Home secretary Suella Braverman is reportedly spending massive amounts of public money on a raft of new ‘sci-fi’ Tasers for the police. However, the upgrade isn’t going to come as a comfort to the loved ones of Zodoq Obatolah – a man who died after police Tasered him. His vigil was announced on 14 September, and the investigation into the police officers present at his death is still ongoing.
‘Digital sci-fi sound’
The Mirror reported on 16 September that Braverman has ordered new-model Tasers, by the name of ‘Taser 10’. The home secretary is set to spend up to £75m on the weapons. The government will then roll them out to police across England and Wales from March 2024.
In February, the Police Federation described the new Taser 10s as a “game changer”. It praised the model’s “new digital sci-fi sound” that is made when firing the Taser:
Think back to every sci-fi film you’ve watched and the sounds when the futuristic weapons are charged up and ready for use, and you are already getting close to what it sounds like.
News of Braverman’s £75m splurge came shortly after residents and Southwark Copwatch campaigners in Southwark, London, announced a vigil for Zodoq Obatolah. On 12 April, Metropolitan Police officers Tasered Obatolah in his fifth-floor flat in Rye Hill Park. As a result, he fell from his balcony and died. The Guardian said the IOPC is trying to trace the man’s family.
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— Southwark Copwatch (@CopwatchSthwrk) September 18, 2023
Obatolah had reportedly been “threatening to jump” at the time he was Tasered. It was allegedly the Tasering that resulted in his fall from the balcony. The Independent Office for Police Condict (IOPC) is still investigating the two officers involved for gross negligence manslaughter.
Black people are almost 8 times more likely to be tasered than white people.
As a result, the group is demanding “a complete ban on the use of tasers”.
Other high-profile incidents of police inappropriately using Tasers have also hit the headlines in recent times. The Canary reported in July on a video showing Met police shooting Black youth worker Edwin Afriyie with a Taser. In June 2022, police repeatedly Tasered Oladeji Omishore before he jumped into the Thames to try and escape. He died in hospital later that day.
In a 2021 IOPC report on tasers, the watchdog said:
the intersectionality of race and mental health can increase the risk of higher levels of use of force.
The Guardian added that:
The IOPC said that in almost a third of cases studied, chances may have been missed to de-escalate the situation. In a quarter of cases, Tasers were used for compliance despite official guidance to officers that they should not be used in this way.
Obatolah fit neatly into the race and mental health intersection that is disproportionally targeted by police officers with Tasers. However, he is far from the only person that exists at that crossroads.
When the Police Federation praised the Taser 10, it claimed that the weapons would make policing “safer for all involved” by facilitating more opportunities to de-escalate a situation. However, arming officers with ever-more-advanced weapons doesn’t seem the best way to make them more compassionate.
Spending tens of millions on new weapons for the police fits well with Braverman’s authoritarianism. It may even give police officers a greater sense of safety. But for people like Obatolah, it’s little more than a threat.
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