More black people than white die in police encounters involving tasers: report

More black people than white die in police encounters involving tasers: report

People killed by police use of stun guns are disproportionately African American, a Reuters analysis of fatalities through 2018 found.

The news service analyzed 1,081 cases in which people died after police shocked them with a stun gun, the majority occurring after 2000, when the weapon came into widespread usage by police departments. The analysis found that the plurality of deaths — at least 32 percent — were African American, compared to at least 29 percent white. African Americans comprise about 14 percent of the U.S. population.

Thirteen percent of deaths were listed as involving Hispanic people but did not list race, while another 26 percent listed neither race nor ethnicity, according to Reuters.

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“These racial disparities in Taser deaths are horrifying but unsurprising,” Carl Takei, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the news service. “Police violence is a leading cause of death for black people in America, in large part because over-policing of black and brown communities results in unnecessary police contacts and unnecessary use of force.”

While stun guns have frequently been promoted as a nonlethal method of subduing suspects, officers are reportedly often not properly trained on their use. About 94 percent, or just under 17,000, of the nation’s 18,000 police departments issue stun guns.

“This is a dangerous weapon,” Michael Leonesio, a retired police officer who oversaw the Oakland, Calif., Police Department’s Taser program and who has served as an expert witness in lawsuits against Taser manufacturer Axon, told Reuters. “The more it’s used, the more people are going to die.”

Axon, meanwhile, defended its products as safer than batons, fists or impact munitions like rubber bullets.

“Any loss of life is a tragedy regardless of the circumstance, which is why we remain committed to developing technology and training to protect both officers and the community,” the company said in an email to Reuters.

The analysis comes after the death of Rayshard Brooks, a black man whom Atlanta police attempted to arrest in a Wendy’s parking lot on suspicion of driving under the influence. Police said Brooks grabbed an officer’s stun gun and fled, with footage of the incident appearing to show Brooks turning with the weapon before an officer fatally shoots him. A lawyer for Brooks’s family has noted that police frequently argue in court that stun guns are nonlethal weapons, which he said suggests the officer’s life was not in danger.