Black Americans disproportionately die in police Taser confrontations

By Linda So

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As police confront protesters across the United States, they’re turning to rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas and other weapons meant to minimize fatalities.

But some are using a weapon that has potential to kill: the Taser. When those encounters have turned fatal, black people make up a disproportionate share of those who die, according to a Reuters analysis.

Reuters documented 1,081 cases through the end of 2018 in which people died after being shocked by police with a Taser, the vast majority of them after 2000. At least 32% of those who died were black, and at least 29% were white. African-Americans make up 14% of the U.S. population, and non-Hispanic whites 60%.

To explore the Reuters database of deaths involving police and Tasers, click here:

“These racial disparities in Taser deaths are horrifying but unsurprising,” said Carl Takei, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Police violence is a leading cause of death for black people in America, in large part because over-policing of black and brown communities results in unnecessary police contacts and unnecessary use of force.”

In 13% of the deaths identified in police reports, autopsies or other records as involving people of Hispanic ethnicity, Reuters was unable to document race. The race of the person who died was also unknown in the remaining 26% of the cases.

The deaths illustrate a challenge for U.S. law enforcement at a time when protests over police killings have thrown a spotlight on their tactics. Tasers, which deliver a pulsed electrical current meant to give police several seconds to restrain a subject, have been nearly universally embraced since the early 2000s as a less lethal alternative to firearms. About 94% of America’s roughly 18,000 police agencies now issue Tasers.

Tasers drew fresh attention over the weekend after the Friday night death of Rayshard Brooks. A police officer shot the 27-year-old with his handgun after Brooks ran away with an officer’s Taser and pointed it at police following a scuffle, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said. A lawyer for the Brooks family, L. Chris Stewart, said Brooks’ wielding of the Taser didn’t justify his shooting, noting that police routinely argue in court that the devices are non-lethal weapons.

In a series of reports in 2017, however, Reuters identified more than a thousand cases since 2000 in which people died after being shocked by police with the weapons, typically in combination with other forms of force.

Most independent researchers who have studied Tasers say deaths are rare when they are used properly. But the Reuters investigation found that many police officers are not trained properly on the risks, and the weapons are often misused. Tasers fire a pair of barbed darts that deliver a paralyzing electrical charge or can be pressed directly against the body – the “drive stun” mode – causing intense pain.

Some recent examples of Taser misuse highlight the risks and confusion surrounding the weapon.

On May 30, during nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, two college students, Taniyah Pilgrim, 20, and Messiah Young, 22, had gone out to get food and were stuck in traffic due to the demonstrations in Atlanta.

In a confrontation with police caught on bodycam video, one officer repeatedly struck the driver’s side window with a baton as a second officer stunned Pilgrim with a Taser. A third officer used a Taser on Young, as the police dragged the black students out of the car.

Video footage of the officers shocking them drew criticism around the country. Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields apologized at a news conference the next day. “How we behaved as an agency, as individuals was unacceptable,” she said. Young was treated in the hospital and required stitches. Shields resigned on Saturday after the Brooks killing.

After the May 30 incident, one officer wrote in a police report that he used his Taser because he was unsure whether the students were armed. The Taser’s manufacturer, Axon Enterprise Inc, warns in guidelines distributed to police departments that the weapon should not be used on people who are driving or restrained. And law enforcement experts say Tasers generally shouldn’t be used on anyone who is already immobilized, such as in a car.

Six police officers involved in the incident — five of them black, one white — were charged for using excessive force. Four have been fired. Two have sued the mayor and police chief seeking their jobs back. An attorney representing the two officers says he believes the firings were politically motivated.

“The question police should be asking is not: ‘Can I use the Taser?’ but ‘Should I?’” said Michael Leonesio, a retired police officer who ran the Oakland Police Department’s Taser program and has served as an expert witness in wrongful death lawsuits against Axon. “This is a dangerous weapon,” Leonesio said. “The more it’s used, the more people are going to die.”

Axon says its weapons are not risk-free but are safer than batons, fists, tackles and impact munitions. “Any loss of life is a tragedy regardless of the circumstance, which is why we remain committed to developing technology and training to protect both officers and the community,” the company said in an email to Reuters.

“TASE HIS ASS”

On a hot July day in 2017, Eurie Martin, 58, wanted a drink of water. After walking more than 12 miles to visit relatives for his birthday, he stopped to ask a homeowner for water in Deepstep, a town of about 130 people in central Georgia. The homeowner refused and called police to check out Martin, “a black man,” according to the district attorney.

Martin was walking on the side of the road when a Washington County Sheriff’s deputy arrived and tried to speak with him. Martin, who suffered from schizophrenia, ignored him and kept walking. The deputy called for backup.

The officers said Martin got “defensive” and “clinched his fists,” ignoring commands to place his hands behind his back, the district attorney said. One deputy told another to “Tase his ass,” according to the officers’ dashboard camera video.

When the deputy fired the Taser, Martin fell to the ground, removed the Taser prong from his arm, and walked away. A third deputy arrived and fired his stun gun at Martin’s back, causing him to fall.

The deputies surrounded Martin as he lay face down, applying the weight of their bodies and deployed their Tasers 15 times. Martin could be heard crying out in pain saying, “they killing me.” He died of cardiac arrhythmia during police restraint, according to an autopsy.

“He was a victim of walking while black,” said Mawuli Davis, an attorney representing Martin’s family. The deputies, who were fired after they were indicted, said they followed their training on use of the stun gun.

Last November, a judge granted the three deputies – all white – immunity from prosecution just weeks before they were to go trial on murder charges in Martin’s death.

In its guidelines distributed to police departments, Axon warns against using multiple Tasers at the same time. Law enforcement experts say repeated applications and continuous use of stun guns can increase the risk of death and should be avoided.

The sheriff’s office declined to respond to multiple requests for comment.

The judge ruled the deputies acted in self-defense and that their use of the Taser was “justified” and “reasonable under the circumstances.” Citing Georgia’s Stand Your Ground Law, the judge wrote all people have the right to use reasonable force to protect themselves against “death or great bodily injury.”

The district attorney appealed the ruling, and the case is scheduled to be heard before the state Supreme Court in August. If the high court overturns the lower court’s ruling, the murder charges against the deputies will be reinstated.

Martin died “for daring to ask for a drink of water in the Georgia sun,” said his sister Helen Gilbert. “Every person of common sense knows he did nothing to deserve his death. I will not rest until this long walk to justice is complete.”

SCRUTINY

Deaths involving Tasers typically draw little public scrutiny – no government agency tracks how often they’re used or how many of those deployments prove fatal. Coroners and medical examiners use varying standards to assess a Taser’s role in a death. And there are no uniform national standards governing police use of Tasers.

Late in 2009, as evidence of cardiac risks from Tasers mounted, the manufacturer made a crucial change: It warned police to avoid firing its stun gun’s electrified darts at a person’s chest.

But on March 3 in Tacoma, Washington, that warning wasn’t heeded.

Newly released video and audio recordings show Tacoma police officers using a Taser and beating a black man as he shouted, “I can’t breathe” — similar to George Floyd’s desperate cry when a white police officer in Minneapolis pressed a knee into his neck on May 25.

Police said they found Manuel Ellis, 33, trying to open doors of unoccupied cars and that he attacked a police vehicle and two officers. An attorney for his family said he was walking home from a convenience store when the confrontation with police took place.

Police handcuffed Ellis and bound his legs with a canvas strap after firing a Taser into his chest, according to an autopsy report. He lost consciousness, and efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide. An autopsy listed his cause of death as respiratory arrest due to hypoxia as a result of physical restraint.

His death sparked protests in Tacoma on June 5 after video of the incident surfaced. The governor called for a new investigation, and the city’s mayor demanded the four officers involved be fired and prosecuted. Two officers are white, one is black and the other is Asian. They have been placed on administrative leave, but have not been charged.

One of the officers, Christopher Burbank, declined to comment. Attempts by Reuters to reach the other three were unsuccessful. The Tacoma Police Department said it was cooperating with county and state investigators.

(Additional reporting by Grant Smith. Editing by Jason Szep)

Hong Kong protesters smash up legislature in direct challenge to China

Anti-extradition bill protesters use the flashlights from their phones as they march during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By John Ruwitch and Sumeet Chatterjee

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters stormed the legislature on the anniversary of the city’s 1997 return to China on Monday, destroying pictures and daubing walls with graffiti in a direct challenge to China as anger over an extradition bill spiraled out of control.

Some carried road signs, others corrugated iron sheets and pieces of scaffolding upstairs and downstairs as about a thousand gathered around the Legislative Council building in the heart of the former British colony’s financial district.

Some sat at legislators’ desks, checking their phones, while others scrawled “Withdraw anti-extradition” on walls.

The government called for an immediate end to the violence, saying it had stopped all work on extradition bill amendments and that the legislation would automatically lapse in July next year.

There was no immediate response from the protesters, although some appeared to retreat as the evening wore on.

A small group of mostly students wearing hard hats and masks had used a metal trolley, poles and scaffolding to charge again and again at the compound’s reinforced glass doors, which eventually gave.

The council, the mini-parliament, issued a red alert, ordering the protesters to leave immediately.

It did not say what would happen if they didn’t but police did not immediately intervene.

The Legislative Council Secretariat released a statement canceling business for Tuesday. The central government offices said they would close on Tuesday “owing to security consideration”.

Riot police in helmets and carrying batons earlier fired pepper spray as the standoff continued into the sweltering heat of the evening. Some demonstrators removed steel bars that were reinforcing parts of the council building.

Banners hanging over flyovers at the protest site read: “Free Hong Kong.”

The protesters, some with cling film wrapped around their arms to protect their skin in the event of tear gas, once again paralyzed parts of the Asian financial hub as they occupied roads after blocking them off with metal barriers.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill on June 15 after some of the largest and most violent protests in the city in decades but stopped short of protesters’ demands to scrap it.

It was not immediately clear that the announcement it would lapse would ease the tension.

The Beijing-backed leader is now clinging on to her job at a time of an unprecedented backlash against the government that poses the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

“The kind of deafness that I see in the government this time around despite these protests is really worrying. The complete disregard for the will of the people is what alarms me,” said Steve, a British lawyer show has worked in Hong Kong for 30 years.

“If this bill is not completely scrapped, I will have no choice but to leave my home, Hong Kong.”

Opponents of the extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, fear it is a threat to Hong Kong’s much-cherished rule of law.

Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.

Beijing denies interfering but, for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.

China has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington and London, about the legislation. Beijing said on Monday that Britain had no responsibility for Hong Kong any more and was opposed to its “gesticulating” about the territory.

Protesters break into the Legislative Council building during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China in Hong Kong China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Protesters break into the Legislative Council building during the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China in Hong Kong China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

THOUSANDS RALLY

Tens of thousands marched in temperatures of around 33 degrees Celsius (91.4°F) from Victoria Park in an annual rally. Many clapped as protesters held up a poster of Lam inside a bamboo cage. Organizers said 550,000 turned out. Police said there were 190,000 at their peak.

More than a million people have taken to the streets at times over the past three weeks to vent their anger.

A tired-looking Lam appeared in public for the first time in nearly two weeks, before the storming of the legislature, flanked by her husband and former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa.

“The incident that happened in recent months has led to controversies and disputes between the public and the government,” she said. “This has made me fully realize that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiment accurately.”

PROTEST MOVEMENT REINVIGORATED

Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong has intensified markedly since Xi took power and after pro-democracy street protests that gripped the city in 2014 but failed to wrestle concessions from China.

Tensions spiraled on June 12 when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters near the heart of the city, sending plumes of smoke billowing among some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.

The uproar has reignited a protest movement that had lost steam after the failed 2014 demonstrations that led to the arrests of hundreds.

Activists raised a black bauhinia flag to half-mast outside the Legislative Council building before the rally and turned Hong Kong’s official flag, featuring a white bauhinia flower on a red background, upside down.

The turmoil comes at a delicate time for Beijing, which is grappling with a trade dispute with the United States, a faltering economy and tensions in the South China Sea.

Beyond the public outcry, the extradition bill has spooked some Hong Kong tycoons into starting to move their personal wealth offshore, according to financial advisers familiar with the details.

(Additional reporting by Reuters TV, Alun John, Vimvam Tong, Thomas Peter, David Lague, Jessie Pang, Anne Marie Roantree, Sharon Lam, Donny Kwok, Joyce Zhou, Twinnie Siu and Felix Tam in HONG KONG and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Protesters scuffle with Hong Kong police, government offices shut

Pro-democracy legislators speak to the media demanding the Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam withdraw a controversial extradition bill outside Government House, following a day of violence over an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, in Hong Kong, China June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Clare Jim and Sumeet Chatterjee

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Scuffles broke out between demonstrators and police in Hong Kong on Thursday as hundreds of people kept up a protest against a planned extradition law with mainland China, a day after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up big crowds.

Protests around the city’s legislature on Wednesday forced the postponement of debate on the extradition bill, which many people in Hong Kong fear will undermine freedoms and confidence in the commercial hub.

Hong Kong’s China-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the violence and urged a swift restoration of order but has vowed to press ahead with the legislation despite the reservations about it, including within the business community.

The number of protesters milling about outside the legislature in the financial district fell overnight but rose again through the day on Thursday to about 1,000 at one stage.

They expect the legislature, which has a majority of pro-Beijing members, will try to hold the debate at some stage, though it issued a notice saying there would be no session on Thursday.

“We will be back when, and if, it comes back for discussion again,” said protester Stephen Chan, a 20-year old university student.

“We just want to preserve our energy now.”

Earlier, some protesters tried to stop police from removing their supplies of face masks and food and scuffles broke out.

Police with helmets and shields blocked overhead walkways and plainclothes officers checked commuters’ identity cards.

A clean-up got underway to clear debris like broken umbrellas, helmets, plastic water bottles and barricades from the streets after the previous day’s clashes. Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray on Wednesday in a series of skirmishes to clear demonstrators from the legislature.

Officials said 72 people were admitted to hospital.

Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said what began as a peaceful gathering on Wednesday had degenerated into a riot with protesters “acting violently in an organized manner”.

Police arrested 11 people and fired about 150 tear gas canisters at the crowd. The city’s hospital authority said a total of 81 people were injured in the protests. 22 police were injured according to Lo.

Police also later arrested two students at the University of Hong Kong after a raid on a student hall of residence, according to an official at the university. The police gave no immediate response to Reuters inquiries on what charges the students face.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the Chinese government “strongly condemns the violent behavior and we support the (Hong Kong) government in dealing with it according to law”.

‘LAWLESSNESS’

Authorities shut government offices in the financial district, which is overlooked by the towers of some of Asia’s biggest firms and hotel chains, for the rest of the week after some of the worst violence in Hong Kong in decades.

Hong Kong’s benchmark stock exchange slid as much as 1.5% on Thursday before closing down 0.1%, extending losses from the previous day.

Most roads in the business district were open on Thursday but some shops and offices were closed and banks, including Standard Chartered, Bank of China and DBS, said they had suspended branch services in the area.

Wednesday saw the third night of violence since a protest on Sunday drew what organizers said was more than a million people in the biggest street demonstration since the 1997 handover of the former British colony back to Chinese rule.

The handover included a deal to preserve special autonomy, but many Hong Kong people accuse China of extensive meddling since then, including obstruction of democratic reforms and interference in local elections.

The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling through the city, has sparked concern it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong’s international financial status.

Beijing rejects accusations of meddling and Chinese state media said this week “foreign forces” were trying to damage China by creating chaos over the bill.

The English-language China Daily said the “lawlessness” would hurt Hong Kong, not the proposed amendments to its law.

Lam and her officials say the law is necessary to plug loopholes that allow criminals wanted on the mainland to use the city as a haven. She has said the courts would provide human rights safeguards.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized Sunday’s huge march, said it was planning another demonstration for Sunday.

INTERNATIONAL CONCERN

Opponents of the bill, including lawyers and rights groups, say China’s justice system is marked by torture and forced confessions and arbitrary detention.

Democratic city legislators condemned Lam and what they said was heavy-handed police action.

“We are not a haven for criminals, but we have become a haven of violent police. Firing at our children? None of the former chief executives dared to do that,” said legislator Fernando Cheung.

“But ‘mother Carrie Lam’ did it. What kind of mother is she?”

Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan would not accept any extradition requests from Hong Kong under the proposed law. The self-ruled island also issued a travel alert.

Hong Kong’s Tourism Board called off a dragon boat carnival this weekend while the city’s Bar Association expressed concern over video footage of police using force against largely unarmed protesters.

Amnesty International and domestic rights groups condemned what they said was excessive force by the police, while a spokeswoman for the U.N. Human Rights Office in Geneva said it was following the situation closely.

Diplomatic pressure was also building after leaders such as British Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump commented on the protests.

The European Union said it shared many concerns over the proposed extradition reform and urged public consultation.

(Reporting by Joyce Zhou, Julie Zhu, Sumeet Chatterjee, Clare Jim, Jennifer Hughes, Anne Marie Roantree, James Pomfret, Alun John, Vimvang Tong, Jessie Pang and Felix Tam; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in TAIPEI, Ben Blanchard and Cate Cadell in BEIJING, and David Stanway in SHANGHAI; Writing by Farah Master and Greg Torode in HONG KONG; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Frances Kerry)

 

Woman pepper-sprayed at UC Berkeley protest sues university, police

A worker surveys the damage to a vandalized Starbucks after a student protest turned violent at UC Berkeley during a demonstration over right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, who was forced to cancel his talk, in Berkeley, California.

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – A woman who says she was pepper-sprayed by protesters demonstrating against a planned appearance by a right-wing speaker in February has sued the University of California at Berkeley for infringing on her First Amendment free speech rights.

Kiara Robles of Oakland, California is suing 18 individuals and organizations including officials at the University of California, UC Berkeley’s police department, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, the Berkeley Police Department, U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi and investor George Soros.

“Robles was attacked with extremely painful pepper spray and bear mace by masked assailants amongst the protesters because she chose to exercise her right to freedom of speech and show support for the planned speaker, Milo Yiannopoulous,” according to the lawsuit.

The suit was filed on Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Larry Klayman, a conservative activist and one of Robles’ attorneys.

In an emailed statement on Tuesday, Dan Mogulof, a spokesman for the University of California at Berkeley, defended the actions of campus administrators and police, and said the university would vigorously fight the suit.

A spokesman for the Berkeley mayor’s office, Stefan Elgstrand, said the office has no comment on pending litigation.

According to the lawsuit, Robles went to UC Berkeley to hear Yiannopoulous’ speech. But violence erupted after more than 1,500 protesters gathered on the campus, forcing the former Breitbart News editor to cancel his appearance at the liberal-leaning institution.

According to the lawsuit, the University of California, Berkeley unconstitutionally limited the First Amendment rights of its students and invitees at the event “who do not subscribe to the radical, left-wing philosophies sanctioned by defendants.”

Representative for the University of California’s office of the president and the city of Berkeley Police Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A statement from Pelosi was not immediately available, according to a spokeswoman from her office, Caroline Behringer.

George Soros could not immediately be reached.

Robles is demanding a trial by jury and is seeking more than $20,000,000 in damages and other relief, the lawsuit said.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Dan Grebler)

Venezuela security forces block protesters in Caracas

Riot police officers takes cover with their shields during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Andreina Aponte and Christian Veron

CARACAS (Reuters) – Blocking streets with riot shields and using pepper-spray on protesters, Venezuelan security forces impeded an opposition rally in Caracas on Tuesday against President Nicolas Maduro’s unpopular socialist government.

Authorities also closed subway stations and ringed off the capital’s Plaza Venezuela, where Maduro foes had planned to meet.

In one street, women knelt down, singing the national anthem as neighbors banged pots-and-pans from nearby buildings in a show of anger against a government feeling public ire for a deep recession that has led to shortages of food and basics.

“We’re going to get rid of them, but we have to fight,” said Jose Zapata, a 57-year-old electrician, as he marched with a stick in his hand.

Maduro’s supporters were organizing their own counter-rally, in a volatile scenario seen many times during the 18 years of leftist rule in the South American nation.

Fearful of clashes, some Caracas residents were staying home, and businesses near rallies were closed.

Some protests were also taking place in other cities.

Tuesday’s instability sent Venezuelan bonds lower, with the benchmark 2027 paper’s price off 4.4 percent.

Tensions have soared in the oil-producing nation’s long-running political standoff after the pro-Maduro Supreme Court last week annulled the opposition-led congress’ functions.

Although it retracted that ruling over the weekend, the National Assembly remains powerless due to previous court judgments.

MADURO “TERRIFIED”

Foreign pressure on Maduro has risen as scattered opposition protests have restarted.

“It is Mr. Maduro who has ordered shut all the accesses to Caracas to stop people expressing their repudiation,” said opposition leader Henrique Capriles. “He’s terrified.”

Stung by criticism from most of Latin America of an erosion of democracy, Maduro says the U.S. government and other foes are whipping up hysteria against him to lay the ground for a coup.

Maduro’s administration is particularly furious with Organization of American States head Luis Almagro, who is leading regional condemnation.

The regional bloc on Monday urged Venezuela to restore congress’ authority and guarantee separation of powers, but Venezuela’s representative walked out, as did the envoy from fellow leftist Bolivia, which holds the OAS presidency.

“The OAS has surpassed itself in aggression against Venezuela,” Maduro said late on Monday. “It is a real court of inquisition, carrying out abuses and vulgarities.”

Venezuela’s opposition won a National Assembly majority in late 2015, but the Supreme Court has overturned almost all its measures.

The legislature planned to start proceedings later on Tuesday to have the tribunal’s judges removed, but that would only be a symbolic rebuke since it has no power to act.

Opposition leaders have been staging small, targeted protests over the last few days that have resulted in some clashes with security forces and Maduro backers.

Two lawmakers were injured on Monday, and authorities have arrested two political activists and two military officers since the weekend. More than 100 opponents of Maduro are now in jail, rights group say.

(Additional reporting by Diego Ore, Eyanir Chinea and Andrew Cawthorne; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Connecticut may become first U.S. state to allow deadly police drones

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Connecticut would become the first U.S. state to allow law enforcement agencies to use drones equipped with deadly weapons if a bill opposed by civil libertarians becomes law.

The legislation, approved overwhelmingly by the state legislature’s judiciary committee on Wednesday, would ban so-called weaponized drones in the state but exempts agencies involved in law enforcement. It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The legislation was introduced as a complete ban on weaponized drones but just before the committee vote it was amended to exclude police from the restriction.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, was reviewing the proposal, “however in previous years he has not supported this concept,” spokesman Chris Collibee wrote in an email.

Civil libertarians and civil rights activists are lobbying to restore the bill to its original language before the full House vote.

“Data shows police force is disproportionately used on minority communities, and we believe that armed drones would be used in urban centers and on minority communities,” said David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Connecticut.

“That’s not the kind of precedent we want to set here,” McGuire said of the prospect that Connecticut would become the first state to allow police to use lethally armed drones.

In 2015, North Dakota became the first state to permit law enforcement agencies to use armed drones but limited them to “less than lethal” weapons such as tear gas and pepper spray.

So far, 36 states have enacted laws restricting drones and an additional four states have adopted drone limits, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

If Connecticut’s Democratic-controlled House passes the bill it will move to the Senate, which is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Representative William Tong, a Democrat from Stamford, nor Senator John Kissel, a Republican from Enfield, who are co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee, were not immediately available for comment.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and James Dalgleish)

Europeans turn to weapons in growing numbers after attacks

Handguns and sporting guns are displayed at Wyss Waffen gun shop in Burgdorf

By John Miller and Caroline Copley

ZURICH/BERLIN (Reuters) – Europeans in a number of countries are seeking to arm themselves with guns and self-defense devices in growing numbers following a series of attacks by militants and the mentally ill.

Some weapons sellers also link their increased business to the arrival of huge numbers of migrants in Europe, although a German police report stated that the vast majority do not commit crimes of any kind in the country.

The picture is patchy, with no up-to-date data available at a European level, leaving national and regional authorities to release statistics that are far from comprehensive and not always comparable. Reasons also vary for civilians to own guns legally, including hunting and sport as well as self-protection.

Nevertheless, applications for gun permits are climbing in Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic. Their larger neighbor Germany has not followed the trend in lethal firearms, but permits for carrying devices designed to scare off assailants, such as blank guns and those that fire pepper spray, have risen almost 50 percent.

FACTBOX on trends in weapons permits:

Little research into the reasons for the recent apparent trend has yet been published, but the assumption is that attacks in the past year including in Paris, Brussels, Nice and Munich have stirred fear among some citizens.

“There’s no official explanation for the rise, but in general we see a connection to Europe’s terrorist attacks,” said Hanspeter Kruesi, a police spokesman in the Swiss canton of St. Gallen.

Kruesi advised against buying weapons, saying they did little to improve citizens’ security while presenting problems over safe storage and raising legal questions over their proper use in a conflict. “People could actually make themselves criminally liable,” he said.

After he spoke to Reuters, the canton was the scene of an attack aboard a train this month. The suspect and a woman victim died later, although police said his motive was unclear.

One Swiss resident who has just bought his first ever weapons – a pistol and a pump-action shotgun – pinned his decision on a feeling of insecurity created by the attacks combined with criminality that he blamed on north Africans, as well as concern over recent break-ins in his neighborhood.

“Buying weapons for self-defense won’t protect you from terrorist attacks,” said the 55-year-old who lives in a town near the capital, Bern.

“Nevertheless these attacks are contributing to a subjective sense of threat, as is the rising pressure from migration and the high crime rate among migrants from the Maghreb,” he said, requesting anonymity due to concerns about his safety.

Figures are hard to come by on whether the rate of crime, serious or petty, is higher among migrants than the general population in Europe.

The report from the BKA federal police in Germany – where more than a million people fleeing violence and poverty arrived last year – said migrants committed or tried to commit about 69,000 crimes in the first quarter of 2016. However, it did not say how this compared with the overall number of crimes.

‘THE SUM OF THESE EVENTS’

Like Kruesi, authorities in Europe – where levels of gun ownership are comparatively low and controls are often tight – have avoided encouraging their citizens to buy weapons.

But Czech President Milos Zeman broke ranks after an 18-year-old with a history of mental illness killed nine people in Munich in July. “Citizens should be able to arm themselves … in order to be able to act against these terrorists,” he told TV Nova.

Czechs may already be doing so. Gun permit holders grew by almost 6,000 to close to 300,000 in the first five months of 2016 after several years of declines.

In Switzerland, the land of the legendary crossbow marksman William Tell, a rising trend emerged last year. Of the country’s 26 cantons, the 12 that responded to a Reuters inquiry all reported higher 2015 applications for permits entitling people to buy guns. Interim 2016 figures show a further rise.

While those from people with serious criminal convictions or suffering from mental illness are rejected, most are granted.

“Nobody says directly: I’m buying a gun because of the attacks in Nice or Munich,” said Daniel Wyss, president of the Swiss weapons dealers’ association who runs his own gun shop. “But the sum of these events has fostered a general feeling of vulnerability.”

Switzerland’s defense relies heavily on tens of thousands of citizen soldiers who store their automatic rifles at home, but almost no civilians have the right to carry loaded guns in public.

Some people want this changed. Jean-Luc Addor, a parliamentarian and member of the Swiss gun lobby, aims to introduce legislation in September to ease the restrictions.

Addor contends that more armed civilians mean safer streets. “The state is not equipped to guarantee public safety,” he said. “Sometimes citizens – not every citizen, but those who have appropriate training – should be given means to protect themselves and their families.”

AN EROSION OF TRUST?

Suggestions that governments might be falling short in their duties have also surfaced in Germany.

Ingo Meinhard, head of the German association of gunsmiths and specialist gundealers, said demand for blank guns and pepper spray jumped after sexual assaults on women at New Year in the city of Cologne. These were blamed largely on migrants.

Meinhard said demand subsequently fell off but rose again after three fatal attacks in July, including by an Islamic State sympathizer who detonated a bomb near a German music festival. “We’re now noticing high demand in urban areas,” he added.

Police drew heavy criticism for failing to prevent the Cologne incidents, since which an Iraqi and an Algerian have been convicted of sexual assault.

German permits for firearms possession have fallen marginally in the past year, while those for scare devices jumped 49 percent in the year to June to 402,301.

No permit is required for pepper spray aerosols marketed as a protection against animals such as aggressive dogs, though officials say anyone who uses them on humans could get into trouble with the law.

Dagmar Ellerbock, a history professor at Technische Universitaet Dresden, said the New Year incidents may have prompted Germans to question the authorities’ competence.

“This trend towards self-defense could be a reason to worry if it signals an erosion of trust, that citizens who experienced the assaults in Cologne no longer feel safe or protected by the state,” she said.

Gun sellers said weapons interest grew in Austria after large numbers of migrants arrived in the country at the northern end of the now closed ‘Balkan Route’. “Fear is very much a driving force,” said Robert Siegert, a gunmaker and the weapons trade spokesman at the Austrian Chamber of Commerce “That’s what we keep hearing from salespeople in shops.”

AMERICAN MINDSET

Gun ownership remains low in Europe. According to the Geneva-based group Small Arms Survey, the United States easily surpasses the continent in per capita terms.

There are over 100 guns per 100 U.S. residents, more than twice the figure for Switzerland and three times that for Austria, Germany and France.

France requires background checks for those seeking a weapon for the two purposes it considers legitimate: hunting or joining a shooting club. This scrutiny can take more than a year.

Consequently, it is unlikely that legal French gun ownership has changed much since 2015, said Thierry Coste, secretary general of the Comité Guillaume Tell (William Tell) lobby group.

“Gun ownership is extremely regulated, getting there is like an obstacle course,” he said. “We don’t have the same mindset as Americans.”

Gun control laws in Britain, which has also experienced a number of Islamist militant attacks in recent years, have been strict since a school massacre in 1996. Licensed firearms numbers in England and Wales have remained relatively stable in the past year.

Even in the self-defense business, some doubt the benefits of a personal arsenal. Marco Schnyder, who runs a training center in Zurich, said knowing how to restrain an assailant was better.

“I have people in my shooting classes who want to protect their families or themselves,” he said. “They would be better served getting a watchdog or an alarm system. I tell them that, too.”

(Additional reporting Violette Goarant in Stockholm, Matthias Blamont and Michel Rose in Paris, Jan Lopatka in Prague, Francois Murphy in Vienna and Giles Elgood in London; editing by David Stamp)