A Chicago man identified by police as 24-year-old Roberto Gonzalez was taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital on March 20th, following arrest by Chicago police, who subdued the victim using both a chemical spray and a TASER gun. Gonzalez— (whose family says he was 37)—died about 8:15 p.m. on Thursday, March 20t, following the altercation with Chicago police.

    Gonzalez was standing outside the Loma Linda Bar at 2658 S. Trumbull Avenue with his cousin, Cesar Garza, 28, who confirmed to police that the pair had been drinking and that Roberto “might have” taken drugs.

    Gonzalez, it should be noted, has a rap sheet going back ten years which includes at least a dozen arrests for battery, armed Robert, possession of drugs, reckless conduct and violating a protective order.

   Two plainclothes police officers who had been circling the block outside the Loma Linda approached the two cousins and told them to move on.  Garza left, but Gonzalez did not.  Garza was picked up a few blocks away by police officers after he left the scene as requested.  It was from the back of the police vehicle that Garza watched as police struck Gonzalez for ten minutes, used a chemical spray on him, and tasered him twice. 

    Said Garza, the dead man’s cousin, “They shouldn’t have done this. He (Gonzalez) was on the floor, wiggling away from police. How could he fight back?”

     Another witness, who declined to be identified, said police asked Gonzalez to take his right hand out of his pocket, after which officers attempted to arrest him.  The unidentified witness saw police strike Gonzalez and, as Gonzalez resisted arrest, the witness heard officers say, “Stop, or we’ll tase you.”

    The rallying cry, “Don’t tase me Bro!” became famous worldwide after a University of Florida student in Gainesville, Florida, tried to ask then-Presidential nominee John Kerry a series of questions, culminating in one that dealt with his membership in the Skull and Bones Society, of which George W. Bush was also reputedly a member.

    In an incident at the Toronto Airport in October of 2007, a Polish immigrant on his first trip outside his native country, arriving in Canada to visit his mother—a man who spoke no English and had just arrived at the terminal, waited for hours to be met by his elderly mother. He became more and more agitated as the hours passed.  His mother could not enter the secure arrival area where the man waited, and the man could not communicate with airport personnel, nor they with him, due to the language barrier. Nor could the man contact his mother. The man’s subsequent fatal tasering by officers called to the scene was caught in its entirety on a horrifying cell-phone video taken by another passenger.

     Glen Lebyba, a Glendale, Colorado resident having a mental breakdown was killed by three tasers administered after his family called police for help. His sister Shelly said, “Glen was in a medical emergency, down on the ground, no threat.”

     An Indiana resident, James Borden, was tasered six times by police, leading to his death.  His brother, Steve, said, “They juiced him to death.”

   Another incident of a mental patient being tasered to death occurred on Long Island, New York. The victim was David Glowczenski. His sister, Jean Griffin, said, “We called them (police) for safety because he was so disoriented…and an hour later, he was dead.”

     In yet another sad story that occurred on August 4th in Lafayette, Colorado, Jack Wilson’s son, Ryan, was TASERed when the 22-year-old entered a marijuana field and did not stop when police commanded him to do so. When he ran, Officer John Harris pursued the young man for half a mile and shot him once with an X-26 TASER.  Ryan fell to the ground, convulsed, and died. No alcohol or drugs were found in his system. But Ryan Wilson did have a previously-undetected heart abnormality (narrow artery).

     The TASER was used against political protesters demonstrating against Florida Governor Jeb Bush at a Rick Santorum fundraiser in Pittsburgh on October 9th, 1974. We can assume it will be used again, this summer, during the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

     The TASER was invented in 1974 by a man named Jack Cover, who called it the TASER, meaning “Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle,” after a hero of 20th century adventure novels. Since its inception, it has undergone modifications and morphed from Air Taser, Inc. in 1993 to Taser International, Inc. in 1998.  The M-26 re-design was part of something known as “Project Stealth,” which intended to give law enforcement a weapon to use against those resisting arrest that did not cause deadly force.

   But does a TASER represent deadly force?

   In the instances cited above, including nearly 200 in 5 years, the answer is yes. Today (2006) “more than 9,500 law enforcement agencies in 43 countries use the TASER. IN 8 years, 184,000 were sold to law enforcement personnel and another 115,000 were sold to citizens in the 43 states where owning a TASER gun is legal. They cost $300 to $400 and are even available in the color pink! (“Death by Taser: The Killer Alternative to Guns” by Silja J.A. Talvi, on “In These Times,” Nov. 18, 2006.)

     A TASER is propelled towards the subject using compressed nitrogen, which launches 2 penetrating probes or bars. The barbs are listed (by various sources) as being released from 15 to 35 feet away at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. Amnesty International cited 150 deaths by June of 2001, and that number has risen dramatically. In fact, the increase in deaths from TASERing was so dramatic in Detroit that the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality worked to see that taser guns were banned in that city. Said Ron Scott of that organization, “There needs to be more study done on the effects of TASERS.” (Jim Lynch, “The Detroit News,” Feb. 18, 2005).

     The T-wires that connect with the person’s body, frequently piercing clothing and skin, cause rapid muscle contractions. The impulses, which deliver 50,000 volts per application and can “re-stun” repeatedly thereafter, have insulated wires connected to the gun. Repeated shocks are often given in quick succession. One individual, described on October 12, 2004 on the blog “The Early Show” was stunned 9 times and died. “He committed no crime; he didn’t do anything wrong,” said the blog.

     Dr. Roland Kohr, an Indiana physician, says that being TASERed may potentially kill an individual under stress or one who has drugs in his system.  “The application of the TASER was the trigger factor for the stressful event that caused the elevation of blood pressure, the elevation rate, which stressed an already damaged heart to the point that it went into cardiac arrest,” he said in court testimony. In the case of Jack Wilson’s son, Ryan, an autopsy showed a narrowed artery to the heart, although Ryan was in good health and was neither drunk nor on drugs at the time of his death. Since he had just been chased for over a mile by the police, he certainly would have been “stressed.”

    Another method of TASERing an individual is dubbed “dry stunning.” It is administered directly on the subject’s skin, giving a cattle-prod-like effect. Those who have been TASERed describe the effect as debilitating, with full body seizures, mental disorientation, and loss of control of bodily functions. The University of California student TASERed in the library there (video available at http://www.altenet.org/rights/44455/) seems to have been in extreme pain and crying out for help.

    Chicago victims are not confined to Roberto Gonzalez on March 20, 2008. A 54-year-old man and a teen-ager were among other TASER victims in Chicago on February 11, 2005, and there are others.

     It would seem that “TASERing” people is something that can, for some subjects, be as dangerous to the victim as shooting them with a gun would have been.  In the March 20th event in Chicago, Ilana Rozenzweig, chief of the agency that reviews police conduct (Internal Affairs), promises a complete investigation, including autopsy results, evidence gathered at the scene, and witness statements.

    None of these investigations will bring back any of these victims, the innocent or the guilty. Their numbers are rising.

     Further study of TASERs as a police tool, as urged by Lucas County Sheriff (Toledo, Ohio) James Telb is indicated before more victims, some of them innocent of any wrongdoing, die as a result of the overzealous use of what is supposed to be a non-fatal law enforcement tool. Most video of the student and political protesters would suggest that, had they been allowed to do so, the students would have departed the premises without further incident. The Florida and California students being TASERed at least survived, although their ordeal is difficult to watch on video.

    The 40-year-old Polish man had done nothing to bring his TASERing on himself, but he is just as dead as Roberto Gonzalez of Chicago.