36 Views of Mostafa Tabatabainejad Being Tasered

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.

Hilarity ensued.

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.

6 Responses to “36 Views of Mostafa Tabatabainejad Being Tasered”

  1. bgiltner Says:

    While I find your post above about this event engaging, I believe that in your efforts to “humanize” the analysis, you have completely ignored two extremely significant systemic failures.

    1. Press Accuracy and Responsibility

    If one reviews the press accounts of this, one sees examples of extremely biased and inept reporting. In the case of the AP, perhaps this is Standard Operating Procedure.

    Even the first and second accounts in the Daily Burin show a lack of full engagement of the relevant issues. Particularly in the AP account ( Cop uses stun gun on student who won’t show ID), as shown at CNN provides a clear shallowness and minimization of the egregious nature of behavior of the officers of the law.

    2. Taser Use Policy and Application

    I would submit that the officers behavior represented a failure on two levels:

    a) When force is called for

    b) Given an evaluation that force is appropriate, the specific use of the Taser

    The following article (Taser’s effects fueling concern) provides discussion of the b).

  2. treehugger Says:

    I don’t understand why those cops just couldn’t drag his ass outside without the repeated tasering? They clearly had the man outnumbered. And it looks like during the first tasering they were yelling at him to get up, which is kind of strange, because I know for a fact that while you are being tasered your nervous system shuts down.

  3. jbc Says:

    Actually, broadly speaking, I agree with both of the above comments.

    Yeah, the AP story presents an interesting subset of the facts of the incident, and the standard news-y presentation of the bare facts, along with the highlighting of official spokespersons’ statements, certainly creates a very different impression of what happened than you get from watching the video. And the story of Amnesty International’s campaign against casual Taser use is likewise interesting and noteworthy.

    And yeah, the cops should have just dragged him outside. I guess I didn’t say that explicitly, but that’s my view, too.

    This incident really cries out for a nonviolent response. If I were still a student at UCLA, I would be tempted to express my unhappiness with this event in the following way:

    1. At 11:00 p.m., I would gather with like-minded students in Powell Library.

    2. I would sit down in the lobby.

    3. When asked by the CSO to produce my student ID, or when asked by a CSO or UC police officer to leave, I would hand them the following note:

    I am protesting the excessive use of force against Mostafa Tabatabainejad. I want the police officers who abused him to apologize for their actions.

    I will not give you my student ID. I will not leave the library voluntarily. I will not stand up.

    I will not resist you. I will not harm you or anyone else, but neither will I cooperate. If you want me to leave, you will have to carry me out.

    You can shock me with a Taser. You can put pepper spray in my eyes. You can hit me with a baton. You can shoot me with a gun. And when you have finished performing those actions, actions that, in my view, constitute excessive force, and violate my rights as a human being in the same way that Mostafa Tabatabainejad’s rights were violated, you still will have to carry me out.

    Because I will not stand up.

    [Me again.]

    As I say, I’d be tempted to do that. As a CSO, engaging in such an action would almost certainly mean the loss of my job, so I’m not sure that I would actually have done that. But I would have wanted to.

  4. enkidu Says:

    I can’t say how it started, wasn’t there myself etc etc. But it sure seemed like abuse to me when the cop (ooops sorry police officer or is it peace officer now? ;-) yells at the handcuffed prostrate student “Get up! Get up!” (perhaps a pair of heartbeats go by while the student screams in pain) ZZZZAAAAPP!!!

    Or when the two officers are walking him thru the door and the sadist zaps him again (he nearly does a backflip – I nearly threw up).

    Sounds like torture to me. What is that you say? Sadist is too strong a word?

    I hope this kid sues em for millions. And that cop never works again (hopefully he’ll be Raptured up ASAP!)

    There indeed is your Patriot Act, your abuse of power. Welcome to shrub’s Duhmerkkkuh! Two more years to go.

  5. vossoug Says:

    You know the man in question is not muslim right? Just thought I’d share that tidbit of info.

  6. ed Says:

    My take on this story, in song-form, is posted on my myspace page. It’s called The Tubes Are Full. I hope you will listen and enjoy.

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