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Monday, September 20, 2004 - Page updated at 06:10 P.M.
Information in this article, originally published September 18, was corrected September 20. A previous version of this story contained an error. The Tasers used in a Seattle Police Department demonstration carried 50,000 volts of electricity, not 50,000 kilovolts as was reported in a story Saturday. Tasers are less-than-lethal weapons that use electricity to shock a person and subdue them.

Police chief, NAACP president step up to demonstrate Tasers

By Jessica Blanchard
Seattle Times staff reporter

ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, at right in light shirt, looks for the reaction of NAACP President Carl Mack after they were Tasered for two seconds in a safety demonstration. They decided they would be Tasered together so they would both know exactly how it felt.
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The grimace on Carl Mack's face as he was jolted with 50,000 volts of electricity from a Taser yesterday said it all.

But just in case people didn't get the message, the president of the Seattle branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — still slightly dazed — stepped in front of a small crowd at the Seattle Police Department headquarters shortly afterward and described the experience.

"I've never felt anything like that in my life," said Mack, who had volunteered to be Tased along with Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as part of a demonstration of the weapon's safety and efficiency.

Mack said the two-second cycle of electricity gave him a slight burning sensation and caused him to lose control of his muscles. The only option for someone being Tased, he said, is to comply with police commands.

Tasers can fire two darts at a target up to 21 feet away. Electricity travels through wires connected to the darts, giving a five-second shock that can temporarily incapacitate a person. Tasers, which also can be applied directly to the skin, have been touted as a better, nonlethal method for police to subdue people.

Mack said he asked to be Tased so he would know what it felt like, to better understand the complaints his organization has received from people the police have Tased. And, he said, the event helped strengthen the often-strained relations between the African-American community and local law enforcement.

"I can say I think there's a very strong bridge being built between law enforcement and the community," Mack said. He repeatedly referred to Kerlikowske as a "brother" and said Kerlikowske's offer to be Tased at the same time "furthered my respect for the chief."

"That strengthened our relationship, and that tells me I'm sitting across from a brother who has empathy," he said. "This speaks volumes about his character."

Kerlikowske said he hoped the Tasing would "demonstrate to the community the level of trust and respect for each other."

Before Mack and Kerlikowske were Tased, a Seattle police officer demonstrated the weapon by firing the darts onto a metallic board. Electricity flowing to the darts made a loud cracking sound and sent a series of short, blue arcs along the board.

The officer explained that Tasers use their human targets' own muscles against them, so "the bigger, stronger guys are going to experience a more intense ride."
 
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At that, Kerlikowske put his face in his hands, groaning, while Mack, laughing ruefully, leaned his head on the chief's shoulder.

Officers didn't want to make the two men experience the full pain of being shot with darts. Instead, they attached clips and hot-pink wires to Mack and Kerlikowske, and spotters lined up to catch the men in case they fell to the floor. A medic stood off to the side of the podium — just in case.

When the Tasers were fired simultaneously, both men spasmed in pain. Mack's face contorted, and he muttered an expletive through gritted teeth. It was over in two seconds, but both men took a few minutes to recover.

Afterward, Mack said he still had concerns about the potential for police to abuse Tasers, but he said the weapons' built-in accountability features — such as computer cartridges with encrypted files to record every instance when the weapon is fired — along with the fact that they were nonlethal, make them far preferable to guns.

Jessica Blanchard: 206-464-3896 or jblanchard@seattletimes.com. Seattle Times staff reporter Bob Young contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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