I remember when those “Baby On Board” car notices first came out. The original ones weren’t permanent stickers – they had suction cups, and were meant to be placed in the side windows nearest to the child safety seat. They were intended to notify emergency responders that there should be a baby in the car, in the event that others in the vehicle were rendered unable to communicate. They were intended to ensure that emergency responders would look for the baby.
Ah, but then somehow the meaning got perverted. People started sticking them in the rear window, and using them as a means of admonishing other drivers to be careful – after all – there’s a baby IN THIS CAR!! As if somehow it would be more tragic to injure or kill a baby than it would to injure or kill a human – someone’s child – of any other age. As if we don’t need to drive carefully if there are mere teens or adults in a car.
But the point I’m really getting at is that there was an original good idea, and it got perverted. And we do that a lot. With all sorts of good ideas. Sometimes, as with “Baby On Board” signs, it’s just annoying. Sometimes, there are life-and-death consequences.
When police were first issued tasers, the idea was that these were weapons of non-lethal force, and they could be used instead of lethal force — that instead of going for a gun, which might have lethal consequences, a taser, or another non-lethal weapon, such as pepper spray, might be used to subdue a suspect. That sounds like a great idea! I mean, wouldn’t it be great if instead of shooting people to subdue them, the authorities could have alternatives? Well, putting a Baby On Board sign in a window to let emergency responders know that there’s a baby in the car was a good idea, too.
But it doesn’t seem to be working this way. As police forces around the country have become more and more militarized, despite the availability of non-lethal force, 2015 was a record year for police shootings, with nearly 1,000! (Read more about that here). It seems that, instead of ramping down, the place are ramping up, and weapons such as tasers and pepper spray are now being used against people who do not need to be subdued at all. Perhaps you recall the pepper spray incident at the University of California Davis campus on November 18, 2011? University police sprayed pepper spray into the faces of students who were staging a peaceful protest on the campus. Adding insult to injury, one of the University police, Lt. John Pike, was awarded $38K in a disability settlement following the incident, while the 21 injured students got only $30K each (although the total settlement was over $1M). The report from the task force that investigated the incident found no authorization for the use of pepper spray on seated students.
Tasers have also been used on those who have already been restrained. There have been incidents of prisoners in custody and handcuffed who have been shocked by tasers. Further, tasers have been known to be lethal. Read more about the use of tasers here.
These non-lethal weapons have not become a substitute for lethal force. They’ve become more tools in the toolbox – a way to inflict pain and suffering sooner. And police are still going for the gun. More and more. And we keep giving the police bigger guns. Police departments have been buying up surplus military gear. SWAT teams, originally created to respond to several sniper incidents in the Los Angeles area, are now deployed most often to serve warrants on drug-related offenses. I’ll say that again – SWAT teams – that’s Special Weapons And Tactics, are most often deployed to serve drug-related arrest warrants. Read more about that here.
We keep taking these things that aren’t bad ideas. They’re good ideas when used for their intended purposes – but then we keep mucking it all up. So here’s what I’m thinking. Maybe we should take those “Baby On Board” signs – maybe we should take them, and we should put them… I don’t know….everywhere. Because we’re not using them for what they were meant for. And frankly, it’s just arrogant to assume that I need to be more careful about a baby child than any other child. So maybe we should put them everywhere. Because everyone is someone’s child. And maybe we could do with a dose of remembering that.
Maybe Officer Pike wouldn’t have been so quick to pepper spray peaceful students if he remembered that they were other people’s babies. And maybe if there’d been a Baby On Board sign over Tamir Rice, Timothy Loehmann might not have shot him. Or perhaps he might at least have attempted some type of first aid at the scene.
If we’re not going to use the signs as intended, and if we’re going to keep militarizing and attacking one another, then yes, I think what we must do is put up these signs everywhere. It might be our only hope.
That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.