Monday, July 25, 2005

Say what you mean, and mean what you say

Babble on.

I hope the police who shot the Brazilian man in the London subway on Friday followed their procedures to the letter. I also hope those procedures can withstand some scrutiny, because heaven knows they will be picked apart in the wake of this stupid, pointless death.

I say 'stupid' and 'pointless' because if Jean Charles de Menezes was nothing more than a young man afraid of being deported because he was working illegally in Britain, he didn't deserve a violent death, in the grand scheme of things.

Having said all that in an attempt to soften my next remarks, and nonetheless finding it impossible to make this point without sounding glib, I'll just spit it out: when police officers tell you to stop, it's not a polite suggestion, to be followed at your leisure. Anyone with the state's permission to mete out lethal violence should be obeyed, immediately and fully.

Skippy the Commie Canine has an excellent post up about process versus results in life-and-death security matters, but he cuts a corner that I can't let slide:

Police have procedures and rules for a reason, and if they follow them, bombings should be prevented. But there is no way to be 100% effective, short of killing everyone who drives up to your checkpoint, on principle. Those who think we can justify killing people for behaving suspiciously need to accept that the risk will not go away.

In a way, it doesn't matter whether the man the Metropolitan Police killed today was wearing a bomb or not. What matters is whether there was good reason to believe he was wearing one - "good reason," outside the world of rabid bloggers, being something more than jumping a turnstile while being south Asian in a public place. (Babbler's emphasis)

Of course, nobody was shot for jumping a turnstile. Police weren't standing just inside the gate, picking off any who dared to skip over without paying. This man was shot for disobeying and running from police. He was shot because he made some extraordinarily poor decisions: to not renew his visa, to run from police when confronted, and to run into a Tube station - of all places. Those decisions have probably ruined a number of lives, not the least of which was his own.

So I hope the police followed procedure and I hope the procedure was sound, because there are times when truly innocent lives will depend upon an officer's ability to pull the trigger at the right moment. Second-guessing isn't useful in those situations - the first guess is all you generally get.

But while I'm hoping here, I also hope those of us in the public at large will realize that if we expect those our society arms for our own protection to, in fact, protect us, that in return we must obey their instructions when required. I hope we can all remember that the serious consequences to disregarding those instructions are a vital part of protecting our safety.

'Stop' means stop. 'Get down on the ground' is not idle chit-chat. 'Put your hands on your head' is an imperative, not a casual recommendation.

It's a shame that it took the death of this particular young man to bring one of the foundations of the rule of law back into such clear focus.

Babble off.


At 2:56 p.m., Blogger wonderdog said...

Fair enough - but call it jumping a turnstile or running from police, the point is the same. Running from police is not a capital offence.

One point that needs to be made, however, is that when plainclothes police tell you to stop, it's just some threatening asshole in street clothes, unless he identifies himself properly.

Whether the police identified themselves properly is one of the key questions here, which needs to be answered before anyone can say who was in the right.

At 3:44 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

As I said in my post, I hope the police followed procedure, and that the procedure is airtight. From what I've gleaned, that would involve identifying themselves to a suspect, and warning him before they fired, unless they felt that that would have risked serious harm. If they didn't identify themselves as police, then all bets are off, of course.

Running from police is not a capital offence.

You're cutting corners again: neither is mass murder in Britain. They have no capital offences.

The question is under which circumstances lethal force is justified. As you've pointed out, without knowing the exact details in this case, it's difficult to judge.

But speaking generally, if a suspect in an attempted suicide bombing incident, walking about in an oversized coat on a warm day, refuses to stop when police identify themselves and instruct him to do so, and instead runs for the nearest crowded space, I'd say there are grounds for shooting him, even if nothing he's done constitutes a 'capital offence'.

Put another way, why is it that assault is a crime? Because if you wait until it's battery, it's too late.

At 8:24 p.m., Blogger The Tiger said...

Reminds me of the last scene in a novel I read as a college senior, "Ashes and Diamonds", in which one of the heroes whom we've followed through the book is moving to a new town, is running late for his train, and flees a sentry's challenge. He's shot dead.

Very sad -- and this situation was quite real, of course, and therefore much more important. When the facts of the situation are investigated, we'll see whether the police followed their own rules. (I suspect they did, and I suspect those rules are quite reasonable.) Won't bring the young man back, of course, but muzzling the police would probably be worse in the long run.

At 12:37 a.m., Blogger Candace said...

Everyone seems to have missed another important point.

He didn't just jump a turnstile, he had been followed since leaving an apartment building that had been under surveillance since the attempted bombings.

This is, indeed, an unfortunate, unnecessary death, but don't forget that, when he pulled the trigger, the cop truly believed he was shooting a terrorist.


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