Shock Therapy

By staff September 19, 2007

Of local law enforcement and the UF taser incident.


By Hannah Wallace


I’ve been putting together a massive story about drinking and driving (be sure to look for it in our November issue), and I was planning on writing a blog highlighting some of the experiences I had while researching DUIs that didn’t fit into the story—the odd combination of awe, intimidation, pride and pity I felt behind-the-scenes at a sobriety checkpoint; my own (and my friends’) experiences with sobriety checkpoints and DUIs; the sheer joy of putting the receipt for a gallon of wine and a six-pack of beer on an expense report and sending it to our parent company in Malibu.


One of the more interesting perspectives that didn’t make it into the story was law enforcement PR. The topic came up when I talked with Sgt. Darrell Seckendorff of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department during my visit to a checkpoint: He said that PR was a significant aspect of checkpoints—that even as they’re getting a few people off the streets, 400 or so others have a positive experience. The officers are friendly—even jovial—and for many people, it’s the only interaction they have with police or sheriff’s deputies. Every other impression they get comes from television.


But more generally, my dealings with various law enforcement media offices over the phone or in person were…really pleasant. And, since I’m a relative peon for a local publication, it’s not guaranteed that anybody is going to be particularly helpful when I’m trying to do my job. But the local law enforcement people were top-notch, and the cynical side of me guesses that that’s because PR is pretty damn important when your responsibility is keeping the peace.


Of course, this is timely after yesterday, when that UF kid got police-administered shock therapy for mouthing off, and now everyone is talking about it.


I haven’t researched this or done anything beyond watching the video. To me, it’s one of those semi-remarkable occurrences that word-of-mouth snowballed its way into the national news, a non-story. But then, if that’s what everybody’s talking about, it’s a story—whether or not it originally deserved that status.


Of course, excessive force is a serious topic, and one that deserves careful examination and public review and discussion. I just don’t think this event is a great springboard for that kind of discussion (and let’s face it, I’ll bet a lot of people watched that video just to see someone get tasered). Ostensibly, the question is, should the taser have been used? Meh. On the one hand, six (or more) against one seems like an easy equation without appliances coming into the picture. On the other hand, you don’t get to fight with the police; it’s not supposed to take six of them to get your ass out of the building. I think that’s a fair summary of the issue here. When you start asking questions about police behavior, it’s too complicated an issue for me to join either the Hatfields or the McCoys. Too many things factor in.


Personally, I think the kid was a snot. If I’d been John Kerry, I would’ve hopped off the stage and kicked that brat in the jaw myself. But then, that’s why I’ll never be a politician. Or a police officer.


What’s bothering me, I guess, is that some news providers are carrying their obligation for objectivity so far as to give that kid too fair a shake. It’s like, once people have decided it that this is a legitimate “free speech versus police brutality” situation, everyone has to emphasize that dichotomy by pretending that tasering is on par with opening fire and that the kid wasn’t on a flat-out crazy-man-on-the-sidewalk kind of rant. And he wasn’t on the sidewalk; he was in someone else’s building. Voicing an opinion? Free speech. Shouting non-stop? Noise pollution. It’s seems like a bit of a stretch for a newspaper to present this as a clear-cut, even-sided public debate. (Credit the Capitolist David Higgins for first bringing the idea of over-objective reporting to my mind.)


On the other hand, I also got pissy watching cable news anchors do the opposite by weaving moral indignation into half-assed journalism. Then again, I don’t watch cable news all that often precisely because I assume they do that all the time.


Did he deserve the taser? I really can’t decide. I’m an expert fence-sitter (though I prefer the term “pragmatist”).  Surely everyone has an opinion—and there are plenty of ways to dice this story into a million tiny debatable issues. But maybe we shouldn’t let it distract us so much.


…says the girl who just devoted an entire blog to the topic. Dammit.
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