(Update of 11 March 2006 at bottom.)
So, the man that London Metropolitan Police shot dead last Friday, July 22, 2005, was an innocent man and not directly involved in the recent terrorist bombings. Naturally this revelation has caused no small amount of controversy, in Britain at least, and a debate has been sparked about this apparent ‘shoot to kill’ policy of the police. Comparisons are being drawn between this policy and the way in which the Israeli police force are trained in a seemingly ruthless manner to kill potential Palestinian terrorists.
To recap for those unaware of what actually happened, here is a brief summary. On Thursday, July 21, 2005, four men attempted to set off bombs in London, three on the London Underground, and one on a bus. The bombs did not detonate for reasons not yet disclosed by the police and intelligence services. One of these potential suicide bombers got on the Tube at Stockwell station. Furthermore, something in one of the rucksacks containing a bomb led police to an address in Tulse Hill, South London, near Stockwell station. This house was put under surveillance. On Friday morning, July 22, 2005, a man left this property and was followed by plain-clothed, armed police. As he approached Stockwell station a decision was made by the police to confront him, presumably in case he was himself a suicide bomber and heading into the Underground to cause carnage. However, when confronted the man made a run for it. The police shouted a verbal warning for him to stop and one would assume they shouted that they were police. The man vaulted the ticket barriers at the Tube entrance and rushed down onto a platform and onto a train. It is at this point several police officers piled into the train after him, jumped on top of him and shot him five times in the head.
The uproar from certain areas has been considerable now it has been revealed that the man, Jean Charles de Menezes, was not a suicide bomber, or potential terrorist. Understandably, his family have been the most scathing, his cousin stating, "Apologies are not enough. I believe my cousin's death was result of police incompetence". Furthermore, representatives of the Muslim communities in Britain have been highly vocal and critical of the police’s actions, fearing that innocent Muslims could become further victims of this shoot to kill policy.
It is my intention in writing however, to defend the Metropolitan police’s actions. If the police were put in the same situation again, I would hope they would follow the same course of action. One must take into account the following premises:
1. The address the suspect came out of had been directly linked with the attempted bombings.
2. Three of the attempted bombings had occurred on the Tube.
3. The man was going into the same Tube station one of the bombers the previous day had gone into.
4. The bombers were (and possibly are) still on the loose.
5. Most importantly of all, the man ran away when the police confronted him.
6. He went as far as to leap over the ticket barriers.
In view of these circumstances, I do not believe the police had any alternative except to do what they did. It has been argued that the suspect’s reasons for running away could have been that he would not have known who was chasing him and may have been scared when he saw guns. This argument does have a degree of validity, but when one considers that it is highly likely the police would have informed him that they were indeed the police and that this was in a relatively public place (ie not down a back alley) and he was surrounded by other members of the public and station security, I believe it reasonable to expect that most innocent people would have stopped. However, even if we accept the proposed argument for why the suspect ran, it does not dilute the police’s justification in shooting him.
A further criticism of the police has been the manner in which they “disabled” the suspect from setting off any imagined bomb. Some individuals have said that the police showed a gratuitous level of force by shooting the suspect not once, but five times in the head. However, again I believe the police’s actions to be justified. Given the information they had, and the circumstances, it was on the face of it a valid conclusion to come to, to assume that the man could be a suicide bomber. Once this has been accepted it is clear that they had to use whatever force necessary in order to prevent him from achieving his potential aim. Shooting him anywhere else on the body may not prevent the arming of a bomb. It has erroneously been reported that one reason for not shooting in the body is because the bullet could hit the bomb. It is highly unlikely in this case that a bullet would have exploded one of the types of bombs used recently, unless the bullet hit the detonator itself. The sole reason for shooting the suspect in the head was to prevent him from setting off any bomb he may have. In such an extreme situation of intensity, it is hardly surprising that the police did not stop at one or two bullets. If you believe the man lying beneath you could set off a bomb that will kill you and everyone surrounding you, you want to make absolutely sure this man is stopped.
In view of the context and circumstances, the police had to do what they did. Unfortunately, it seems certain individuals and groups seem set on using this event to their own advantage by using it as a club to beat the police with and accusing them of some kind of trigger-happy mentality. I believe this to be extremely unfair; the motivation for the shooting was clear – to prevent the deaths of many innocent individuals. The logic for believing this threat existed is also clear. It may be at some point in the future a similar situation will occur, but the suspect involved may in fact be a suicide bomber. Imagine if then the police had the opportunity to shoot the individual before the individual set off their bomb, but didn’t…..One shouldn’t interpret my support of the police actions as a support of them killing individuals on the flimsiest of evidence. But when circumstances are as they were on Friday, I believe they are given no alternative and it is irresponsible and short-sighted to attack them for it.
Added 11 March 2006
Much has happened since I first wrote this write-up and a defence of the police’s actions is no longer wholly appropriate. Leaked information has revealed that the premises I refer to above regarding the circumstances immediately prior to the shooting were not correct. Much of the discounted information had come from so-called ‘eye-witnesses’ and had been grasped enthusiastically by the various news and media organizations covering the story. According to the information now available, Mr De Mendezes, did not vault the barriers at the tube station and he was not wearing a bulky jacket. Reports indicate he entered the tube station calmly, took a free newspaper and ran to catch a train and on boarding he took a seat. The police then piled in and shot him dead.
It seems entirely possible that at least one or two of the Officer Knackers directly involved could find themselves going on trial for what happened. Whether this is justified or not, I do not know. There has been a tendency by many observing this whole tragedy to generalize the blame. It is seen not as a mistake by perhaps one or two officers, but some kind of endemic problem or attitude prevalent in the Police Force. I personally doubt this, and although a monolithic mistake was made on that morning, I believe and hope it can be found to be a specific error rather than a general and repeatable problem.
Many people have somewhat arrogantly prejudged the Independent Police Complaints Commissions inquiry. This issue has been warped beyond ensuring that the mistake that was made is never repeated and has become politised into something that brings no credit to any of the parties involved. I fully expect there to be some damning verdicts for individual police officers and commanders when the inquiry is completed. I hope the individuals responsible are made to fully feel their responsibility.
However, the event has given rise to some rabid hypocrisy. At Mr De Mendezes funeral in Brazil, banners were held with slogans stating that the British are “lower scum than the terrorists” and “deserving of what happened on July 7”. It should be noted that Brazil has the highest rate of police murders in the world. Furthermore, the way the De Mendezes family has been utilised by organistations with motives of their own has not helped the situation. Mr De Mendezes mother has been repeatedly paraded up and down sobbing and ranting as though we are so inhuman as to not realise the effect a death such as this can have on people’s lives. Mr George Galloway’s Respect Party has been one of the major culprits for exploiting political capital out of the whole situation. Anyone unfortunate to see Mr Galloway’s recent foray into the world of Big Brother will realise how desperate for publicity and credibility this party is. Furthermore, the media has also used the event, sentialising it to the max – is it not interesting that newspapers and television programmes quite happily showed pictures of Mr De Mendezes dead on the floor of the tube train, but refrained from showing pictures of blood covered walls at the scenes of the tube train bombs….?
No-one comes out of this with any credibility – police or otherwise.