On friday the police shot and killed a man at Stockwell tube station. They had followed him from his home along his journey before challenging him to stop. The officers were in plain clothes and armed. The man (Jean Charles de Menezes) ran into the tube station to evade the police. He boarded a train, was cornered, tripped and shot five times in the face at close range.
Debate has raged for days over whether a shoot-to-kill policy is right and just. I have to say that if the police have a substantial reason to believe a suspect is about to cause harm to others then there is little choice, however this incident has left me shaken as to how the police came to the conclusion that de Menezes was about to cause harm.
We have been told that de Menezes was being watched on suspicion of being linked with terrorists; while being followed it was reported that he was acting suspiciously; he was wearing a large coat which may have been concealing something; and, of course, when challenged he ran away.
This latter fact seemed to have sealed his fate. But it was a judgement call that led to an innocent man being murdered in cold blood. Which leads to the question, how did the police make such a mistake?
The police seem to have based their pursuit of him on assumptions and the climate of fear that has gripped our nations capital. In the last few days I've been astounded at what seems to be the majority clearly supporting the police on this issue. Some point to the fact that the man was suspected of being linked to terrorists. My only response to this is that thousands of suspects have been arrested in this country since the anti-terror laws came in and all but a few have been released without charge. Being a suspect does not make one guilty.
Neither does the fact that someone is acting suspiciously. It might make you want to arrest and question them, which seems to be the case here, but unfortunately the police didn't arrest him; he ran. So now there are many people saying that running into a tube station in the 'current climate' is idiotic and therefore the police did what was necessary. It now appears that de Menezes was in Britain on an expired visa.
Why, if the police were so concerned about this man, didn't they surround him and arrest him? Why did they shout at him from a distance that allowed him to run? Seems tremendously unprofessional to me. Also, if you are challenged by several armed burly men in plain clothes to stop then what is your natural response? If the police had been watching this guy for some time they would known that he was from Brazil and grew up in a neighborhood where gun violence is high and when someone comes up to you wielding a gun and says stop you run like hell. Basic profiling would have made this clear. Don't the police profile their suspects and work out how best to approach them?
If they were so worried about this man, why didn't they challenge him when getting on the bus? Haven't there been two attacks in as many weeks on buses in London?
Of course I sympathise with the police. They had a difficult job to do and had to make a tough call. Unfortunately, they based that call on an assumption. For me that is not acceptable evidence. If the police have evidence that this man was actually involved in terrorism, rather than a hunch, then that would change things. But, it would appear that they don't.
To hear educated people saying that the police did the job they had to do and we should support them smacks of double standards. How many innocent Iraqis have died at the hands of US troops at checkpoints in Baghdad? Too many, and when it happens the US say that they were worried that the victims might be suicide bombers. Many people who are angry at the US for such actions in Iraq are throwing themselves into the ring to defend the police over the killing of de Menezes. I fail to see the difference here.
People are saying that anyone in their right mind would know not to run into a tube station like de Menezes did; not after what has happened in recent weeks. Does the same hold true for innocent Iraqis then? Surely all of the ones in Baghdad are well aware of what is going on around them and should know better than to ever get on the wrong side of the Iraqi police or US military? Yet somehow the innocents in Iraq keep dying at checkpoints and in their own homes; killed by those who swore to protect them.
There are those who argue that the police in this country are not used to dealing with such things. The moment you use that argument you are admitting that the police have made a mistake because they aren't equipped to deal with the situation. If they aren't equipped to deal with the situation then a shoot-to-kill policy seems fucking stupid imo.
A few months ago an Italian agent was killed in Iraq protecting a freed hostage. He was killed by US forces who wrongly thought the agent was a threat. The World was outraged; Britain was outraged. Yet for some reason, we are happy to turn the blind eye when an innocent is murdered in our capital by people who are there to protect.
Of course I support the police in what is a difficult job; but I expect a police force that is reasoned an measured. The actions on Friday were that of an overzealous mis-informed police force. Putting guns into the hands of such people will not stop this crisis; it will make it worse. This tragedy could have been prevented if proper processes and procedures for dealing with this situation were in place. They weren't; or if they were, they weren't followed. For that, questions must be asked and a proper system put in place. To blindly say "it's a shame but the police did what they had to do" completely validates what has happened and does not even go one step towards preventing it happening again.
This is a fucking tragedy, both for the police and the family of Jean Charles de Menezes.