Sunday, August 07, 2011

A Truly Isolated Incident

For the past several years, I've associated the phrase "another isolated incident" with journalist Radley Balko -- formerly of Reason magazine, now writing for the Huffington Post -- because Balko's beat focuses on abusive police conduct, prosecutorial malfeasance, and other incidents where agents of the law use their authority to terrorize, rather than defend, innocent people. (I've said more than once: if America were truly the free country we claim to be, Radley Balko's career would not exist.) And whenever Radley (or his colleagues) writes about policemen abusing their authority -- SWAT teams raiding the wrong home, cops shaking down business owners (after carefully destroying said businesses' surveillance cameras), any such legalized horrors -- police spokesmen always say the outrage is an "isolated incident." It's getting so you can't even fart in this country anymore without stinking up another isolated incident of police misconduct.

But yesterday I found a news story about a police-related incident that truly is isolated: an unnamed 18-year-old taking summer classes at the University of Cincinnati died of cardiac arrest after an unnamed cop Tasered him.

Not that there's anything isolated about death by cop, or even death by Taser -- Taser fatalities being sadly commonplace despite (or perhaps because of) the widespread police belief that Tasers are non-lethal weapons -- but here's what does make the story a truly isolated incident:
The department has suspended the use of stun guns until his cause of death is determined.
Cops kill people all the time in America, but death-by-cop stories ending with the department actually changing some aspect of its behavior -- which at least implies the possibility that police handled some matter improperly -- are quite rare, thus making the Taser death of some teenage college kid in Ohio (or at least the police department's response to it) a truly isolated incident.

Of course this is a university police department, not a regular city force, which might explain the relative reasonableness of the police behavior here. Tuition-paying students are statistically likely to have family or friends rich enough, or at least middle-class enough, to notice and make a stink when police kill someone they love. It's one thing if cops kill a middle-aged homeless schizophrenic like Kelly Thomas, but young college students are people with the potential to actually matter.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from