Thursday, August 18, 2005

Mistakes of the correctable and permanent varieties

Babble on.

It seems the proprietor of flit has low expectations of me:

I look forward to the various expressions of anger now that initial reports [regarding the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes on a London subway], as they always were, proved wrong, from Ann Althouse, Glenn "suicide by cop" Reynolds, Damian Brooks, and others. I figure I'll be waiting a while.

BruceR obviously hasn't been reading me for very long if he belives me unwilling to admit my mistakes. When it proves necessary, I like to swallow my crow quickly to minimize the discomfort.

In this case, the mistake I need to admit is that I trusted initial reports. BruceR's may be that he's trusting a leaked document from an incomplete investigation. We'd both do better to wait until the final report to admit our mistakes.

But since BruceR has decided to throw down now, let's address his concerns. I think this is the key line from my own post:

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.

According to leaked documents from the investigation into the de Menzes shooting, my assessment doesn't look to be true:

The documents, including witness statements, also suggest Mr de Menezes did not hurdle the barrier at Stockwell tube station and was not wearing a padded jacket that could have concealed a bomb, as eyewitness reports previously suggested.
The latest documents suggest Mr de Menezes had walked into Stockwell Tube station, picked up a free newspaper, walked through ticket barriers, had started to run when he saw a train arriving and was sitting down in a train when he was shot.
Despite the eyewitness reports that Mr Menezes had worn a large winter-style coat, the leaked version suggested he had in fact worn a denim jacket.


But according to leaked documents from an independent police inquiry, Menezes was not challenged by police until he was already seated on the train. Menezes apparently walked calmly through the turnstile, picked up a free newspaper and only began running--along with other commuters--when his train had pulled into the station.

If the police didn't identify themselves before shooting, if de Menzes didn't run from their challenge, if his behaviour and dress weren't actually suspicious, then this is an inexcusably botched effort by British law enforcement.

As suggested by the New Statesman, the police aren't the only ones who made mistakes:

Another unsettling aspect of this affair, and one that is unlikely to fall fully within the remit of the IPCC, is the manner in which false information gained currency. No one with an interest in accountable, democratic government can be comfortable with what occurred. Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, referred in a press conference to suspicions aroused by the clothing and behaviour of Jean Charles de Menezes. There seems to be no doubt that some of his subordinates then supplied journalists with considerably more information that tended to mitigate the shooting - much of it, it now seems, just as inaccurate.

We need to be told at some stage how this happened, who was responsible and what they have to say for themselves. Journalists and editors, too, should be asking themselves questions: if they had been more scrupulous about identifying their sources of information from the outset, would the public have swallowed so many falsehoods?

Not as pressing a concern, in my view, but a concern nonetheless, and a pertinent one in discussing my own error. Quite simply, I assumed that the initial reports contained more truth than they actually did. And notwithstanding BruceR's disbelief, I am in fact angry at being mislead.

As I mentioned in the opening sentences of my initial post about this incident, it seems to me there are two issues here:

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.

Procedurally, the Met seems to have fallen down. While suspecting the wrong person is an unavoidable part of police work, a lack of communication between the unarmed surveillance team and the armed officers assigned last-minute to apprehend de Menzes might well have been the key factor in his death:

The surveillance team were under strict instructions not to allow de Menezes to board a train and a rapid decision was made to arrest him using armed officers, a procedure known as a 'hard stop'. But because the officers in the surveillance team had no weapons, they had to change places with officers from SO19, the Metropolitan Police firearms unit.

By the time the armed officers arrived, De Menezes was already inside, using his Oyster card to enter the station and casually walking down the escalator towards the platform.

The officers who shot de Menzes also need to answer some difficult questions. What information did they receive from the surveillance team or whatever authority tasked them that led them to believe this suspect was dangerous enough to justify a killing shot? Did they follow their own procedures? If so, why was de Menzes tackled and restrained before being shot?

At this point, it seems that both the procedures in place and their implementation by the officers involved were faulty. If this turns out to be the case, both senior officers and those on the ground bear responsibility for this tragedy. There should be consequences commensurate with the seriousness of their misjudgements.

Having said all that, I stand by the rest of my piece. In certain situations, police should shoot to kill. A suspect wearing bulky clothing who runs from their challenge into a Tube station invites a poor assessment of his intentions. Tragically, Jean Charles de Menezes doesn't fit that description, and certainly didn't deserve to die.

Babble off.


At 6:50 p.m., Blogger Timmy the G said...

An unfair jab from Bruce. Many - on all sides of the blogging commjunity - responded to those initial reports. I am willing to bet you will be among the few who actually addresses it in this manner, Damian.

At 8:46 p.m., Blogger Ghost of a flea said...

And many in the blogosphere are still forming opinions on incomplete, leaked information.

At 9:23 p.m., Blogger PR said...

"If the police didn't identify themselves before shooting, if de Menzes didn't run from their challenge, if his behaviour and dress weren't actually suspicious, then this is an inexcusably botched effort by British law enforcement."

It's worse then that. If the police didn't identify themselves prior to the shooting and shot him multiple times once he had already been contained (or restrained), it's murder plain and simple.


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