Imagine how different things might be right now if Michael Brown had been Tased, not shot.
Along with many others, I’ve often said a good documentary can make you care about something you previously weren’t interested in. That’s how the new Nick Berardini film Killing Them Safely was for me and Tasers: Prior to the film, I only had a foggy idea of how they worked and how often they came to be used (and under what circumstances), but now it’s a subject that holds considerable interest for me.
Of course, for the past year or so there has (rightly) been much discussion about police using excessive force, and the Taser appears a good remedy for that: It’s instantly debilitating, but is near-incomparably safer than shooting a potential threat with a gun. (Imagine how different things might be right now if Michael Brown had been Tased, not shot.) The first part of Killing Them Safely explores the Taser in this way, as a weapon police can use that is more effective than, say, mace, but, if a snap judgment is made incorrectly, not as potentially lethal as a gun.
Spoiler warning (funny to say that about a documentary, but I at least kind of mean it): Partway through Killing Them Safely, the film starts arguing against the use of the Taser, not for it, and both the pro and con sections of the film are pretty convincing. (Tasers should be more widely adopted! Wait, no—Tasers should all be tossed into a hole and buried forever!) The switch comes on the heels of more than 500 people dying after being shot by a Taser since it was introduced in the early 2000s, the most recognizable example of which to most St. Louisans will be the 2009 case in Moberly, Missouri, where Stanley Harlan was Tasered to death by the police as his mother watched and screamed, a case that is featured in the film.
This very serious movie could have been lightened up with discussion of the time a naked dude was shot with a Taser by the police after he was causing trouble on stage at a Girl Talk show at Wash U’s venue The Gargoyle circa 2007, but alas, that was not to be. Still, it’s hard to imagine a more thoughtful film on the debate on Tasers, to include how they work and how they tend to be used. And now’s a vital time to be having that conversation; it wouldn’t seem like Tasers would fit too cleanly into the current conversation re: excessive force and the militarization of the police, and yet, as Killing Them Safely depicts it, they do. | Pete Timmermann
Killing Them Safely shows at the Webster Film Series at 7:30 p.m. December 18-20. For more information, visit the Film Series website or call 314-968-7487.