Privacy SOS

For Ramarley Graham and Israel Hernandez

On the same day that we learn a New York grand jury has refused to indict NYPD officer  Richard Haste for the 2012 slaying of Bronx teenager Ramarley Graham in his grandmothers' home, we receive this tragic news from Miami Beach:

An 18-year-old skater died yesterday after Miami Beach Police officers caught him tagging a building and then Tasered him….Police chased Hernandez after catching him tagging a building and used the electronic weapon when he refused to stop.

Tasers, known as so-called ‘less than lethal’ weapons, are often deadly. A blog called ‘Electronic Village’ has documented 541 deaths in the United States from the electric stun guns between 2001 and July 2013, with some victims as young as 15 years old. 

Amnesty International has called for stricter safeguards on the use of Tasers in the United States, citing “disturbing reports of inappropriate or abusive use of Tasers in various US jurisdictions, sometimes involving repeated cycles of electro-shocks.”

There is also evidence to suggest that, far from being used to avoid lethal force, many US police agencies are deploying Tasers as a routine force option to subdue non-compliant or disturbed individuals who do not pose a serious danger to themselves or others. In some departments, Tasers have become the most prevalent force tool. They have been used against unruly schoolchildren; unarmed mentally disturbed or intoxicated individuals; suspects fleeing minor crime scenes and people who argue with police or fail to comply immediately with a command. Cases described in this report include the stunning of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Florida, following a dispute on a bus, and a 13- year-old girl in Arizona, who threw a book in a public library.
In many such instances, the use of electro-shock weapons appears to have violated international standards prohibiting torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as well as standards set out under the United Nations (UN) Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. These require that force should be used as a last resort and that officers must apply only the minimum amount of force necessary to obtain a lawful objective. They also provide that all use of force must be proportionate to the threat posed as well as designed to avoid unwarranted pain or injury.
Was it really necessary for these Miami officers to shoot 18 year-old Israel Hernandez with a Taser, as he ran away from them armed with only a can of spray paint? Will there be justice for his killing? What would justice look like?
Today's news reminds us that we have some real soul-searching to do in the United States about the value of human life, institutional racism and bigotry, and the behavior of our law enforcement officers. The lesson from New York appears to be that police can kill people in their own homes, with impunity. That's chilling, and we should not accept it.
Police officers have dangerous jobs, but that shouldn't give them license to kill people who are running away from them — in Miami, New York, or anywhere else.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.