The shockingly and alarming trend of Taser deaths has been reported in the media, even more so in recent days. The whole world watched on media outlets and Youtube the November 14 tasering death of a Polish immigrant, Robert Dzieanski and alarms sounded about the use of tasers by police officers on defenseless suspects. Just today, it was reported that a 20-year old man in Frederick, Maryland a city close to Washington, DC, was tasered to death in a prison. Jamal was deaf in one ear and could hear in the other. The internets and news outlets are abuzz about the dangers of the Taser, a gun that does not consist lethal bullets, but “safer” electrical jolts that are zapped onto a person’s body sending 50,000 volts throughout. Dzienanski was tasered twice, making the total of volts that shot through his body to an alarming 100,000.
I am sitting here at the dining room table typing this blog with emotions of sadness, disbelief, anger and fear. On November 14, I could have easily been the next Dzienanski or 20-year old Jamal. I flew in to Ottawa from San Francisco by way of Philadelphia, PA on US Airways and was greeted by one of the Ottawa Airport escorts. Escorts through request are always not able to sign in ASL, so often my trips to the baggage area are uneventful. Until this one.
I filled out my Customs placard with information on where I lived, what I was doing in the States (business) and what goods I had purchased. I had several items in my bag but were too cheap to claim, or some a gift from a friend. So like in the past 10 years of my travels, I put down ‘None to Claim’ on my card and off I went to the customs agent with my passport and my escort. Bear in mind, I was feeling cranky because I had endured a 3 hour delay at the Philadelphia Airport with a terminal that sucked, and was stranded on the runway for 1 ½ hour next to a hyperactive woman with extra long hair that kept ending up in my face. So I was a bag of nerves and reallllllly wanted to go home and plop down on my childhood bed and read “The Alchemist”.
The customs agent took a look at my passport, her eyes on the monitor. She spoke to the escort, and I was given the index finger “No, no”. What the heck? The lady escort led me away, and I kept asking her to write a note. I entered a room with a counter with “Immigration” smeared horiztonally and then the escort and the immigration agent started talking.
“Talk to me” I gestured, “Write, please”.
The escort smiled and said either “shh” or “sure”. Either way I was confused and getting more riled.
The next thing I know, I entered another room, this time with two xrays placed in the middle of the room. There was a woman in a beige dress and she was talking to the security officer about something that they found in her bag. And it didn’t look good for her.
Impatient, I gestured to the escort once again, “Write!!!!:” while one security woman approached me and three police officers were nearby. The escort and the security ladies kept tossing around my passport and my placard. I wasn’t being kept in the loop, and my body language obviously showed that I was getting hot and bothered. I was also sick with mild bronchitis and a developing sinus cold. Home was all I thought about being at.
Finally, the escort writes: (incomprehensible).
She wrote in PENCIL. What does she think, I’m sighted? I told her I couldn’t see what the paper said and she smiled. Said nothing.
I was reaching a boiling point. I gestured, “Me. Go. House. Me. Bags. Keep.”
One of the police officers took a step towards me when I exclaimed that I was blind and I pointed to my cane. I didn’t care if I had the “Deaf Voice” and I said: I demand someone write me NOW.
The security lady finally wrote me a clear note: TAX EVASION.
What The …..?
I explained that some were gifts from a friend and the ring I had on was bought in San Francisco but it was so cheap I didn’t bother to claim it. I knew that the Canadian currency had surged over the US Dollar, and that governments on opposite sides of the borders were being more watchful on people who filed fake tax claims while traveling over the border. But come on. Lack of communication and intimidation should not be two of the approaches the border security should take, especially with a Deaf and Blind woman.
I looked around and was shocked to find that the security officer (s) were going through my suitcase, having it Xrayed. Last time I looked, it was my right to give permission first for them to search my suitcase. I had no drugs except the Advil for my sinus, and nothing illegal. I just could not believe I was being treated this way. I deserved better.
When the security officer lady was done with my suitcase, she returned it to me alongside with my laptop, my brown purse and told me in a simple gesture, “Begone.”:
The escort with the idiotic smile led me to the baggage area, following me like a shadow. I felt like slapping her because the anger I felt, exhaustion taking over and being sick made me want to avenge that incident in the inspection room.
I left, saw my Dad and was too upset to say hello or hug him. He knew something was wrong and gave me a Canadian treat: Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts. That always perked me up.
Then when I got home one hour later at 11:00PM, I read the tragic consequence of irate behaviour of someone who had language and communication differences in the same country, 3,000 miles away on the same longtitude. I could feel a huge lump in my throat. Coulda been me. My body language, my gestures and my slurred speech could have set off alarms, given the security personnel the impression that I was a raving lunatic that was getting too irritational for a simple bag check. They could have “tried to communicate” with me but my field vision being limited, they could have misinterpreted that as intentional ignorance…. And in a rush decision, decided to taserize me to calm me down.
I am officially scared shitless.
You know what’s the irony here? I was in the process of fine-tuning my letter to Jim Roots, President of the Canadian Association of the Deaf and the British Columbia Board of Transportation involving a case of a Deaf Blind man who was not allowed to fly without an intervenor. I had made some recommendations and one of them was to have 2 ASL interpreters per shift at every major airport.
I just finished that letter yesterday and I intend to walk in the CAD office on Wednesday and hand it to Jim Roots myself and DEMAND something be DONE before I or other Deaf / Deaf Blind person becomes a casualty at an airport due to preventable communication barriers.
There, my story is told. Now I am doing something. So should you.
Christine “Coco” Roschaert
November 19, 2007