -- the pain ray which drives off rioters with a microwave-like beam -- could finally have its day. The Army is buying five of the truck-mounted systems for $25 million. But the energy weapon may face new hurdles, before it's shipped off to the battlefield; a new report details how the supposedly non-lethal blaster could be turned into a flesh-frying killer.

The contract for the pain ray trucks is "expected to be awarded by year's end," Aviation Week notes. "A year after the contract is signed, the combination vehicle/weapons will start be fielded at the rate of one per month."

It's been a very long time coming. As we've previously reported, there have been calls to deploy the Active Denial System in Iraq going back to 2004. But it's always been delayed for legal, political, and public relations reasons. Anything that might be condemned as torture is political dynamite. Interestingly, the version being bought is not the full-size "Version 2," but a containerized system known as Silent Guardian, which Raytheon have been trying to sell for some time. They describe Silent Guardian as "roughly 1/3 the size and power of the other Active Denial Systems," and quote it's range as "greater than 250 meters." The larger system has a range somewhere in excess of 700 meters.

Silent Guardian weighs a shade over 10,000 pounds all up, and will be mounted on an "armored ruggedized HEMTT [Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck]."

The announcement arrives on the same day as a new report from less-lethal weapons expert Dr. Jürgen Altmann that analyzes the physics of several directed energy weapons, including Active Denial, the Advanced Tactical Laser (used as a non-lethal weapon), the Pulsed Energy Projectile (a.k.a. "Maximum Pain" laser) and the Long Range Acoustic Device (a.k.a. "Acoustic Blaster").

Dr. Altmann describes the Active Denial beam in some detail, noting that it will not be completely uniform; anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the center will experience more heating than someone at the edge. And perhaps more significant is his thorough analysis of the heating it produces -- and the cumulative effect if the target does not have the chance to cool down between exposures. In U.S. military tests, a fifteen-second delay between exposures was strictly observed; this may not happen when the ADS is used for real.

"As a consequence, the ADS provides the technical possibility to produce burns of second and third degree. Because the beam of diameter 2 m and above is wider than human size, such burns would occur over considerable parts of the body, up to 50% of its surface. Second- and third-degree burns covering more than 20% of the body surface are potentially life-threatening – due to toxic tissue-decay products and increased sensitivity to infection – and require intensive care in a specialized unit. Without a technical device that reliably prevents re-triggering on the same target subject, the ADS has a potential to produce permanent injury or death. "

This potential hazard need not be a show-stopper -- existing less-lethals, such as plastic bullets and tear gas, can also be fatal under some circumstances (and I'm not even going to get into the argument about Tasers).

Dr. Altmann notes that "the present analysis has not found convincing arguments that the ADS would be immoral or illegal in each foreseeable circumstance," and that acceptance will depend very much on how it is used. If the ADS prevents small boats from approaching a U.S. vessel without harming anyone, then it will be seen as a humane option. If it is used to clear protesters out of the way it may be seen differently.

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Justice still has a reported interest in a "hand-held, probably rifle-sized, short range weapon that could be effective at tens of feet for law enforcement officials." That's just one of the likely domestic applications of Active Denial technology which are likely to follow if the Army's experiment with ADS is successful. A lot of people will be watching this one very closely.


TASER'S NEW, MORE LETHAL TOYS

Controversy Grows As Taser Expands Scope
by Andy Greenberg
October 6, 2008 by Forbes.com

Sitting idle, the Taser Shockwave looks like a waist-high rack of square green teeth. But press a button, and those teeth--six electrified cartridges tethered by 25-foot wires--shoot out in a 20-degree arc. Inch-long probes emitting 50,000 volts of electricity pierce through clothing and skin. If a human being is in their path, his or her muscles immediately flex and lock involuntarily.

Use Shockwave defensively to create a perimeter around rioters, as police demonstrated in a training exercise on California's Treasure Island earlier this month, and a mob of unruly individuals can be corralled into a corner. Or fire the device into a crowd, and several targets go down in a temporarily paralyzed heap.

Shockwave, set to be deployed sometime in 2009, is one of several powerful new "less-lethal" devices coming closer to being used in the real world, as opposed to just test situations. And it's not the only experimental toy soon to be sold by Phoenix-based Taser International. Other products being tested by the company include a taser shell that can be fired from any shotgun and a taser laminate film that can electrify the surface of a traditional riot shield.

From Taser's perspective, these science-fiction-like weapons are new and more effective ways to control dangerous situations without using deadly force. But in the eyes of the company's critics, Taser is expanding the scope of a controversial technology that has yet to be proven safe.

Taser's Extended-Range Electronic Projectile (XREP), for instance, is the first electrically incapacitating weapon that can be fired from a gun. Unlike Taser's older products, which shoot an electrically charged cartridge tethered by a 25-foot wire, the XREP is designed to be loaded into a normal firearm. After it's fired from the gun's barrel, small fins extend that cause the cartridge to spin like a rifle round and fly accurately up to 100 feet.

When the XREP shell hits someone, short probes pierce his or her skin or clothing. A metal barb attached by a wire falls out from the back of the capsule to create another point of contact on the target's body, unleashing an electrical current through the body's muscles and causing them to spasm. If the target grabs at the XREP round and touches the wire, it routes another jolt of current through the clutching hand.

Violent as the new devices may sound, Taser argues that the XREP and Shockwave both hold the promise of defusing a wider range of dangerous situations than ever before without resorting to lethal force or putting police in dangerous situations. "Police officers are paid to enforce the law, not to get hurt," says Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle. "Police need this. That's why we've survived the controversy around our products."

But Dalia Hashad, director of human rights for Amnesty International in the U.S., calls the weapons "something out of a bad video game." She argues that the Shockwave and XREP are unproven technologies that could be used indiscriminately.

Since U.S. police first began using tasers in 2000, 350 people have died in police custody after being stunned by the devices, according to Amnesty International's count. In 40 of those cases, tasers were listed by the coroner as a possible cause of death, Hashad says, and in many cases, the victim was elderly, under the influence of drugs or mentally ill.

Those kinds of victims are the most likely to suffer injuries from being stunned, she adds. And trying to discern when a taser should be used appropriately becomes complicated when a taser's range is extended or the Shockwave is fired at multiple targets. "There's no individual assessment," Hashad says. "We're asking police to consider whether someone they're about to 'tase' is an appropriate candidate given all the risks. How can they do that for six people at once?"

She adds that the XREP's default setting delivers a 20-second shock, compared with the five-second shock of a traditional taser. That kind of prolonged incapacitation, she argues, is typically the most likely to lead to injuries or deaths. "It raises very significant questions about how the length of the shock time affects the human body," she says.

Taser recently suffered a public-relations blow when a jury found the company partially liable for the death of 40-year-old Robert Heston, a Salinas, Calif., resident who suffered a heart attack and died after being tased three times. The company was ordered to pay $6.2 million to Heston's family. That case was the only lawsuit that Taser has lost of the 75 suits brought against the company, though others have been settled out of court.

Taser spokesman Tuttle flatly denies that anyone has ever died from being tased. Heston, he points out, was under the influence of methamphetamines, and the jury determined that Taser was only partially responsible for his death. Tuttle also argues that the coroner reports Amnesty International refers to only imply that a taser "wasn't ruled out" as a cause of death.

In fact, Tuttle says that the taser's electrical current is as painful as static shock from a door knob. "It doesn't hurt," says Tuttle, who's been tased himself several times. "Don't get me wrong, it's uncomfortable. It kind of feels like hitting your funny bone 18 times per second throughout your whole body."

And the question of whether devices like XREP and Shockwave will mean tasers are used less discriminately? "No one conducts a field interview before applying a taser," Tuttle says. "The situation must meet police-department requirements and use-of-force guidelines, or it's a civil rights violation. That's how it's always been deployed against suspects in dangerous situations."

Taser International, of course, isn't the only one developing new, controversial less-lethal weapons. The military's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP) is testing a variety of new ways to stun and incapacitate enemy combatants including "flash-bang" grenades that create noise and light to disorient targets, as well as a two-foot diameter laser that can temporarily blind a vehicle's driver at around 600 feet. The so-called Active Denial System, a heat ray that can make targets feel as if their skin is catching fire without actually inflicting damage, is also under development.

But even the military, which has used traditional tasers in the field since 2004, has doubts about Taser International's new toys. "We're doing a lot of testing to make sure they don't kill people," says John Keenan, the JNLWP's director of science and technology. "We have to understand the health effects associated with them. If we're calling something a non-lethal weapon, we have to make sure it's not lethal."


TASTELESS T-SHIRT REVEALS COPS' REAL ATTITUDE TOWARD FIRST AMENDMENT

Denver cops get T-shirts that mock DNC protesters
September 29 2008
Contributed by: Anonymous

Denver's police union is facing criticism for printing a commemorative T-shirt that makes light of the use of violence by police, particularly in the wake of 154 arrests during the week of Democratic National Convention this past August.

"We get up early, to BEAT the crowds," the shirt reads, followed by "2008 DNC." The words flank a grinning police officer holding a baton and wearing a hat with a crossed-out number "68," presumably making reference to activist organization Recreate 68, which staged several anti-war demonstrations during the convention.

"The people of Denver were assured by the city that it would respect First Amendment rights during the DNC, and that police officers were being trained to do so. The actions of police during the DNC, which involved numerous violations of people's right to freedom of speech and assembly, put the lie to those promises," said Recreate 68's Glenn Spagnuolo. "And now this appalling, tasteless t-shirt shows why. The members of Denver's police union clearly have no respect for the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. The Denver Police Department Operations Manual includes a Law Enforcement Code of Ethics, which begins, 'As a Law Enforcement Officer, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind, to safeguard lives and property, to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality and justice.' The creation of this t-shirt makes a mockery of that statement."

Detective Nick Rogers of the Police Protective Association said that the union predicts sales of about 2,000 shirts in addition to the ones given free to Denver police officers, and also told KMGH (http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/17563487/detail.html#) that he hadn't received any complaints about the shirt.


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