Complying While Black (Taser Edition)

When two patrons at a Starbucks cafe in Philadelphia were arrested while waiting for a colleague earlier this year, people in Pennsylvania and around the country saw on video what Black people have known for a long time — the mere act of going about our daily lives can lead to harassment, arrest, or worse.

The stakes are ratcheted upward dramatically when we cross paths with law enforcement officers. Even when we comply with an officer’s every request, we can be at risk of violence.

That’s what happened to Sean Williams, a 27-year-old Black man in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on June 28. While trying to comply with police officers’ conflicting commands, Williams was shot in the back with an electronic control device, popularly known as a Taser, after the brand that manufactures the weapon. A video recording of the incident has gone viral across the country.

Williams was a suspect in a dispute with three other people. While a statement from the Lancaster City Bureau of Police claims that the video does not show the full context of the incident and that Williams earlier failed to comply with their commands, the video clearly shows that the situation had deescalated to the point that Williams was seated and prepared to do what the police told him to do. Officer Philip Bernot stunned him with the Taser anyway, sending an electric shock through his body.

When Tasers first became available, they were marketed as an alternative to police using deadly force when they are or someone else is in danger of harm — even though a Reuters' investigation revealed over 1,000 people have died after being shot by Tasers. As this incident and many others have shown, police are not reserving the use of these stun guns only to end potentially harmful situations. Instead, they are using the weapon as a go-to device for control, even when no one is in any danger. Whatever brought Sean Williams to the attention of the Lancaster police, he was clearly not a risk to harm anyone when he was shot with the Taser.

In response to the incident, Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace pledged a full investigation by the city police and the district attorney. She also said that the incident reinforces her determination to acquire body-worn cameras for the police bureau. While an investigation is warranted and body-worn cameras may sometimes provide valuable information when complemented with policies that demand transparency and accountability, the mayor’s response does not go nearly far enough.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania agrees with our allies at Lancaster Stands Up, a local grassroots community group, in its three demands that the officers involved are suspended immediately, the police and the city participate in a community meeting to address residents’ concerns about excessive force by city officers, and the city create a citizen-police review board. Anything short of this will send the exact wrong message. Police officers in Lancaster need to know that they will be held accountable when they brutalize the city’s residents.

This kind of treatment by law enforcement officers is nothing new for Black and brown people. Yet, people of privilege who are not subject to this kind of harassment and violence tend to believe us only when it’s captured on video. Until that changes, the best tool for police accountability is the smartphone in your pocket.

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Dr. Timothy Leary

Look at the photograph above. The ACLU is showing pictures of cops buttocks again. What's with that ?


How can they dehumanize cops if they show their faces?


Mr Williams said that it wasn't because he was black. Don't you respect Me Williams enough to let him speak for himself? Why are you hijacking his story and changing it to suit your purpose?


Thank you for the title and use of the word 'some' police. They don't all do it, and it doesn't always happen even to black people. Also, when I went on ride-along with police I met black people who were criminals. CONTRARY to what almost all DEMOCRATS believe, it's actually POSSIBLE for a poor person to be a criminal too.
People in my family were police and now I have a boyfriend who works in Law Enforcement. He works in Germany (he's fully German) but it's still law enforcement and the treatment by police there is harsher thabn here, especially if you're an 'Auslander,' foreigner who doesn't know the language. I was attacked 3 times in Germany because of TRUMP'S policies and met several police who disliked ME. You think it's so bad in America? Go to Germany and let them know you're a foreigner. I can guarantee some of them act JUST as bad as Trump about it. They want you gone yesterday. And they put crimes committed by foreigners in a separate section of the public notices so that it looks like (to a native) that only foreigners are committing crimes. They don't publish the ones about German citizens doing it or it's harder to find. I was attacked 3 times for being American by 3 different GERMAN CITIZENS.


As an ex-Police Officer, Ex-Army, I was stationed in Germany and interfaced with the public and police. What you describe was not seen by me or my staff, not that such did not happen, just no different than at home in the U.S.

Anonymous Paramedic

The fact that The Taser Company has lied and continues to lie with impunity about the dangers of a Taser on the human body is no help at all.
I told one of the officers about electricity being sent through the body and its effects, and his big dope of an ass said "Then they shouldn't do something to get Tasered."
I decided against divulging the point he had missed which, if it were a snake, would have bitten him on the nose.


This police behavior has to finally change. It is ingrained in them. They must change and be accountable for their miss actions

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