CONCERN: The use of Tasers by police has risen in recent years
HOME SECRETARY Amber Rudd’s decision to green-light the next generation of Taser firearms has, quite rightly, raised fears across the minority community over its potential misuse against black Britons, and is viewed as an unwelcome step in the increasing militarisation of the police.
This widespread unease is largely due to the disproportionately high levels of unwarranted state violence that people from the UK’s African Caribbean communities continue to be subject to, at the hands of the police and other powerful agencies, without any recourse or redress.
Data from City Hall’s Police and Crime Committee shows that black people from the UK’s African Caribbean communities account for 50 per cent of people subject to Taser across London, even though this group are just two per cent of the national population.
Concern about what some human rights activists fear is a “trigger happy” attitude when it comes to police use of Taser guns against black Britain is reflected in the fact that those from these communities living outside of the capital do not fare any better.
Home Office data shows that nationally black people of African descent are three times more likely to be Tasered than their white counterparts, while in contrast, Asians are less likely to be subject to this stun gun.
While termed “less-lethal”, there have been 11 Taser-related deaths since this firearm was originally introduced back in 2003 so that police officers would have what was described as a safer alternative to a shotgun.
There has been a staggering 50 per cent rise in the use of these stun guns across England and Wales over the past five years, with police drawing their Taser guns 10,062 times in 2014, and officers firing them 1,724 times.
The mission creep in the use of stun guns over the past 13 years, along with the growing numbers of tragic Taser-related deaths, are among the reasons behind the widespread concern at the introduction of these new more powerful X2 Tasers to Britain’s streets.
Unlike the current Taser X26, the new more powerful X2 model is a semi-automatic firearm that allows officers to shoot two cartridges instead of one. Similar in design to a hand-held pistol, this stun gun discharges a 50,000-volt surge of electricity with the object of incapacitating an individual.
Following the “principle of pain compliance”, this firearm, described by the US manufacturers as a “less lethal” weapon, can also be used in “drivestun mode”, where the stun gun is held against a person and the trigger is pulled with no probes.
Back in 2014, when Theresa May was Home Secretary, she spoke at a joint Home Office and Black Mental Health UK (BMH UK) summit on Policing and Mental Health. During her speech, she told delegates that she was “determined to ensure that all vulnerable people who come into contact with the police are treated appropriately and get the right help at the right time,” adding:
“If the relationship between the police and the public is critical, then how the police and other agencies respond to vulnerable people is even more important still.
“It goes right to the heart of the British model of policing by consent.”
Sadly, these words have not been transformed into action for Britain’s black communities. Data from the Metropolitan Police shows that 44 per cent of those Tasered in the capital are known to have a mental health condition.
The unethical practice of police Tasering distressed patients on locked psychiatric wards is also evidence of the misuse of these firearms, and one that the Government has so far resisted calls to address. Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s commitment to the ‘long-standing principle of British policing’ is in question.
The United Nations Committee Against Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, during a visit to the UK in 2013, expressed concern that the use of electrical discharge weapons almost doubled in 2011 and also raised concern at plans to extend their use. Black Britons continue to be disproportionately over-represented in secure psychiatric settings, even though there isn’t a higher prevalence of mental illness among this group, either common mental disorders or psychosis. Indeed, there are locked wards up and down the country, where almost every inpatient is a black person of African descent. The Government’s apparent unwillingness to protect the human rights of this group, as these new more powerful firearms are rolled out to police across the country this month, makes it even more pressing that BMH UK campaign demands are not ignored.
Add your support to BMH UK’s campaign calling for an outright ban on Taser firearms against detained patients by following BMH UK on Twitter at @bmhuk and using the hashtag ban#taser.
Matilda MacAttram is director of Black Mental Health UK (BMH UK) and a fellow of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.
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