Monday, August 06, 2007


An uproar over police use of Tasers continues in Brattleboro, Vermont, where a protest is being planned for Tuesday.

The two people tasered were Jonathan "Slug" Crowell and Samantha Kilmurray. They were part of a small group of people who "occupied" a vacant lot on Putney Road where a bowling alley used to stand, planting shrubs, flowers and even a tree.

The owner of the land, who also owns a gas station next door, has said he would like to expand the gas station to allow for more diesel pumps and truck parking. The protesters were removed at his request. "I didn't start this," said Jim Robertson, who owns the land. "Obviously it was their intention to have a confrontation."

But many in a town known for being a place that's tolerant and liberal-minded have been outraged.

With no danger to officers or the public, "why Taser anybody?" asked Brattleboro resident Gerry Benjamin.

"I can't conceive of why we would have to Taser peaceful protesters," George Reed-Savory of Brattleboro told the local paper, The Reformer, adding the police department should develop policies that insure it never happens again.

A spokesman for Amnesty International USA, which has called for a moratorium on the use of Tasers, said he was surprised non-violent protesters were stunned in, of all places, Brattleboro, Vermont.

"Here are these people practicing civil disobedience," said Joshua Rubenstein, the Northeast regional director for Amnesty International USA, based in Somerville, Mass. "There's no threat to anyone's life or liberty. No threat of injury. It's an outrageous use of force."

When Tasers were first introduces, said Rubenstein, "the public was told this was an alternative to lethal force."

But he said across the country, Tasers are being used "simply to get someone to comply with a police order" when there is not threat of violence "and certainly no need to use lethal force."

"We believe police are not properly trained," he said, and they often use Tasers as "a quick solution" and not as a last resort.

More than 70 people have died in the last three years in Taser-related incidents, according to Amnesty International USA.

"It has been used by police around the country in inappropriate circumstances," said Rubenstein.

On top of all this, A volunteer emergency medical technician, Raven Burchard, who spoke out at a Selectboard meeting against police use of Tasers on nonviolent protesters was suspended pending an investigation.

Said David Dunn, executive director of the emergency ambulance service, "Raven has been suspended from the organization pending investigation of his actions in a Rescue Inc. uniform in front of the Selectboard. He was not authorized to be speaking on behalf of the agency."

Meanwhile, Brattleboro police have been told to suspend their use of Taser stun guns while town officials review the department's policy on their use.

The following story is from the Brattleboro Reformer (Vermont).

Taser protest planned for Tuesday

A group of area residents is planning to take to the streets Tuesday to protest the use of Tasers on a pair of nonviolent protesters.

Starting at noon, they will gather at Wells Fountain in downtown Brattleboro before walking around the Municipal Center, past the post office and back up to the fountain. If time permits, the marchers will then repeat their circle.

The organizer of the event, Leo Schiff, called the march a "moving picket."

"The people who supervise the police are the Selectboard and they need to know how people in town feel," he said.

On July 24, while protesting the possible development of a vacant lot on Putney Road, Jonathan Crowell and Samantha Kilmurray, of West Dummerston, were stunned with Tasers by Brattleboro police after they refused to leave the property. They were cited for trespassing.

"I was appalled at the police use of excessive force on peaceful protesters," said Schiff, who said he has been involved in nonviolent protest "for many years."

Schiff, who said Taser use does have a place in the Brattleboro Police Department's arsenal to subdue people who may be violent, feels "there are clearly some training issues with the local police department," adding "and I think there are leadership issues with the department as well."

The march is an opportunity for those who feel the police action was inappropriate to get together and continue the dialogue on the use of Tasers in Brattleboro.

Crowell said it would also give people an opportunity to meet him and Kilmurray and realize "we are human beings who are thoughtful," adding "it's a chance for people to stand up against violence to human beings in our community."

Schiff is asking marchers to bring signs and noise makers but also urged them to be respectful.

"All participants in the demonstration must adhere to a strict code of nonviolence of action, attitude and speech toward persons and property," wrote Schiff, in an e-mail announcing the march.

In his e-mail, Schiff said the march is planned for Aug. 7, because the Selectboard will be holding a regular meeting that night.

"I am hoping that our demonstration will help push the Selectboard to hold the police and Chief John Martin accountable for the indefensible use of Tasers against our comrades Slug and Sam," wrote Schiff.

An open air meeting permit from the town is required before a group of people can hold a protest. There is no cost for the permit, but it must be reviewed by the police department. In this case, the Brattleboro Police Department approved the permit on the condition that all marchers follow Vermont and town law and don't impede vehicle or pedestrian traffic.

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