Monday, November 27, 2006

Sh! Don't scream, you're in a library!

A library is a nice quiet place to get away from the troubles of the outside world and study in peace. Some people may even sneer, if only from jealousy, at scholars tucked up in their "ivory towers", shielded by books from reality.

Well, that's not a charge you can make at the University of California, Los Angeles(UCLA). Their students got an intensive lesson in politics last week, right there in the library.

Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a UCLA student, was asked to show his student ID, or "Bruin card" to the "Community Service Officers" (student cops) during a random check at 11.30pm on Tuesday. When he was unable to produce it they asked him to leave the computer section of the library. Because he did not leave immediately they called police officers.

They used a Taser on him. A six-minute video shows Tabatabainejad screaming in pain, as he was being stunned several times with the Taser, each time for three to five seconds. He was told repeatedly to stand up and "stop fighting", and was told that if he did not do so he would "get Tased again."

Tabatabainejad was also stunned with the Taser when he was already handcuffed, said Carlos Zaragoza, a third-year English and history student who witnessed the incident. "(He was) no possible danger to any of the police," Zaragoza said. "(He was) getting shocked and Tasered as he was handcuffed."

Police say they had no way of knowing whether the individual was armed or that he was a student. But as Tabatabainejad was being dragged through the room by two officers, he can be heard repeating in a strained scream, "I'm not fighting you" and "I said I would leave."

A Taser delivers volts of low-amperage energy to the body, a painful electrical shock causing a disruption of the body's electrical energy pulses and locking the muscles. It was used in the drive setting which aims at particular parts of the body.

Other library users who protested at the way Tabatabainejad was being treated and asked the officers for their names and numbers were threatened. The video shows an officer telling a student that he would "get Tased too." At this point, the officer was still holding a Taser.

Assistant police chief Jeff Young admits the Taser is painful but claims it is more humane than a baton. This does not wash with critics. "It is a real mistake to treat a Taser as some benign thing that painlessly brings people under control", says Peter Eliasberg of the American Civil Liberties Union. . "The Taser can be incredibly violent and result in death".

The ACLU says 149 people have died in the US and Canada as a result of Taser use since 1999.

The threat of force from a law enforcement officer in response to a request for a badge number is an "illegal assault," Eliasberg says. But so far only the Taser victim Tabatabainejad has been cited, for obstruction of a "peace officer"(sic) in the course of his duty, before he was released from custody.

Reported in the UCLA 'Daily Bruin',

Thanks to Anna Chen for bringing this story and video to my notice.

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