I sent an email to two reporters yesterday (not a letter to the editor):
I was somewhat surprised to see it asserted (without attribution) in your otherwise fine article today (“Tasered Artist Laid to Rest”) that tasers result in deaths in the US only “rarely”. They are and have been sufficiently frequent for Amnesty International to have issued a report condemning the frequency of them as far back as 2004. A later report put the death rate at 350 over a seven year period. Is 50 utterly unnecessary deaths per year at the hands of police considered “rare”? I hope not. I’d call it shockingly frequent.
(Other private estimates come up with even larger numbers for more recent periods. See for example http://electronicvillage.blogspot.com/2009/05/taser-related-deaths-in-united-states.html)
The issue of the extent to which deaths depend on pre-existing condition is somewhat debated, but in any case it is also a distraction. Your article presents it as something of an excuse for taser deaths, but in fact if some part of the population is statistically likely to be killed by tasers, that is just another reason why they should not be used, not an excuse for taking lives.
I wonder if you would please consider running a correction, at least as regards the frequency of taser deaths in the US, and in particular if your future coverage could please be less dismissive of 50+ annual cases of what, if it happened elsewhere, we would call state-sponsored killings.
As for whoever told you taser deaths are rare: stop trusting them.
Incidentally, the online version of the article has a different text from the printed version, it says “Tasers result in death in only the rarest of cases.”
Personally, I don’t see how an average of a death a week can be called the “rarest of cases” but I’m not a hardened journalist.
translation: “we’re tasering like 200-300 folks a month and only 1 dies? that’s pretty rare, right?”