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July 27, 2005

Police Response More Frightening Than the Killing

by Sanjay Suri

That an innocent Brazilian was shot dead on the London Underground is tragic; but the near-justification of that killing by the police is frightening.

The police have now openly declared a shoot-to-kill policy, and declared that they can shoot to kill just on suspicion. And that suspicion arising not from reliable intelligence or anything like that, but from just how someone may behave somewhere.

Until the other day everyone thought that a Brit licensed to kill was a character in a James Bond film. Now that is official British policy.

London's police commissioner Sir Ian Blair expressed "regret" – and no more – over the death of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes. That "regret" was accompanied by the remark that there could be more such killing of innocent people.

Ian Blair said the police had a shoot-to-kill policy to stop suspected suicide bombers. "This is not a Metropolitan [police] policy, this is a national policy and I think we are quite comfortable that the policy is right, but of course these are fantastically difficult times … there are still officers having to make those calls as we speak. Somebody else could be shot."

Not many police chiefs of cities around the world who carry the responsibility of protecting their citizens would say this. The chilling message is that right or wrong, if an armed policeman is suspicious of your movements, it is okay, in fact required by national policy, to instantly shoot to kill.

His predecessor John Stevens spelled out in bloody detail in an article in The News of the World weekly what his police had learned from the Israeli police. "I sent teams to Israel and other countries hit by suicide bombers, where we learned a terrible truth. There is only one sure way to stop a suicide bomber determined to fulfill his mission – destroy his brain instantly, utterly. That means shooting him with devastating power in the head, killing him immediately."

Charles was shot eight times, seven times in the head and once in the shoulder. Given the police environment these days, the policeman could be penalized for getting one of the eight shots wrong.

But Stevens expressed more than just regret. "My heart goes out to the officer who killed the man in Stockwell Tube Station," he wrote. Some people thought at first they had read that wrong. But no, his heart was not going out to the man killed, nor to his family and friends; it went out to the policeman who killed him.

The lies after lies that came thick and fast after that shooting uncover just how hollow the suspicions might be on the strength of which they have been given powers to shoot to kill.

First, that he was being watched and shadowed as he left his block of flats to take a bus to the station. That he was then followed to the train and shot when he ran. But there is now no word from the police why they were shadowing a Brazilian electrician – if they were shadowing him at all, that is. They said they shadowed him 15 minutes on a bus, but not a word about why they did not intercept him earlier.

Then came the announcement that he had been "directly connected" to inquiries over the attempts to plant bombs on trains a day earlier. Then the admission that this was not so at all, though the police were "comfortable" with the policy that made such a mistake possible.

Followed the announcement that he was an illegal immigrant and that he therefore ran when he saw the police. It then turned out he was not illegal at all. And no word why he ran, or even whether it was the case that he was challenged by the police and was running from the police. And there was more, that he came from a suspect neighborhood, that his jacket was too heavy for that hot summer day.

It was always frightening to know that you had to do all of nothing, just be somewhere some time, to get blown up by a terrorist. Now people know you could be doing almost nothing to get shot by the police. There needs to be as little sense to a policeman's suspicion as to a terrorist's madness.

Save us from the terrorists; but please also someone save us from our saviors.

(Inter Press Service)

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