Posted Sept. 9, 2008 – Life can be shocking if you’re Black and live in Houston. A new study released Monday revealed that Houston Police officers have used their Tasers on African-American suspects more than any other group of people.
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More than two-thirds of the 1,417 people stunned with the 50,000-volt device have been Blacks, even though they represent only a fourth of Houston’s population, according to the audit, requested by Mayor Bill White two years ago.
At the time, several Taser-related incidents – including the zapping of Houston NFL lineman Fred Weary at a traffic stop and another involving several musicians and concertgoers at a local club – had made the headlines. The police department contends that race has nothing to do with the incredible disparity.
"It's not a racial issue. A Taser device is no different from a radar gun. It's race neutral," Executive Assistant Police Chief Charles McClelland said after the Houston City Council meeting where the report was released.
In a section of the 175-page report, officers sum up the racial gap with comments like, "The crime rate is higher in the African American race," and "The African American culture is more aggressive. The suspects have more attitude and are more combative."
But in addition to the fact that Blacks are more likely to get jolted, the study found that Black officers are far less likely than White officers to use their Tasers on Black suspects.
"We have to spend more time in determining why these racial and ethnic differences exist," City Controller Annise Parker, whose office put the audit together, told The Associated Press. "Simply ignoring them or saying they are not significant is not going to make them go away."
The southwest regional director of the Nation of Islam says he isn’t so sure that race is not a factor in who gets jolted.
"Can we say it's racism? Yes, and some people would argue no," said Muhammad, who is based in Houston. "The greater argument is abuse of authority. We give them authority to protect us. But instead of using that authority to protect us, they abuse us with it."