Cult of Compliance – You Need To Calm Down Before I Tase You

Yesterday, I talked about Donald Ivy, a man with psychiatric disability, who was tased to death in Albany. Today, it’s Elijah Roberts. He wasn’t tased, but the threats used against him reveal a lot about why Donald Ivy is dead. Here’s the story, also from Albany. My emphasis.

When she called police because her 22-year-old son, Elijah, had become agitated during a holiday dinner, Neketa Roberts of Albany explained that he suffered from mental illness.
Despite the advance notice, police didn’t handle the situation well, according to her account.
“One of the officers told my son, ‘You need to calm down before I Tase you,’ ” Roberts said, referring to the use of a Taser, a brand of stun gun.
Roberts and her family told the cop he was out of line. Luckily, her son — who is 5 feet 9, 215 pounds, strong and sometimes difficult to control — was able to regain his composure. But the police officer’s approach may well have exacerbated the young man’s anxiety instead. The officer later told Roberts that he used the Taser threat “as a scare tactic” to get her son to obey him.

So we have an officer facing a man in mental health crisis, a man with known psychological and developmental disabilities. The officer’s plan – verbally threaten to tase him until he calmed down.

And if he didn’t calm down, what then? Does he tase him? If that enrages rather than sedates him (as is often the case with people in mental health crisis, as they process stimuli in distinct ways), what then?

This is how police encounters with people with disabilities so quickly escalate – there’s the demand for compliance for someone who may well not be able to comply, or not comply quickly or in a typical fashion, and violence follows. Roberts, luckily, escaped that fate for now. But what about next time?

“Calm down before I Tase you.”

It’s a step on the way to Donald Ivy, Lavall Hall, and so many others.


Louis Hayes, police use-of-force trainer and frequent commentator here, on Twitter, and someone I go to for his expertise, submits this comment. Note, he’s not saying that the threat was necessarily positive in this way, only that devoid of context, we don’t know. Here’s what he wrote:

For a moment, consider the following monologue:

….Hey buddy. How you doin’? My name is Lou. I’m with the police department. Your mom called us because she’s worried about you. I’m worried too. I’m a crisis cop…which means I help people who are mad, angry, sad, upset. I have a lot of experience with what you’re feeling today. I see you’re awfully upset and worked up. We need to make sure everyone stays safe here, OK? I don’t want your passion and emotion to be confused as a threat or danger. Some policemen might take your loud tone as being aggressive….not me. I’m here to listen and let you vent your feelings. It’s unfortunate that the police had to be called. We have a lot of tools here to keep us safe, so we can help you. We need to be calm and talk through this. Maybe you see a lot of videos on television. That’s not me. They’re not you. But if you get aggressive towards us here, I’ll be forced to tackle you or use my Taser. That would not be good. You need to calm down before I Tase you. In the meantime, you stay there and I’ll stay back here. We talk. We find out together how we can get you help. I really like helping people. I’m going to give you a lot of my time today…..

What does family hear? I’m going to Tase you. At which point, an officer might think….”geez I should have rephrased that.”

The context, tone, volume, body language, proximity is completely missing when a single quote is used to formulate or propagate one’s agenda. 

Thanks Lou. We need to question narratives, whether journalistic or official police ones (as I said yesterday). This is a good reminder.

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