Police taser man at Sacramento TSA checkpoint

News media across the country are buzzing with the story today that a 26-year-old man named Edwin Barton was attacked by police with a Taser (or stun gun) at Sacramento International Airport.

What was Barton’s crime? He left something on the plane, something many of us have done at one time or another, and wanted to retrieve it before the plane took off on its next flight. He didn’t just bolt back through the so-called sterile area when he realized what he done. On the contrary, he waited in line to get a special pass from his airline that would allow him to go back to the gate where he had just landed.

But there’s a catch: that special pass didn’t relieve him of having to go through security again. Here’s how the Sacramento Bee reports it:

Barton’s scuffle with the law began about 1:30 p.m., when he exited a Southwest flight, walked out of the airport’s secure area and into the baggage claim area of new Terminal B before realizing he had left something on the plane, said Sacramento County sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Jason Ramos.

The Transportation Security Administration agent who greets arriving passengers wouldn’t let Barton run back to the gate, and after some arguing, the agent directed Barton to the ticketing counter for a pass allowing him back in the secure area, Ramos said.

(By the way, did you know that the TSA “greets” arriving passengers? I wonder how long before they have the power to search us as we arrive?)

The story continues:

But, like all passengers, Barton had to go through security, Ramos said. That’s where his good judgment appeared to depart.

Barton became argumentative with TSA agents, Ramos said, and when he had to place his bag on a conveyor belt at the screening device, Barton allegedly grabbed it and ran toward the boarding areas. Nearby sheriff’s deputies tried to stop him, but he spun out of their grasp and kept running, Ramos said.

A deputy deployed his Taser, shocking Barton once. But when he tried pulling the Taser’s barbs out, deputies shocked him twice more until he was subdued, Ramos said.

To recap:  He’d already gone through security at his original point of departure and was allowed on the plane. He flew to his destination with no problem and got off the plane. He exited and went to Baggage Claim. Then he realized he’d left something on the plane. Then he was told that he couldn’t retrieve it without a pass. He got the pass. Then he still wasn’t allowed to go back. He was told he had to go through security again.

So perhaps, just perhaps, you can understand how he might’ve been a bit peeved. Worried about losing whatever he left on the plane, and frustrated at this fumbling process. After all, given the evidence we have of the behavior of TSA agents in general, why would he expect to be treated with understanding?

I’ve had to go through security more than once because of mishap, and no, I didn’t try to run through. But I can also understand how someone’s frustration would well up and he would do something like this. Regardless, the use of force by the police was both predictable and way overboard.

Police have been increasingly using Tasers in this country as a punitive device. Not to subdue an “unruly” or out-of-control person, but to harm him. To exert authority. A cop roughed up this 14-year-old girl in Allentown, Pa, then Tasered her — in the groin. This device can shock a person from up to 100 feet away. And Tasers can kill people. This 22-year-old was killed by cops who Tasered him. Here’s a woman who was Tasered during a traffic stop. Kelly Thomas, homeless, and mentally ill, was beaten and Tasered to death in Fullerton, California (warning: frightening photograph). And if you’re black, diabetic, and hypoglycemic, watch out: the cops have an answer for you. There are too many more instances of Taser or stun gun injuries and fatalities to list here; the ACLU has been keeping track of them:

Since 1999, at least 148 people in the United States and Canada have died after encounters with police who shocked them with Tasers. More than half of those deaths occurred in the past year, of which 15 took place in northern and central California.

Despite these alarming figures, the Scottsdale, Arizona based manufacturer, Taser International, continues to encourage liberal use of the weapon while grossly downplaying safety concerns. These misleading promotional tactics are reflected in the training materials, which are almost exclusively relied upon by police departments, the ACLU said. Indeed, the ACLU study found that only four of the departments surveyed created their own training materials.

Tasers are instruments of brutality. That’s their point.

Did the cops who shot electric probes at Edwin Barton have any idea if that electricity could kill him? Did they know if he has epilepsy? Of course not. It’s shoot first, ask questions later.

Remember the overreaction when that guy breached the “sterile area” to kiss his girlfriend goodbye at Newark International? I guess he should count his lucky stars he wasn’t tackled, beaten, or Tasered.

Predictably, the authoritarians are out in full force: the comments at various newspapers reporting this story are coming down on the side of the cops and against Barton.

So if you’re ever upset, frustrated, angry, or just plain confused at the airport, don’t expect any sympathy from the TSA, or from your fellow travelers. As they’ll be quick to tell you, it’s your own damn fault.

(Photo: J. Star/Flickr)