Saturday, July 23, 2005

"Jumpy and nervous" 

Update 4: It's usually a pleasant experience reading the comments section, but for all the gnashing of teeth no one seems to have come up with any practical alternatives to deal with a similar incident in the future. It's all well to write that
If the police in Britain adopt a shoot to kill policy, they are going to need better intelligence than that they used to "identify" this fellow. And they are going to have to have an EXTREMELY comprehensive scrutiny system in place for the aftermath of an incident like this one. And that system will have to be WHOLLY independent of the police and politicians.
Or that
While the police are under an immense amount of pressure its their job to manage it and act accordingly so that situations like this don't occur. Allowing the situation to develop to the point where the only apparent option was to shoot the man dead was a failure on the side of the police.
it doesn't really tell us anything useful. By all means, let's have the best intelligence we can, let's have comprehensive scrutiny, but next time somebody comes out of a staked-out house wearing bulky clothes, and then tries to escape the police pursuit, do you:

a) during the pursuit try to shout some questions at him to establish his identity;

b) quickly draw straws to pick who will crash tackle him and thus potentially take the full force of the explosion;

c) let him go; it's a perfectly normal behavior to run away from the police; don't you?

d) withdraw troops from Iraq.

Update 3: Menezes' cousin Alex Pereira Alves is complaining that the London police wasn't profiling enough:
"How could they have done such a thing as to kill him from behind? How could they have confused and killed a light-skinned person who had no resemblance at all to an Asian?"
Now, now, Mr Alves, what an ugly stereotype that only Asians can be terrorist suspects (note for non-British readers: "Asian" in this context is used to denote Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, who constitute the majority of British Muslims). After all, one of the original 7/7 bombers was Jamaican, and the "Shoe bomber" Richard Reid was also half-Jamaican and half-English Caucasian.

Update 2: A lawsuit coming on? I wouldn't be surprised. Reader Andy B. reminds me of a similar case a few years ago, when British security forces in Gibraltar also shot to kill three suspected IRA terrorists, who turned out to be unarmed and not about to set a bomb off (although they were planning to do so later on). As the story progressed,
an inquest... concluded the three had been lawfully killed. However, the result was overturned at Strasbourg in 1995 when Britain was found to have used excessive force and breached the European Convention on Human Rights.
As I said before, I feel sorry for the victim, but I also feel sorry for the police who are in a no-win situation: accidents will sometimes unfortunately happen under a zero-tolerance shoot-to-kill policy; but if they decide to thread more softly and the suspects blows self and twenty other people up you can imagine the public outcry.

Updated: Tragically, the man shot by the police on the London subway turned out to be a 27-year old Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes, apparently unconnected to the terrorist attacks.

The left was quick to occupy the high-ground. This, from Atrios:
This issue is not those who are second-guessing cops who are frequently in horrible positions. I wasn't there and I don't know what they knew or what they thought they knew or what their orders were. Some of that will be revealed. The issue is the cheerleaders of the "shoot first ask questions later" attitude, and the critics of those who dare suggest that shooting someone the government has labelled "terrorist suspect" absent trial is problematic.
The question remains: what do you do? Don't like "shoot to kill"? Well, I don't like it either. But what do you replace it with? You have a suspect who looks like he might be carrying strapped-on explosives under a heavy, padded coat, who's going into a subway station, and who upon hearing "Stop! Police!" ("He spoke English very well," says his cousin, Maria Alves) sprints ahead, jumps over turnstalls, and leads the police on a wild chase into a train carriage. So what do you do? Over to you, Atrios.

The story:
Muslim leaders have called on the police to explain why an Asian man was shot dead at Stockwell station.

The Muslim Council of Britain said Muslims were concerned there was a "shoot to kill" policy in operation.

A spokesman said Muslims he had spoken to this morning were "jumpy and nervous".
In fact, "jumpy and nervous" is a pretty good description of the man shot dead by the London police. Inayat Bunglawala of the Council might well say "I have just had one phone call saying 'What if I was carrying a rucksack?'", but the suspect was hardly shot for that:
When the suspect began to travel down an escalator to the trains the officers yelled "Police, stop!"

But the man fled, vaulting a ticket barrier and sprinting for the platform.

As he stumbled on to a northbound Victoria Line train the officers closed in.

One of them then opened fire, hitting the man in the head.
Hardly a case of "Wearing a Rucksack While Pakistani"-type profiling, either:
Last night police sources told how undercover officers had followed the suspect to the station from an address in neighbouring Brixton, South London.

The house had been under surveillance overnight after its address was found on documents in one of the rucksacks used in Thursday'’s failed bomb attempts.

At 9am yesterday a young Asian man walked out of the house wearing a heavily-padded jacket.

He was tailed from a distance and followed on to a bus.

The officers in pursuit were wearing concealed earpieces connecting them to Anti-Terrorist chiefs at New Scotland Yard.

When it became clear the man intended to get off the bus near the station the officers urgently requested armed assistance -— fearing he had a bomb beneath his padded jacket and planned to detonate it on a train.
The suspect did not have explosives on him, but his behavior certainly led the authorities to assume the worst - and act decisively. This, of course, is bound to stir the debate:
Professor Paul Rogers of Bradford University said today's actions by Metropolitan Police armed officers appeared to have parallels with the "very strong" methods used by Israeli security forces and US troops in Iraq.

He said: "The kind of tactics the Met appear to have used this morning are very similar to the very tough tactics that the Israelis use against suspected suicide bombers."

In the Middle East, security forces tend not to shoot suspects in the chest or abdomen because of the risk of detonating explosives strapped to waistcoats habitually worn by bombers.

"To be blunt, they go for a head shot," he said.
The police are damned if they kill an innocent person (although in this case there seems to be more to the story than that), but they're even more damned if they give the suspect the benefit of the doubt, only to see him blow up on a train full of people.

"Jumpy and nervous"? That the Muslim community in Britain might well be. But so was the suspect. So are the police. And so are all of us. I'm only glad that I'm not the one having to make those split second life-and-death decisions.


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