Car Guy

The Taser’s Edge

It's all part of a growing tendency to treat ordinary citizens more harshly than actual bad guys.

By 1.8.10

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The late Sam Francis once wrote about something he called "anarcho-tyranny." Simply put, it's the growing tendency of the government to harshly treat ordinary citizens over even the most minor infractions while at the same time treating violent predators -- real criminals -- with disinterest and often minimal punishment relative to their deeds.

The growing use of "shock therapy" -- tasers -- on motorists who've committed minor traffic infractions such as failing to wear a seat belt or who grumble under their breath while being issued speeding tickets is Exhibit A.

Argue with a cop -- indeed, do anything other than submit immediately to his any and every command -- and you risk being shot through with 50,000 volts of "non-lethal" (but sometimes not) Attitude Adjuster. It's happening all around the country, to people who likely never saw it coming or even conceived that such a thing could happen to them. People who work, pay taxes and never so much as pocketed a Hershey bar at the drugstore. Middle-aged hausfraus. Moms with their kids in the car. You and me, in other words.

There are two reasons for this.

First, the system and its laws are becoming more and more officious. Books such as Three Felonies A Day detail the near-impossibility of not violating some state or federal law (inadvertently or not) just by dint of getting out of bed and going about your day. The country is so thick with Thou Shalt Nots -- laws, rules and regulations -- that there's almost always a reason for some cop to pester you. When you get indignant and object, it's open season.

Note that we're not talking about physically threatening the policeman. No reasonable person would object to honest self-defense. No, we are talking about police tasing people -- body-slamming them onto the ground and sometimes breaking their teeth off in the process -- for things like talking back (or even just talking to themselves, as in the case of a 21-year-old college kid who got The Treatment recently).

The courts have affirmed most of this stuff, too. For the average citizen, there is almost no sphere of initiative left. We must seek permission -- and, more importantly, we must obey.

Reason Two arises from the first: Bad laws attract bad men. What sort of human being -- what sort of man -- would tase a middle-aged woman with her kids in the vehicle after pulling her over for a seatbelt violation? Or a college kid -- neither one armed nor dangerous nor physically threatening the cop in any way? Answer: A thug. Someone who ought to be on the other side of the Thin Blue Line but clearly isn't. Decent men and women just don't do such things because they aren't thugs. But such people are less and less inclined to get into the law enforcement business because the law enforcement business is increasingly thuggish.

But ironically, as Sam would point out, the growing thuggishness of modern law enforcement doesn't extend to real-deal criminals.

Have you ever watched any of those Live Cop TV shows? The boys in blue are often seen cajoling and even pleading politely with violent felons. "Please, Sir," they say. And then courts hand down puff-piece sentences completely out of step with the nature of the offense. Less than five years for armed robbery -- sticking a gun in someone's face and threatening to kill them -- is typical. To a career criminal - no job, no worries about his credit rating or his résumé -- five years in the clink (in practice, this will be less than two before early release) amounts to a free gym membership and three squares a day.

For the average Joe, on the other hand, being tased, hog-tied and carted off to jail can be a life-altering experience. It may even be a life-ending experience (several people have died of heart failure after being hit with a taser). And remember: All these people have done "wrong" is not show sufficient, immediate deference to some cop.

It's a good thing Sam's not around to see what America is becoming.

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About the Author

Eric Peters is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities: The Cars You Love to Hate (Motor Books International) and a new book, Road Hogs.