Out west, tasering petrol sniffers isn’t an issue
The reputation of Western Australia as a frontier state received another unwelcome boost today with revelations that an Aboriginal man was set on fire after being shot with a taser gun while sniffing petrol.
At issue is whether the taser gun started the fire, or whether the man, who was violent and threatening to set himself and the police alight, started it inadvertently with his cigarette lighter.
But even before the case is investigated, it’s been declared case closed by the state’s top cop.
The 36-year-old man is in a critical condition in the burns unit at Royal Perth Hospital. And the state’s Police Commissioner, Karl O’Callaghan, is remarkably laid back about it all, saying the man had a history of violent offences, and that being tasered is still preferable to being shot, apparently even if the tasering can result in life-threatening third-degree burns.
I know nothing about Mr O’Callaghan but on the basis of his comments today he sounds a bit like WA’s own Daryl Gates, the hard-headed LAPD Commissioner during the Rodney King bashing which precipitated the 1992 LA riots.
And given WA’s recent shame, where a black man was left to die like a dog in the desert locked inside a correctional services van, the wallopers have done nothing to scotch the state’s reputation as the land civil liberties forgot.
I don’t say that as a knee-jerk civil libertarian either. I’ve been kind of ambivalent on the use of taser guns. One of my colleagues, Rhett Watson, was tasered this week, and lived to tell the tale.
But the alarming aspect of this WA case is the ambivalence on the part of the state’s top cop as to whether this man’s burns were caused by the taser gun or not, and his determination to prejudge and possibly influence an internal police investigation into the incident.
This is despite the bland admission by Commissioner O’Callaghan reported on the SMH that “police are advised that they should, where possible, avoid using them in circumstances where there’s flammable liquid.”
Well, whoops-a-daisy.But let’s not go over-reacting…
“I will be changing no policies in the WA Police in regard to Taser usage and I support what the police officers did in this instance,” Mr O’Callaghan said.
“Police officers will continue to have Tasers in WA. I intend to make no changes to the deployment or the standard operating procedures in WA at this point.”
There you have it - case closed.
If the guy who’s in charge of law enforcement in WA doesn’t think it’s an issue, maybe the state’s politicians should have a proper look at it.
Only the most flint-hearted viewer could have set through the jaw-dropping Four Corners documentary back in June about the death of an Aboriginal elder known only as Mr Ward while locked in a prison van.
The shoulder-shrugging over this latest case suggests a pattern of white indifference, or worse.
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