You’ve probably already seen the 6-minute video of UCLA student Mostafa Tabatabainejad being repeatedly tasered by the campus police. If you haven’t, it’s definitely worth checking out on YouTube: UCLA student gets Tazered. It’s also worth reading some of the details about the incident from the Daily Bruin: Community responds to Taser use in Powell.
If you want polarized interpretations by people who always know what to think without bothering to actually think first, check out Michelle Malkin: Screaming UCLA student tasered, and then maybe follow that up with jumpingfish: He had an ethnic name.
A few things I find noteworthy about the video:
- We don’t see the beginning of the incident. Despite the proliferation of video-capable cameraphones, this seems likely to remain an impediment to ubiquitous public oversight of random cop/perp interactions, at least until we get always-on personal video surveillance.
- As compelling as the central action is, I find myself getting caught up in the crowd reaction. I especially like the point after the third (by my count) tasing, when the onlookers’ collective sense of outrage suddenly crosses a threshold, and there’s this surge forward, almost despite the inclinations of the individual observers.
- Part of the reason for my being distracted by the crowd dynamic is that the person filming this was a bad director. Please, can we get someone from the film school to record the next incident? At least the audio is pretty compelling. My vote for best dialog isn’t Tabatabainejad’s “Here’s your Patriot Act! Here’s your fucking abuse of power!” (though that’s certainly worth an honorable mention). Nor is it the officers telling him calmly, repeatedly to “Stand up… stand up or you’ll get tased again.” No, I think the most-significant dialog is the part at the end of the video, when one of the officers, letting his guard down now that Tabatabainejad has been carried from the building, indulges in the following response to one of the angry onlookers: “Get back upstairs or you’ll get tased too.”
There’s an interesting emotional overlay for me in watching this video, because I attended UCLA for a number of years, and during that time I worked in the Community Service Officer (CSO) program. It was a CSO who started this incident, in a sense, by asking Tabatabainejad for his ID, and then using his radio to call the campus police when he refused to produce it. I’m not sure, but I assume that’s the CSO in question, in the final part of the video, after Tabatabainejad has been carried out of the building; you can recognize him by the blue jacket he’s wearing, with the big gold rectangle on the back with “Community Service Officer” inside it. Those are the same jackets we wore back in the day.
I worked as a CSO at UC Irvine during my freshman year in college, then continued to do so at UCLA during my four years there, ending with my graduation in 1985. During a couple of those years I was in charge of the CSO program’s hiring and training operation. I also spent a lot of graveyard shifts patrolling the UCLA Medical Center, where I had the closest thing I ever experienced to the incident shown in this video. In my case, a person who’d been signed in on a 72-hour hold (for drugs? or general danger-to-himself-or-others behavior? I never found out), decided to rip out his IV needle and walk off the ward he was on, and as luck would have it, came walking down the corridor I was in shortly after the call went out over the radio to be on the lookout for him.
Anyway, I certainly came away from that incident with a newfound appreciation for the men and women of the UCLA Police Department. And I watch this video with a certain sympathy for the officers, as they proceed to repeatedly zap Tabatabainejad.
The video notwithstanding, I wasn’t there. I think the reality of the situation is probably more complicated than jumpingfish would have it, and I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated than Michelle Malkin would have it. But I also think the video makes it pretty clear what the officers’ attitude was, which was: we are going to keep inflicting severe pain on you until you do what we tell you to do. It’s not about our safety. It’s about us imposing our will. It’s about us making you walk out of here under your own power, so we don’t have to carry you. It’s about us being in charge, and dishing out punishment until you decide to stop being obnoxious. And I know that’s a pretty standard part of the cop mindset, but yeah, I think Tabatabainejad has a point: I think that sort of attitude has been more openly displayed since 9/11, and I’m pretty sure if I were a Muslim male being treated this way, I’d interpret it through the same political filter he did. And in the final analysis, I think what the cops did went beyond the role that the police, ideally, are supposed to play.
At the same time, I sympathize with the cops. The one thing that working as a CSO definitely taught me is that police officers aren’t necessarily villains, and they’re not necessarily heroes. They’re just people, with the same emotions and decision-making apparatus as the rest of us.
Well, and guns. And tasers. And a job description that includes going into whatever ridiculous, complicated, dangerous situations happen to arise, and figuring out in realtime how to fix them, so the rest of us can go about our happy little oblivious lives.
As a practical matter, there’s going to be some sloppiness in that process. That’s unfortunate, but it’s also reality.