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As the San Francisco Police Department pushes to bring Tasers into its arsenal, many of the residents interviewed in the city’s Southern police district, which runs from the South of Market area to the bay, remain opposed.
Although the San Francisco Police Commission has rejected Tasers for more than a decade, a Justice Department report last year advised the city to “strongly consider deploying” the weapon. The report came after a series of police shootings triggered a federal review of the SFPD.
“Generally speaking, they try to exploit the deaths of people from officer-involved shootings to push for Tasers,” said Miller, 37. “And continually over the years the relatives of those people have opposed Tasers.”
Miller is a member of the Idriss Stelley Foundation, a nonprofit created in honor of Idriss Stelley, a 23-year-old African American shot and killed at the Sony Metreon movie theater in 2001.
From his point of view, Miller said, the SFPD wants to implement Tasers to reduce injuries to officers.
Police Chief William Scott, the former deputy police chief at the Los Angeles Police Department, where Tasers are used, wants to see them adopted in San Francisco.
A Taser, or conducted electrical weapon, fires dart-like electrodes that deliver electric current to the body, causing incapacitation and involuntary muscle contraction.
In interviews in the Southern police district, home to some 24,000 residents and the city’s second-largest black population, people raised questions about the safety of Tasers, the use of force against minority communities and wondered if the SFPD would be better off focusing on de-escalation.
Joshua Slice, 33, described police who have Tasers as being militarized and said he feared the physical effects of using the weapon.
“I’ve witnessed in my time living in San Francisco a lot of people of color especially being killed by gunfire and I’ve also heard of people getting brain-damaged and maimed by Tasers,” he said.
A study by Drexel University in Pennsylvania and Arizona State University published in 2015 showed that the burst of electricity from a stun gun can impair a person’s ability to remember and process information.
Slice, a member of the San Francisco chapter of the hip-hop group Universal Zulu Nation, said introducing Tasers would only benefit the weapon’s manufacturer, Axon.
“I don’t see where they are going with this,” he said of the Police Commission’s attempt to approve the use of the weapon. “It’s the same. It’s not changing anything. It’s just gonna make things worse and it just puts money into the Taser corporation.”
Estimates on how much it will cost to outfit and train an officer with a Taser have ranged from $8,000 to $10,000, according to experts.
Homeless activist Sarah Menefee, who has been living in San Francisco since 1978, believes the use of the weapon is a form of torture.
A recent review of fatalities and litigation involving police use of stun guns by Reuters found that more than 150 autopsy reports citing Tasers as a cause or contributor to deaths across the United States.
What the people of San Francisco want to see, Menefee said, is better police training and less police murders, “not just another deadly torture weapon in their hands.”
Menefee, who works with First They Came for the Homeless, an advocacy group for the homeless, said her population was particularly vulnerable.
“So any new weapon, any new torture weapon in the hands of the police we understand also is going to be used disproportionately against poor and homeless people,” she said.
Dayton Andrews, a 24-year-old human-rights organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, said it was more important to reduce the intensity of conflict or potentially violent situations.
“People are being tased when they should be de-escalated, when they should be spoken to,” he said.
The Police Commission has held two community input meetings on the proposed use of Tasers this month. It is expected to vote on the issue later this year.