Were Tasers at Fault in the Death of Rayshard Brooks?

Surveillance camera footage shows one of the officers letting go of Rayshard Brooks in order to get out his Taser.Atlanta Police Department

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This is, obviously, not as important as the fact that a police officer shot and killed a fleeing man who was accused only of being drunk, but a reader emails to note something else in the video footage of the arrest of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. Brooks started to fight when officers tried to handcuff him, but it was two against one and the police had the upper hand. That is, they had the upper hand until one of them let go of Brooks so he could get to his Taser. At that point, it become one against one and Brooks began fighting to get hold of the Taser. Eventually he got free and began to run, firing the Taser as he ran. That’s when Officer Garrett Rolfe shot and killed him.

If not for the Taser, probably none of this would have happened. The two officers would have overpowered Brooks and eventually cuffed him, and that would have been that. So does this suggest that police departments should stop using Tasers? Not really. Here is the conclusion of a Department of Justice Report released under the Obama administration:

The study’s most significant finding is that, while results were not uniform across all agencies, the use of pep­per spray and CEDs [i.e., Taser-like devices] can significantly reduce injuries to suspects and the use of CEDs can decrease injuries to officers.

This is consistent with other research. On the whole, use of Tasers leads to fewer injuries to both suspects and officers.

There’s more to Taser use than this, of course, and obviously it played an outsize role in the Rayshard Brooks case. But it wasn’t the main role. The main role was played by a police officer who simply didn’t take human life seriously enough. It’s one thing to use deadly force when there’s a suspect shooting at you, but it’s quite another to use deadly force merely to avoid the (slim) possibility of being tased. Until that attitude changes, police killings like this one will never stop.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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