After the whole April Fool's debacle wrapped up, I had no intention of going back to Ethics Alarms. Why would I torture myself like that? And then, after a quick trigger finger after his site popped up while my browser was in autocomplete mode, I saw that the top story was about that kid who got tasered at the Phillies game for running on the field. The first clue that this would be a tour-de-force of wrongheaded thinking was in the title: "The Fan, The Taser and Respect for the Law."
After setting the scene, Marshall notes that
A tsunami of criticism is now crashing over the security officer, condemning the tasering of 17-year-old Steve Consalvi, sometimes in terms more appropriate to discussing Abu Ghraib. If I were Consalvi’s father, I would counsel him to immediately issue a statement taking full responsibility for the incident and absolving the officer.
It would have been fine if Marshall thought that the kid could use a lesson in responsible behavior. It is even fine – though overwrought – that he is critical of Colaslvi's parents for raising the kind of kid that would engage in foolish behavior. Unfortunately, because Marshall lacks any sense of proportion or decency, he doesn't mind that the lesson is delivered via a disabling jolt of electricity. In fact, Marshall goes on to give carte blanche to any cop to taser any fleeing suspect, regardless of whether the suspect proposes any risk to anyone. And, in a passage that I had to reread multiple times, he essentially laments the days when a cop could just shoot anyone who didn't stop on command. (He claims that they changed the rules for "good reasons" but then catalogs the negative consequences of forbidding cops from wantonly shooting people.)
While Marshall is very keyed in on what he thinks the ethical obligations of citizens are when dealing with the police (obey or face severe consequences) and he catalogs all of the threats that a fan on the field might pose. Alas, it was clear that none of them applied here. Colasvi was running around like an idiot, waving a towel and dodging for the sake of dodging. He never ran at a player, never tried to destroy property, never indicated that he was anything more than a goof. He posed no threat to anyone; the players stood around laughing at the spectacle, aware that they weren't at risk. At no point does Marshall consider the ethics of police behavior and their need to use force proportionate to the task at hand.
Do I need to catalog all of the ways in which police overreact? No, of course not, because Radley Balko covers that beat pretty well. But it is well-documented and it is sad to see that Marshall is yet another apologist for the use of excessive force.
I shouldn't be surprised, though, because it appears that Marshall only sees things in black and white and his standard for which side of the line something falls on is his own sense of propriety. Ethics, to him, doesn't lend itself to nuance, to circumstance, to moderation. Jean Valjean would not be amused. I can understand his dilemma, though. It sure is hard to teach a subject if you have to think deeply about it.
Consider me alarmed.
Last 5 posts by Charles
- Not All Layers of An Onion Are Equally Worth Peeling Back - February 26th, 2013
- Did someone mention consistency? - February 5th, 2013
- Is That A Mote In Your Dog's Eye? - April 17th, 2012
- Your Friday Afternoon Encourages You to Hang On - July 22nd, 2011
- Everyone Follows Instructions, Right? - June 30th, 2011