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To tase or not to tase

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

To tase or not to tase. That was the urgent Philadelphia question this week. In this week’s Centre Square essay, Chris Satullo digs into ancient history to explain why it’s not a good idea to let big-league fans scamper about the field of play.

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At first blush, I thought Philly cops indulged in risky overreaction when they zapped the teenaged doofus who capered about the Citizens Bank Park outfield last Tuesday.

Then, I remembered what I witnessed on June 4, 1974.

On that Age of Disco evening long ago, the worst-ever outbreak of bad behavior by major league baseball fans took place.

Yep, I was there for the 10-cent Beer Night Riot in Cleveland.

So I know how much can go wrong if fans who dart on the field go unpunished.

The Cleveland Indians of that era were a feckless bunch. They lost many, many games while drawing paltry crowds.

The team, desperate to put fannies in the seats, dreamed up a 10-cent beer promotion. In Ohio then, the legal age to drink beer was only 18. So thousands of teens were among the 30,000 on hand for Beer Night.

The team set up beer wagons behind the outfield fence. By the third inning, each was a jostling, sudsy scene from Animal House. In the fifth inning, the first fan jumped onto the field, took beefy security guards on a Keystone Kops chase, then paused in center field to moon the crowd. Uh-oh.

Now, children, gather round while Uncle Chris tells you about a strange fad that swept the nation in those distant times. It was called streaking. Hordes of able-bodied youth, usually male, would trot around in public en masse, showing off ALL of their able bodies. By the seventh inning, the Cleveland Stadium outfield had become Streaking Central, U.S.A.

For a while, it was funny – but the chaos turned mean. In the ninth, a melee broke out in right field between drunken fans and the Texas Rangers bullpen. The rest of the Rangers raced from their dugout, waving bats like warclubs. As a mob slugged it out on the field, the deluded stadium organist played Sousa marches, as though that would help.

In the end people got hurt, the Tribe had to forfeit the game, and my hometown had another black eye. In part because that first kid got cheered for eluding capture.

So, putting a jolt of current through a dumb 17-year-old may not be the perfect solution. But neither is treating fans on the field of play as a big joke.


  • Giles Farnaby says:

    Well, Chris, you’ve managed to raise the ire level in some of our perpetually apoplectic visitors yet again!
    I don’t like the idea of tazing goofy 17-year-olds myself, but the suggestions that you are “condescending to your audience,” and that your opinions should keep people from pledging to WHYY are flat-out hilarious!
    Each week, Chris is alternately vilified by some as “right wing” and by others as “left wing.” Definitely shows he’s doing something right.
    Come on people: embrace opinions that may be different from your own; they won’t bite you!

  • Alice says:

    Chris, you’ve set up a false dichotomy. The choice is not whether to taser this young man or treat his trespass like a joke. The choice is whether to use 50,000 volts of potentially lethal force to stop a clearly non-threatening person or to use some other way of detaining him.

    I’m sure the taser is easier for the police. It was probably easier in the days when they could billy club people into unconsciousness. But in a constitutionally free society, where due process is the law, the police aren’t free to mete out instant punishment or demand instant compliance. We simply don’t have the option of tearing up the constitution and allow police to use excessive violence in the name of social control.

  • Michael says:

    Your story is interesting, and I agree that rowdy, drunken crowds need to be contained. But to suggest that the use of a Taser for any purpose other than nonfatal self-defense is within the bounds of acceptability is a *much* more serious downplaying of the risks of these weapons, than the suggestion that streaking on teh field is harmless.

    “Amnesty International says that between 2001 and August 2008, 334 Americans died after Taser shocks. The stun gun was deemed to have caused or contributed to at least 50 of those deaths, Amnesty says, citing medical examiners and coroners. Most suspects were unarmed, and many were subjected to repeated or prolonged shocks, according to Amnesty.

    The human rights group has called for governments to limit the use of stun guns or suspend their use.

    In November 2007, the UN Committee Against Torture released a statement saying “use of Taser X26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and… in certain cases, it could also cause death.”

    Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/03/18/f-taser-faq.html#ixzz0nY3GrWeN

  • ed kriner says:

    It’s good that you spout the nonsense you do because it helps me to show how right leaning WHYY/NPR is. I just pass your “law n order” blatherings on. Along with the rest of the “evidence” I collect and pass on. Thank God for the internets.

    I won’t claim all the credit but WHYY has not met a fundraising goal for 7 (and I think 9) straight “campaigns”

  • Carol says:

    I’m getting so tired of listening to C.T.’s opinions–not sure why anyone at the editor’s desk thinks the region wants to hear his rants. WHYY, can you do something please? Why does this bozo get to have air-time 2x a week? It’s quite a stretch to try relate 2 incidents of mob drunkenness in the 70s to a police officer tazing some stupid kid running around the outfield. Did C.T. even think about what he was writing, because it seems the point of this piece is more about himself than making a valid, reasoned argument for tazing this kid. C.T: By the way, no one cares about the stories of your youth, save it for your real nieces and nephews who *might* care. And please don’t condescend to your audience (“Now, children, gather round while Uncle Chris tells you…”–I’m probably older than you, and yes I remember). It’s insulting.

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