Unless you have been living under a rock for the past two weeks, you’ve heard about the UC Los Angeles student Mostafa Tabatabainejad, who was shot with a Taser by UCLA police on Nov. 14. Chances are that you have also seen the famous video of the incident taken with a student’s camera phone.
You may have even gone one step further and left a comment about the video stating your opinion. If you did, you joined the hundreds of students participating in fierce debates online, mainly through popular Web sites such as YouTube and Facebook. The former site, for the most part, contained viewpoints directly related to the video’s content, while the latter included several groups dedicated to arguing the issue of the police’s actions in general.
Though reading through all the comments on either of these Web sites is next to impossible, I was able to read enough to determine what these students were most concerned about.
Upon viewing the video for the first time, I would assume that anybody would be at least slightly alarmed by the effect of the Taser on the man. My first reaction was questioning why this handcuffed, defenseless and apparently non-violent student was being treated so harshly.
Several other students seemed to have the same question. Many wondered why four policemen could not simply drag out ‘skinny’ Tabatabainejad, instead of resorting to such ‘brutal measures.’
Even a police officer stated on a Web site that the UCLA police officers’ actions were completely uncalled for, and physical contact or force should not have been used if the student was passively resisting.
Other students argued the effects of the multiple shocks delivered and whether or not Tabatabainejad would have been able to physically comply with the officers’ consistent demands to stand. Some even went so far as to list the precise number of seconds between each shock and compare it to the amount of time it takes for one to recover after being Tasered.
No one but Tabatabainejad knows whether or not he could have easily obeyed the officers’ orders after being shocked, but I agree the officers should not have used the Taser on him that many times, or at all for that matter.
Not only did these policemen use the Taser on Tabatabainejad, but according to several witnesses, they threatened to use it on students in the crowd who requested the officers’ badge numbers. Even if what was done to Tabatabainejad was acceptable because of his resistance, there is no law that gives the police the right to threaten innocent bystanders, especially since they were simply requesting information.
Some have said that the questioning was preventing the officers from enforcing the law against Tabatabainejad. However, one student said that he had asked for the number after Tabatabainejad had been taken away, and was still threatened.
The UC Police Department’s response to the incident primarily said that Tabatabainejad was encouraging other students to join in his resistance, although many argue that that wasn’t true, according to what they saw in the video. In order to avoid a larger crowd, the statement says it was necessary to get Tabatabainejad out of the building. However, using a Taser, which is bound to elicit painful screams, is not the most subtle way of removing a person from the area.
According to Tabatabainejad’s lawyer in a video interview on YouTube, Tabatabainejad believed himself to be a victim of racial profiling, which is why he resisted when the officers grabbed his arm. The Iranian student felt he was being singled out because of his Middle Eastern appearance. From what I have read, most people seem uncomfortable playing the race card, and prefer to focus more on what was done to this particular student rather than why.
Tabatabainejad’s actions and words were a little extreme, and may have aggravated the situation; he could have made his opinions clear in another way. However, race should not be completely set aside as a possible factor because, believe it or not, racism and prejudice still exist, a fact most recently displayed by Michael Richards’ infamous racial outburst.
Of course, there are several different issues and viewpoints that exist, half of which could never be completely settled by simply viewing the video, which we can all agree is not the most professional bit of camerawork and does not cover the entire incident.
However, several visitors to the sites which debate these topics seem certain that their opinions are ultimately correct. Some have even gone so far to show their support for the victim that they have created T-shirts with Tabatabainejad’s now well-known declaration: ‘Here’s your PATRIOT Act! Here’s your fucking abuse of power!’ And although I may not agree with the police’s actions, I don’t think I will be buying one of these shirts, either.
Anam Siddiq is a first-year literary journalism major.
Filed Under: Opinion