The AP article’s first paragraph says it all — well, almost.
The police officer who used a Taser on a mentally ill man who died as a result of the two high-voltage shocks will not be disciplined and remains on patrol, the Fort Worth police chief said Friday.
Police in Fort Worth were called to the Jacobs’ residence due to a disturbance of some sort. Officers say 24 year old Michael Patrick Jacobs became “combative”. That’s when Officer Stephanie Phillips saw fit to administer two shocks with a taser, the first of which lasted 49 seconds and was followed by a one second pause and another 5 second burst. Michael died as a direct result of those shocks — in his yard, in front of his family, at the hands of a police officer — with a supposedly non-lethal device. The medical exmainer ruled it a homicide. The police chief’s response?
“This is the second worst thing that could happen to a police officer, right behind dying in the line of duty”.
Happen to a police officer? If we’re weighing tombstones against paychecks this didn’t happen to a police officer, it happened to a 24 year old man and it shouldn’t have. Forty-nine seconds?
An autopsy concluded that the primary cause of death was “sudden death during neuromuscular incapacitation due to application of a conducted energy device,” and said no traces of alcohol or drugs, electrolyte imbalances, or signs of heart or lung disease were found — all of which can be contributing factors in a death.
Police across the nation are using tasers as a dangerous and often heavy handed substitute for reasonable physical restraint or verbal de-escalation. Those things take skill and resemble work and are not nearly punitive enough to reinforce the line between civilian and officer. They say tasers are preferable to reaching for a club — as if death by taser is somehow a better death than a beating. They say it’s a favorable step down from a gun — as if we should, out of gratitude, applaud the use of a device to help curb their natural inclination to shoot us. I’m not saying there is no conceivable use for a taser but they are clearly being used too often, too aggressively and in situations that demonstrate a complete disregard for safety.
Something seems to happen when you introduce a taser into the equation. It seems to somehow act as a filter between the person using it and the person it’s used upon, removing the blame associated with a truly physical act and absolving them of responsibility — assuming, of course, the person using it is a cop. That’s a frightening effect for an instrument to have that’s so ripe for abuse and I’m led to wonder why that is the case.
I don’t want to reduce the death of any person to a talking point but at the same time this has to be talked about. Michael’s death came possibly decades too soon and at the hands of someone sworn to serve and protect him. The fact that once again an officer not only keeps her freedom but her job after killing someone in such a manner shows us how much consideration Fort Worth has for its actions. Unfortunately, it seems to be in keeping with the general social climate in forces across a country that allows officers to kill with impunity. He deserves better. This was not an unfortunate accident or an unpredictable reaction but the very foreseeable result of very excessive force. Officer Phillips violated policy and single handedly killed an unarmed man, and whether the result of intentional harm or carelessness, one person is directly responsible for the death of Michael Patrick Jacobs and will remain on duty without being disciplined. Something tells me that if I held an electric charge to someone for 49 seconds at a time , leading to his death, there would be an entirely different outcome — and rightly, my future would be changed drastically. This is apparently headed to the grand jury where I’m sure we can expect the standard measure of justice to be carried out.
For the record, he was diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses but that is intentionally not the focus here. He should not have been spared such treatment because he was “mentally ill” but because he was a human being, nor does his supposed illness excuse the actions (or inaction) of three police officers against an unarmed person.