Many St. Louisans may remember when former television anchor Larry Connors allowed himself to be tased during sweeps week:
It was funny because he’s an idiot, but the use of tasers as a”non-lethal” weapon is no laughing matter.
Originally titled Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, ergo TASER, this excellent documentary is an expose of Taser International, the company that has flooded American law enforcement with tasers.
The programmer of the True/False documentary film festival, Chris Boeckmann, offered this succint summary of the movie’s background in a recent interview he conducted with first-time director Nick Bernadini:
In August 2008, a police officer fired a taser at Stanley Harlan, a 23-year-old Moberly resident, who lost consciousness and was pronounced dead two hours later. Then an MU broadcast journalism student working at KOMU (underneath current Murray Center director Stacey Woelfel), Berardini reported on the incident. Shortly thereafter, he started production on the documentary, which took him all across the continent. Berardini learned extensive details about similar cases, acquired many hours of archival material (including deposition footage of TASER co-founders Rick and Tom Smith) and, crucially, secured an interview with TASER International Vice President Steve Tuttle, a peculiar and fascinating spokesman whose performance serves as the film’s backbone.
TASERS are not the non-lethal alternative to guns that the public has been led to believe. They are responsible for an increasing number of deaths at the hands of law enforcement, a development that has had to cede the spotlight to more egregious problems between the public and law enforcement that have also had lethal consequences.
This movie is not easy to watch, but that doesn’t mean the squeamish should avoid it. The violence is tastefully presented, and the focus is on the weapon’s sole manufacturer, TASER International. The sibling founders, their counsel, and executives squirm as they try to justify their product as they are presented with evidence that threatens their fat bottom line.
I spoke with Nick the other day, and he explained to me why the military doesn’t use TASERS, why they have not been adopted by law enforcement in other First World countries, and most chillingly, how retired and off-duty policemen are exploited as shills by TASER International.
TASERS changed how law enforcement is practiced in the U.S. long before the events in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. The term “usage creep” describes how encounters with the police now escalate into violence much more quickly. TASERS offer police great temptation to exercise their authority with a false sense of safety.
Bernadini has spent six years crafting this compelling film and in the process has become more of an expert on his subject than any director I’ve met.
Do not miss the opportunity to hear him speak at tonight’s screening.
U.S., 2015, 94 min.
Saturday, November 7th, 2015 at Webster Univeristy Moore Auditorium at 6:30 pm.
With director Berardini and editor Robert Greene.