Wednesday, July 27, 2005

We Come In Peace....

Daphne: It makes me glad we don't have so many guns in England
Frasier: You don't need them. You've got steak and kidney pudding.


This is bad. Really, really bad. Bad on the "if this wasn't so really, really, really bad, it would actually be extremely funny" scale. One imagines Mr. Blair sitting down last Thursday and saying "Right, then: what's the worst thing we could possibly do? Well let's go for it! It's last thing anybody will be expecting!"

I'm not even sure if I ought to be writing this. P.C Plod has asked Tony for new powers to "suppress inappropriate internet usage". So of course, I'm checking back over my recent articles. There was that one where the words "Galloway" "Maybe" "Point" and "George" occurred in the same sentence. The one where I said "I can see how Johnny Muslim might be feeling a bit aggrieved, right now." And of course, the one where I said "Haven't we all, at one time or another, got on a train a blown ourselves to smithereens. Youthful high spirits, don't you know." So it's quite likely that, before I finish this piece, a british bobby on the beat will burst into house and shoot me. Through the head. Eight times.


If you come from Foreign, you'll probably find it strange that the English are still surprised when one of our bobbies on the beat shoot at someone. But we are. Our peelers are still generally unarmed. Most people from England have never seen a gun. The first time I went to Abroad when I was a kid, I literally couldn't believe that the French police had guns on their holsters. I couldn't take my eyes off them. I thought that kind of thing only happened in cowboy films. Hence the general sense of shock. This isn't America, where (I understand) primary school teacher carry shotguns and civil litigation is generally settled with pistols on mainstreet at high noon.

(It doesn't help that it happened at Stockwell. I didn't even know that Stockwell was a real place; I thought it was just a conceptual entity which existed in order for me to change branches of the Nothern Line.)

I'm not saying police should never have guns. No-one, apart from the Dali Lama doubts that there are some circumstance where the use of "lethal force" is the least worst option. I made a list of circumstances under which a British bobby on the beat might reasoanbly be expected to splatter someones brains over the platform.

I came up with the following list:

1: Someone presents such a serious and immediate danger to you, your fellow officer, or the public, that they have to be put completely out of action in the next five seconds.

An example of a "serious and immediate danager" might be "They are carrying a bomb, or you have good reason to think they are carrying bomb"

An example of a "good reason" would be "They are running down the street saying 'Look at me, I've got a bomb' ".

An example of "not a very good reason at all" would be "They are wearing an anorak of the sort that you could probably stuff a bomb down if you were the sort of person who went around with bombs stuffed down their anoraks."

Based on literally hours of painstaking research playing computer games, my understanding is that if someone is, say, brandishing a chainsaw or a shotgun, then there are ways of restraining them without being posthumous. Shooting them in the leg or the chest would probably do the trick. It's quite hard for an axe-wielding maniac to carry on wielding his axe if he he's preoccupied with the fact that blood is pouring out of his chest. But if you were planning to blow yourself to the Islamic equivilent of Kingdom-Come the fact that you are severely wounded won't necessarily stop you from lighting the blue touch paper. It might actually act as an insentive. So the English bobby on the beat can't afford to let his suspected suicide bomber so much as twitch. The only foolproof way to stop him detonating himself is to make sure that he is devoting one hundred per cent of his attention to some other activity e.g being dead.

But not everyone sees it like this. On Saturday morning, the tabloids were finding it hard to conceal their glee at the fact that a baddie having been killed. "One down, three to go" explained the "Daily Express", as if we were hunting down and summarily executing some sort of alien rodent. Shoot-to-kill wasn't a tactic in life-or-death situation; it was a declaration of war against terrorists in general. The only good terrorist is a bad terrorist, its easy to talk about the human rights of these scum but what about the human rights of the people who were blown up on the tube do you think if they took you hostage they'd give you a fair trial.

The reason that hanging was finally abolished in the 1950s was that the British public, who could deal with and I imagine quite enjoyed the idea of smalltime gangsters gurgling on the ends of pieces of rope, became squeamish about doing it to innocent people. The abolitionists didn't say "ritual strangulation doesn't seem very Chrisitan, does it, chaps?"; they said "Evans, Hanratty, Ellis, Bentley" as if that settled the argument; which, indeed, it did. It's rather impressive that the first beneficiary of this new fast-track capital punishment system should turn out to be a miscarriage of justice on a similar scale. Let's hope we can proceed directly to abolition, like we did last time.


All may be well, and all manner of things may be well. Maybe the british bobby on the beat had some intelligence...I'll rephrase that: maybe he had a very good reason, which we don't yet know but which will come out at the inquest, to think that the recepient of his target practice was about to let off a bomb. In that case we're in the realm of cock-up, not conspiracy. "Oh, did we say shoot the guy at number 23? We meant the guy at number 24. How incredibly embarassing." Accidents happen.

But the minute someone says "We knew he didn't have a bomb, but we thought he was a terrorist; and if he's a terrorist, then it doesn't matter very much if he has a bomb today – he's going to have one sooner or later, and the best thing to do is to liquidate him" -- the minute we go from "shooting to kill terrorists who are an immediate threat" to "shooting to kill terrorists" then things are really, really bad.

A fortnight ago, we had nothing more to fear than psychotic fundementalists with semtex in their rucksacks, and the web was full of inspirational pictures of chirpy Londoners telling the world that "We are not afraid." Now, the danger is from british bobbies on the beat with automatic pistols, who apparently believe that it is a truth universally accepted that a dark-skinned man in possession of a thick jacket must be in want of bullet through the head.

Speaking for myself, We Are Bloody Terrified.


This is, as I believe I mentioned, really, really bad. But in one respect, it could have been so much worse. If there was a million strong community of radical, militant Brazillians in this country; and if many of them already felt agrreived, alienated or marginalised -- where would we have been on Sunday morning?

63 comments:

American Ronin said...

Now America isn't quite as bad as that. We just feel that a man violently assaulted should have options other than capitulating or waiting for the police to possibly intervene.

jat8d said...

Andrew, I also noticed the difference in tone in the interviews from London. A couple of weeks ago, everyone was very much, "yeah, well, no big deal." Having the police actually shoot someone, that seems to have really shaken people.

And, American Ronin, some people think that. There is a wide divergence of opinion on gun control. But, as a culture, I agree, we tend to shrug at the number of people killed (mistakenly or not) by the police and react strongly to terrorist attacks.

How much of that British/American difference is because of the relative scarcity of events (I'm considering the IRA campaign as part of the picture here) and how much is a difference in what we think is important?

J

Helen Louise said...

I don't really have much to say, but I agree with you totally :) It's one thing to grab a potential terrorist, but another entirely to kill him just in case. "Shoot first, ask questions later!"

Chestertonian Rambler said...

I'm in Oxford for the summer, and had a rather depressing conversation with a barkeeper the other day. He was talking about the needed increase in security measures, and I mentioned how relaxing it felt to walk by policemen who didn't have guns (I've actually asked bobbies for directions!) His response:

"Well, sooner or later we'll end up following you guys in everything."

I certainly hope not. America may have a lot of virtues, but our mindless ends-justifies-the-means obsession with practicality is not one of them.

"Finland, Finland, Finland
That is the land for me..."

Robin Newberry said...

Maybe a technicality, but doesn't the victim bear some responsibility for this? I mean, if the Police tell you to stop, maybe you shouldn't run away and jump a turnstile into the tube station, you know?

Dan Hemmens said...

If you shoot somebody, you bear responsibility for the shooting. It really is that simple.

And these were plain clothes policemen, and a single shout of "Stop: Police" from behind you, from two punks with guns isn't necessarily going to register.

Charles Filson said...

Andrew,

First a little quibble" Shooting them in the leg or the chest would probably do the trick.

I would not want a person to shoot and try to aim for a leg or something. Aim center mass, and shoot to kill. Trick shooting is more likely to miss and hit some poor bystander. If you pull a gun it had better be to kill, otherwise you should try something else. Maybe some of those "less lethal" weapons we keep hearing about.

I have to wonder though, how well I would have done in that policeman's shoes. I see a guy in an...Anorak?...Big Jacket?, and think I see a wire sticking out and I tell him to stop and he runs and starts heading for a subway, there is a chance that in a moment of panic I might shoot him dead. I could also imagine what the papers would say if I let him go and he did kill himself and 20 other people. They'd explain that I should have know: a dark skinned guy wearing an Anorak in the summer in London...
Decisions like that are the reason I didn't go into the family business. (Police...Dad, Grandad, and 2 Brothers.)

I'm not saying it is right. If the police here shot every dark-skinned guy in a big jacket that ran from them we would have an annual death toll in the thousands. I'm just saying that I don't envy the Bobby that had to make that decision in a moment. I've only known one police officer who ever shot and killed somebody. He never recovered from it.

I hope that the guy didn't shoot him just in case. I would really really hope that he at leat thought he had a bomb. (And had a better reason for thinking that than the color of his skin.)

Mike Taylor said...

As always the attitude of the press doesn't make it any easier to get to the bottom of this sad story. I was struck by the Evening Standard headlines blaring from the boards the day after the killing: Shooting Victim Had Expired Visa. I thought to myself, ``That'll bloody show him''. The sense coming from the press really did seem to be that if foreigners are going to go wilfully walking around London with expired visas, then they jolly well deserve what's coming to them.

Ah, England sweet England.

As is so often the case when it comes to issues of Government, the Americans have the ideas nailed down far better then we do. (I mean good, honest, long-dead Americans such as Abraham Lincoln, of course; not nasty contemporary Americans such as George W. Bush). These two observations spring to mind:

"It is the duty of a patriot to protect his country from its government" -- Thomas Paine.

"The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government" -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Sylvia Drake said...

American Ronin:

1) I take it as somewhat indicative of how bad America is that we consider a crime victim to have three options: a) be victimized, b) "wait" for police (who are not particularly expected to be of use in this scenario) or c) shoot his or her assailant. (We see this in Florida's recent redefinition of a "self-defense" shooting, of which I'm sure you are aware if you hang out in the blogosphere.)

2) Some of us even think that a woman violently assaulted should have options other than a) and b). What is this, 1850?

Paul Brown said...

Mike,

I could well be wrong, particularly since I didn't read the article in question, but is it not possible that the meaning of the headline, and the accompanying text, was in fact "he had a valid (or at least non-terrorism related) reason to run like hell when confronted with a policeman"?

Also, I must agree with Charles on the "shoot to wound". I was a member of a gun club for two years and the main thing drummed into us time and again was "never, ever point a gun at someone unless you intend to kill them, because that's the most likely outcome", in fact anyone pointing an unloaded, fake gun in the general direction of another human in sight of the club board was banned for life and their details circulated to other clubs around the country. If you don't want to kill someone, and unless there is absolutley no other option then you shouldn't, then don't pull a gun. Guns do kill people and they don't always need human intervention as some trigger mechanisms are so sensitive that a sharp knock can set them off.

That's not to say that "non-lethal" weapons can't kill; Tasers, for example, can easily kill people who have heart conditions, but at least they are less likely to kill. They aren't ideal, but they are better.

Also, I agree with Charles as regards the policeman on the spot; all armed police, I imagine, have in their mind the thought of the inquest when they decide whether or not to shoot. I am sure that their training and experience guides them in their assesment of the situation, but they wouldn't be human if they weren't also thinking "will my superiors hang me out to dry if I get it wrong?". It would be nice to think that, if an armed policeman doesn't shoot and the person that they didn't kill kills someone else, then we would be objective and say, "you made the right decision with the information you had; that you were later proved wrong does not invalidate that," but we wouldn't. The nation at large, personified mainly by the media, would crucify them.

Shoot to kill as a general policy is wrong, but if we don't give the police the support they deserve then I'm not surprised that they asked for it.

Louise H. said...

There is a difference between supporting the police as an institution and supporting individuals who make wrong decisions. Just as there is a difference between supporting our armed forces and believing that no soldier should be prosecuted for actions taken in the line of duty.

Being an armed policeman must be a difficult job, with high stakes. But if a policeman kills an innocent man in circumstances where it is clear that he need not have done so then that policeman must face the consequences. The whole discussion of a "shoot to kill" policy seems to sidestep that by suggesting that such an action is authorised. You can be authorised for shooting someone who you have sufficient reason to believe is an immediate danger but as Andrew pointed out wearing a thick coat is not sufficient reason. I'm sure the police are very much on edge but being jumpy can't justify the unjustifiable.

With great power comes great responsibility. Yes it's tough on the policeman who made a mistake; its considerably tougher on the family of the dead guy. The policeman chose to join an armed unit; he's being entrusted with a gun on the basis that he won't kill people with it unless absolutely necessary.

João Lemos dos Santos said...

Andrew, I've been reading your blog for quite a while (well, actually, first the older page, then the blog), but this really made me want to say something.

I'm a brazilian, and I can tell you this: people here are pissed. Anti-american sentiment is at an all-time high, and though people have been bunching the British together with the Americans for quite a while now, criticism to the British was nowhere as vicious as it was towards the US. And then this happened.

To hear that a brazilian was killed because of a policeman's stupid mistake is bad enough, but the British government's half-assed apology and the fact that instead of being arrested the policeman who did this was put on paid holiday- that really added insult to injury. I know the English are a good people, and that the london bombing shook you all up pretty badly, but still... people are angry at Blair, at Bush (it seems everything that ever goes bad that is remotely related to international politics is Bush's fault), and at the racist attitude that made the policeman shoot the poor man eight times for having a darker skin tone and speaking with an accent. And though I've never shared any hatred towards any country, and especially not towards England, I must admit I'm pretty angry as well.

Dan Hemmens said...

Aim center mass, and shoot to kill. Trick shooting is more likely to miss and hit some poor bystander.

A quibble with your quibble.

In this context, "Shoot to Kill" distinctly does not mean "aim centre mass" it means "aim for the head," because according to the Police commission "the only option is to eliminate the brain, totally and instantly."

I agree with Paul that if you're firing a gun at somebody, you should expect to kill them, but there is I think, still a valid difference between "shoot" and "shoot to kill." A single bullet in the torso is very likely to be fatal. Eight bullets in the head on the other hand...

Paul Brown said...

Dan's right; the correct policy is "shoot, but in the knowledge that death is likely" rather than "shoot to kill". Also, Louise, I'm not sure if my post was really clear, so to clarify - yes, I agree completely.

Charles Filson said...

Sure, I agree with that. By 'shoot to kill' I guess I meant something more like 'don't try a trick shot in the leg or something'.

However, to quibble a bit more. I'm pretty anti-cop...I know sounds weird, but living in a family full of cops I have developed a massice dislike for the very common 'Us = Goodguys' 'Them (Meaning everybody else) = badguys or at the least potential badguys' attitude of police. I spend most family gathings verbally defending the rights of 'civilians' (and reminding my family members that at least in America...police are also civilians.) That being said, I have to point out that most cops, when asked how many shots they fired after a shooting, will say something like 'one or two' when in fact they have unloaded the clip. They are not trying to be deceitful. They usually really only thought they fired once or twice. It's an adrenaline thing.

John Santos,

Most police are put on paid leave while they are being investigated. In the US it's part of their contract. They are still innocent until proven guilty. However, if this guy is found to have shot wrongfully, without proper cause, then I am guesing they will at least stop paying him, and probably do a lot worse.
It's possible that this fellow jumped the gun and pronounced his sentence wihtout proper evidence. ' Best if we don't do the same in his case.

PS: To the British: welcome back the unpopular club. We and Japan have been lonely here without you. ;-)

Playitsam said...

Now wait a minute primary school teachers don't, as a rule, carry guns. At least not in the classroom. At least not for now. Also civil litigation is still done in courts. Honest. Unless of course the loser isn't happy with the results. An attorney in California was shot by a former client. Apparently the fellow was not happy with the quality of representation he received. Meanwhile, the state of Virginia now allows people to walk around with concealed weapons on their person. Also several bright Republicans want to end Washington, D.C.'s restrictive gun laws. Despite the concept of states' rights, Repubs love to meddle when it comes to something they hold sacred - like guns.Still - I understand your shock. Your guys didn't even carry guns until recently. However wasn't there a concern that the guy shot might blow up his backpack? What a world we live in. Osama Bin Laden said that we would lose our rights. And he was right!

Clement said...

I'm reminded of a scene in Joseph Conrad's 'The Secret Agent' -an anarchist, who makes a living making explosives and selling them to terrorists, challenges a police officer to shoot him on the street. He actually wants him to do it, since a policeman taking an action like that will bring society one step closer to collapse.

American Ronin said...

Sylvia Drake said:
1) I take it as somewhat indicative of how bad America is that we consider a crime victim to have three options: a) be victimized, b) "wait" for police (who are not particularly expected to be of use in this scenario) or c) shoot his or her assailant.

It seems to me that when confronted with violent force, all responses possible can fit into four categories, one of which I neglected above.

Capitulation, choosing to yield. In some situations, this is the best response. In others, it isn't. In some cases, an attacker will be further provoked by what he percieves to be capitulation. In others, what the attacker wants from you is more than you want to give. For example, a woman ordered by a man with a gun to go with him to a secluded location or die. Odds are, if she capitulates, she'll be dead anyway. In any case, yielding without a fight (for example, because of adherence to a principle of nonviolence) is a responce that I have nothing against. But given the choice, it's not the option I'd want to take.

Then there is passively hoping for help. Very rarely is this effective. Police cannot be everywhere at once. If mugged in an ally, there's probably not going to be a cop car appearing right at the crucial moment. If someone has broken into your house and you've called for the police, your odds are better, but it will still take them time to get there, possible a lot of time.

Flight, the option I neglected earlier. If you're being threatened by a man with a gun, trying this gives you fair odds of a bullet in the back. Otherwise, it's a reasonable course of action.

Finally, resistance. In most cases, it works, or at least gives you better odds. But I see you interpret this option as "shooting his or her assailant." But that is not what I said, nor even what I meant. Now, I believe absolutely that when threatened with lethal force, an individual has the right to respond with lethal force. But in most documented cases of armed law-abiding citizens using their weapons in self-defense (and there are many), they did not have to shoot. Simply producing the weapon was enough to force the attacker to back down. That's the ideal outcome.

If you know of any responses besides these, I'd be fascinated to hear them.

You further say:
2) Some of us even think that a woman violently assaulted should have options other than a) and b). What is this, 1850?

I habitually use "man" when referring generically to mankind. While it may be a lingering relic of patriarchal oppression, it's the term I've gotten used to using. My apologies if I've inadvertently given offense with it.

Larraine said:
Now wait a minute primary school teachers don't, as a rule, carry guns. At least not in the classroom. At least not for now.

Although, if some teachers did carry guns to school, bloodbaths like the one at Columbine could concievably have been halted, or at least curtailed with fewer victims.

Phil Masters said...

Your guys didn't even carry guns until recently.

Point of information; not so. Most UK cops have never carried guns and still don't. Under some circumstances (mostly involving possibly-armed suspects), some officers (supposedly specially selected and trained for the purpose) can be issued with guns. Some units (e.g. the Diplomatic Protection Group) are actually armed most of the time, though the public likes to forget this.

There may be more firearms being dished out to more cops more of the time these dayes than previously - certainly in the last month - but the number of officers permitted to carry them is unlikely to have gone up much in that time. Anyway, if one digs through the history of armed policing in the UK, one runs into quite a lot of black comedy. Like, back in the '30s, some of the Metropolitan Police Night Patrols were discovered to have been routinely carrying pistols for years, without anyone noticing. Fortunately, they'd never actually fired them - probably fortunately, given the rusty collection of Victorian-era service revolvers and junk which emerged from various pockets when some senior officer thought to ask.

G T Kingston said...

I can think of a few other options (none perfect of cause), but they revolve around reducing the likelihood of getting into trouble, and would do no good if you actually got into that situation:

5) Be alert and cautious, so you are less likely to get into trouble.

6) Insitute strict weapon control laws, so it would be difficult for the average assailant to get hold of a long range weapon.

7) Tackle the sociological issues that contribute to criminality.

Personally, I am a bit more sceptical than some about the amount of use having a gun would be. I suspect in most violent assaults the attack would come by supprise, and a gun would not be much help (that was my experience when I got mugged). What American Ronin said about defenders guns causing the assailant to back off only counts the successes. It is not clear to me that pulling a gun would always be of benefit (eg, it might escalate a robbery into a shooting).

American Ronin said...

g t kingston said:

5) Be alert and cautious, so you are less likely to get into trouble.

I suppose I had thought this went without saying. But I was referring to responses when you were, despite any prior precautions, faced with the threat of violence at the present moment. Being alert and cautious (what pistolmaster Jeff Cooper calls "condition yellow") is a good habit, but even the most cautious people can find themselves in dangerous situations.

6) Insitute strict weapon control laws, so it would be difficult for the average assailant to get hold of a long range weapon.

A policy that has worked superbly in Japan, and rather abysmally in New York City. gun control laws are only effective if they can be fully enforced, and that hasn't been the case so far in America. Even then, there are plenty of short-range weapons that can be just as lethal. A mugger or burglar or rapist with a kitchen knife is just about as dangerous in close quarters. But again, enacting laws to prohibit firearms is a preventative measure, not an at-the-scene response to an attack.

7) Tackle the sociological issues that contribute to criminality.

Also a fine thing to do, but a difficult and expensive one. Fighting root causes is a good long-term strategy, but of little help to the man (or woman) facing an armed criminal demanding their wallet.

Personally, I am a bit more sceptical than some about the amount of use having a gun would be. I suspect in most violent assaults the attack would come by supprise, and a gun would not be much help (that was my experience when I got mugged).

Which is why I believe firmly in extensive training for those who carry firearms. When taken by surprise it may not be possible to put the gun to use, but individuals trained to remain calm and react properly to such situations have better chances. Even so, there are times when a gun will be of no use. Of course, there are also car accidents when a seat belt wasn't enough to save a passenger's life. But I still wear a seat belt, and still carry a weapon, and hope I never need to rely on either.

What American Ronin said about defenders guns causing the assailant to back off only counts the successes.

I would have thought that went without saying. But the successes substantially outweigh the failures.

It is not clear to me that pulling a gun would always be of benefit (eg, it might escalate a robbery into a shooting).

I concur, which is why I said above that sometimes capitulation is the best response. But at times when capitulation isn't the best response, I prefer to have another option available.

Dan Hemmens said...

However wasn't there a concern that the guy shot might blow up his backpack?

Not really, since he didn't have one.

He was wearing a puffer jacket. This could, in theory, have concealed a bomb belt.

Charles Filson said...

Puffer Jacket? Anorak? I am still confused. Is this a big Parka type thing? Or more like a rain slicker?
I'm sure it doesn't matter all that much, but I am curious.

Phil Masters said...

A "puffer jacket" would generally be a padded warm, well, jacket; an "anorak" would be waterproof, less padded, and maybe slightly longer, with a hood. Either could, I guess, cover a fairly serious amount of explosive, and would look a bit odd in the sort of weather we had in the UK that day (though a Brazilian would doubtless have considered it rather cool).

On the other hand, at least one recent report suggests that he was just wearing a lightweight denim jacket. All information still hazy.

Personally, I think the details of the actual scene are a bit marginal. When you've got armed cops confronting somebody they think might be a suicide bomber - well, a cop might make a reasonable (but incorrect) judgement call, or an honest mistake, or he might over-react in the heat of the moment, or he might suddenly turn into a trigger-happy idiot. The point is that something on these lines is very likely (though if it's the last in this case, I hope that he suffers the legal consequences); once you've got this situation, the suspect is pretty likely to end up dead.

So the real issue has to be with whoever pointed those armed cops at an innocent target in the first place. They're running surveillance in a life-and-death situation, and they end up trailing the wrong man, plus they let him get on and off a bus despite the fact that they supposedly think that he might be a suicide bomber, and then ask plain-clothes cops to deal with the situation as he enters a busy underground station. That's just criminal incompetence at the command level, and it's the supervising officers I'd really want to see hung out to dry, frankly.

At minimum, I'd also hope to hear that some officers were leaving the force after this, frankly. Somebody killed an innocent man. Any cop who can still stomach the job after being responsible for that isn't fit to be in the police in the first place.

(The slick efficiency of Scotland Yard in this case looks a bit uncertain at times. The arrests last week were all very dramatic, but when the TV shows an armed cop ineffectually trying to get into an empty flat, while two young kids wander out of an adjacent door and, apparently, complain that he's upsetting their gerbil - well, I worry some more.)

ref said...

Its a tragedy, without doubt. If a bomb had gone off, however - when the police were in a position to stop that happening, and my family were killed as a consequence, I would have been very much annoyed.

The guy left a house under surveilance, ran towards an underground after being repeatedly told to stop by armed police.

As a general rule, if staying alive is your thing, doing the opposite of what people with guns tell you, isn't the best of moves.

Its easy to play moral philosopher after the fact.

Louise H. said...

This assumes that the chap
a) heard the police at all
b) worked out that they were shouting at him and not one of the many other commuters rushing for the Tube
c) worked out that despite the lack of uniform they were police and not some of the many people who try to get your attention on the Underground and which he probably didn't have time for.
d) worked out that they were armed. Armed plains clothes police are hardly common on our streets.

I suspect that if he'd managed to process all the above he would have stopped. But it's asking a lot of an early morning commuter with other things on his mind.

Phil Masters said...

Its a tragedy, without doubt.

How nice to hear so many people acknowledge this, before they start making excuses. (I don't normally share Andrew's allergic reaction to Tony Blair, but the sight of him waffling on these lines made me quite seriously angry.)

If a bomb had gone off, however - when the police were in a position to stop that happening, and my family were killed as a consequence, I would have been very much annoyed.

And there's no chance that any of your family will ever be shot eight times in the head by an over-zealous or badly directed policeman. Obviously.

(For that matter, if that guy had been a suicide bomber, and had detonated a bomb on the bus he used just before he was shot, I imagine there might have been some unhappiness from people's families.)

The guy left a house under surveilance,

Which he knew how, exactly?

ran towards an underground after being repeatedly told to stop by armed police.

Reports vary. The best I've been able to pick up seem to suggest that he was challenged maybe once, by armed men who certainly weren't wearing any sort of uniforms. The police have specifically said that they're permitting themselves to shoot people dead without any warning whatsoever.

As a general rule, if staying alive is your thing, doing the opposite of what people with guns tell you, isn't the best of moves.

It's easy to tell people how they should act in high-stress situations. It's a lot harder to follow that advice. (I've never had a real gun pointed at me, but I can say for a fact that my first responses in less serious but equally unexpected circumstances have usually been all over the shop.) Armies spend months training their recruits how to respond in such circumstances, and don't always succeed.

Its easy to play moral philosopher after the fact.

Just like it's always easy to tell dead people how they should have acted. However, the police are paid to deal with tricky situations calmly and with minimum necessary force. When there's evidence that they aren't doing so, we're entitled to criticise.

Dan Hemmens said...

And there's no chance that any of your family will ever be shot eight times in the head by an over-zealous or badly directed policeman. Obviously.

And that, unfortunately, is the issue (and one I go into in rather more depth in my own blog - he plugged shamelessly). The natural reaction to a terrorist bombing is to think "gosh, that could have happened anywhere at any time" - that, after all, is what the terrorists want you to think. The natural reaction to a police shooting is to think "gosh, what sad things happen to other people."

That's why people are so hung up on whether or not Jean Charles de Menezes was an illegal immigrant. It allows them to keep on believing that random police shootings will only happen to a Bad Sort of Person. It allows them to believe that there really is no chance that a policeman will shoot them, or anybody they know or care about.

ref said...

How nice to hear so many people acknowledge this, before they start making excuses.

Firstly, its not 'excuses', and secondly, just because someone is adopting another position on the matter, it doesn't make their appreciation of its tragedy any less than yours, or anyone elses.

And there's no chance that any of your family will ever be shot eight times in the head by an over-zealous or badly directed policeman. Obviously.

I'm not sure. I doubt that they will. I also doubt that they would run away from armed police.

But you have no idea whether the policeman was over-zealous, or that he was badly directed, so blanket condemnation isnt warranted.

(For that matter, if that guy had been a suicide bomber, and had detonated a bomb on the bus he used just before he was shot, I imagine there might have been some unhappiness from people's families.)

Well, yes. Which would have resulted in many after-the-fact moral philosophers saying how wrong it was to allow the man onto the bus/train given that he had left a building under surveilance and wouldn't respond to armed police calls to stop.

The guy left a house under surveilance,

Which he knew how, exactly?


Its irrelevant how he knew. What is relevant is that this was the information the police were working from. Thats the nature of police work.

Reports vary. The best I've been able to pick up seem to suggest that he was challenged maybe once, by armed men who certainly weren't wearing any sort of uniforms.

I'd suggest that was selective reading. However, I'm sure the inquest will make conclusive findings.

The police have specifically said that they're permitting themselves to shoot people dead without any warning whatsoever.

I havent read that.

It's easy to tell people how they should act in high-stress situations.

Yeah, about as easy as it is to people what they should or shouldn't do when their own, and many people's lives round about them could potentially be in danger.

It's a lot harder to follow that advice. (I've never had a real gun pointed at me, but I can say for a fact that my first responses in less serious but equally unexpected circumstances have usually been all over the shop.)

If someone shouted "Armed police! stop!", I'd stop.

Armies spend months training their recruits how to respond in such circumstances, and don't always succeed.

No, they spend months training recruits how to shoot people, and avoid being shot. "Surrender or be killed" comes naturally.

Just like it's always easy to tell dead people how they should have acted. However, the police are paid to deal with tricky situations calmly and with minimum necessary force. When there's evidence that they aren't doing so, we're entitled to criticise.

As far as I can tell, they were perfectly calm. And they did deal with a tricky situation, and with what they considered to be the minimum necessary force.

What would you have suggested they done?

Andrew Rilstone said...

What would you have suggested they done?

If they had real and specific evidence that he had a bomb, then they should have used the absolute minimum possible force to prevent him letting it off. I understand that the absolute minimum force in those circumstances would be "blow his brains out."

If they did not have real and specific evidence that he had a bomb, but still wanted to question him, they should have used non lethal force to apprehend him, and if they couldn't apprehend him non-lethally, they should have let him get away.

I don't think that "looking a bit suspicious" or "running away from a police officer" should carry the death penalty.

And no-one is discussing moral philosphy, that I have spotted. If we didn't all agree on the philosphical principles (murder is a bad thing, the state is permitted to use lethal force in extreme circumstances, mistakes are forgivable but we need to know that it was the sort of mistake a reasonable person could have made, anything on the front page of the Daily Mail can be assumed to be untrue) we would not be discussing practical matters about police response to terrorism.

Dan Hemmens said...

What would you have suggested they done?

Not shot him.

Simple as that really.

There is a word for this specific sort of logical fallacy - wherein your question implicitly makes a number of assumptions to which it does not admit.

When you say "what would you have suggested they do" what you really mean is "given that anybody running from the police is hiding something, that it is better to kill an innocent man than run the risk of somebody letting a bomb off, and that a shoot to kill policy is an effective means of preventing terrorist bombings, what would you have suggested they do."

The police acted in a very difficult situation, but they acted wrongly. They killed an innocent man, and didn't actually save anybody's life at all. People seem to think that the fact that if he had been a terrorist and if he'd had a bomb then he might have killed some people means his death was some sort of necessary precaution. It wasn't. It was a cockup.

ref said...

Not shot him.

Simple as that really.


Things are rarely simple. Anyway..

There is a word for this specific sort of logical fallacy - wherein your question implicitly makes a number of assumptions to which it does not admit.

What word would that be? Its certainly not begging the question.

It was a simple question.

When you say "what would you have suggested they do" what you really mean is "given that anybody running from the police is hiding something, that it is better to kill an innocent man than run the risk of somebody letting a bomb off, and that a shoot to kill policy is an effective means of preventing terrorist bombings, what would you have suggested they do."

No, I "really meant" (whatever that means) what I really said. I asked what you thought the police should have done.

The police acted in a very difficult situation, but they acted wrongly.

I'm not sure they did. The word 'wrongly' is a word that carries different meanings. There are certain definitions for which I would agree with your assessment, and others where I wouldn't.

They killed an innocent man, and didn't actually save anybody's life at all. People seem to think that the fact that if he had been a terrorist and if he'd had a bomb then he might have killed some people means his death was some sort of necessary precaution.

However, had he not been innocent, then it would have been a necessary precaution.

The bottom line is that they made a mistake, and it cost an innocent person their live. Which is heart-breaking for the man and his family.

However, that is not the entire landscape of the issue. The man is not entirely devoid of responsibility, either.

The police made a difficult call - I'm glad I didn't have to make it.

It wasn't. It was a cockup.

In some senses it was, in other senses it wasn't.

Taking an absolute stance on either side of the issue side of it involves having to ignore much of the information we have.

ref said...

If they had real and specific evidence that he had a bomb, then they should have used the absolute minimum possible force to prevent him letting it off. I understand that the absolute minimum force in those circumstances would be "blow his brains out."

Which makes the situation all the more difficult.

If they did not have real and specific evidence that he had a bomb, but still wanted to question him, they should have used non lethal force to apprehend him, and if they couldn't apprehend him non-lethally, they should have let him get away.

This is hard to disagree with, and something that has to be considered. However, I dont think its quite as simple as that. If a bomb-suspect, when attempting to be stopped by armed police, starts running towards a tube and scaling bannisters etc, then the "real and specific" evidence increases.

I think all I'm trying to say is that it isnt quite as black and white as people would like to make it.

I don't think that "looking a bit suspicious" or "running away from a police officer" should carry the death penalty.

Thats making the issue rather more simplistic than it actually was. I'm not sure anyone would argue that either of those things should carry the death penalty.

And no-one is discussing moral philosphy, that I have spotted. If we didn't all agree on the philosphical principles (murder is a bad thing, the state is permitted to use lethal force in extreme circumstances, mistakes are forgivable but we need to know that it was the sort of mistake a reasonable person could have made, anything on the front page of the Daily Mail can be assumed to be untrue) we would not be discussing practical matters about police response to terrorism.

I see no reason to make a distinction between moral philosophy and applied moral philosophy. Moreover, any claim that it was Wrong to shoot that man in an ethical sense is moral philosophy.

Charles Filson said...

I don't fear that I will ever be shot dead even if I happen to be running on a subway platform in London because I don't 'look a bit foreign'...is this picture for real?

http://www.rrbbs.com/cgi-bin/bbs/thread.pl?2-1316

Phil Masters said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Phil Masters said...

...is this picture for real?

As the follow-up discussion on that page says, it's quite likely a real scene, but doubtless a joke.

(There's apparently also a joke e-mail doing the rounds advertising transparent backpacks for Asian-looking tube travellers.)

Dan Hemmens said...

However, that is not the entire landscape of the issue. The man is not entirely devoid of responsibility, either.

That's sort of what I'm saying. He in fact is entirely devoid of responsibility. Failure to co-operate with the police is barely an offence at all, let alone one that warrents shooting.

I am perfectly willing to admit that the death of Jean Charles de Menezes was an accident, and that it was an accident that came about as a result of some extremely complex circumstances. I am even wiling to accept that his running from the police contributed to their making the mistake of shooting him. But it was still a mistake.

If a bomb-suspect, when attempting to be stopped by armed police, starts running towards a tube and scaling bannisters etc, then the "real and specific" evidence increases.

No, it doesn't. The circumstancial evidence increases. There is still no real and specific evidence.

You seem to be missing the point that Andrew is making (and, similarly, the point that I made in my post). I am not saying that because he was innocent the police were wrong to shoot him. I am saying that given the evidence they had the police were wrong to shoot him.

Even if he had been guilty. Even if he had been carrying forty pounds of semtex, without - as Andrew puts it - real and specific evidence that he presented a threat to the public, they should not have shot him. Real and specific evidence means something like "they have actually seen the bomb" or "the intelligence services have evidence that he was planning to go to Stockwell and blow up a train." It does not mean "he looked a bit like an arab, and had a coat you could have hidden a bomb under."

Again I feel it needs to be pointed out that the scorecard for the shoot-to-kill policy so far reads:

Innocent Lives Saved - 0
Innocent People Killed - 1

The police have done a sterling job rounding up the suspects from the July 21st attacks, and they have done it without shooting anybody in the head. Furthermore, their failure to shoot anybody in the head has resulted in suspiciously few of these hardened suicide bombers self-detonating.

Phil Masters said...

Firstly, its not 'excuses',

Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck...

and secondly, just because someone is adopting another position on the matter, it doesn't make their appreciation of its tragedy any less than yours, or anyone elses.

However, the moment people start getting mealy-mouthed, and inserting "buts" and "howevers" into the discussion of an inexcusable, murderous cock-up, it sounds very, very like an excuse.

To save you asking; the correct official response to this incident, in my opinion, would have been for Blair and/or a very senior police officer to stand up and say "We screwed up inexcusably; we apologise unreservedly for that, we're immediately withdrawing and reviewing the special rules under which our officers are operating, and everyone directly involved in this appalling incident is suspended from duty immediately, pending an independent investigation and probably disciplinary procedures. And if the investigation says that the ultimate blame rests with me, I will of course resign."

Apart from anything else, that might have restored a little bit of confidence in the police in certain places where it's absolutely required. As they keep telling us, and rightly, dealing with the terrorist problem is going to require a lot of help and cooperation from the public. People have to be persuaded to report stuff that might be crucially important.

For example, I think I read that one of the 21/7 suspects was identified by his own family when his photograph was published (but before the Brazilian guy was killed). That would be a hard decision for anyone, but it was right, and absolutely essential; if someone's planning to blow himself up in a public place, the best chance of saving him and a lot of other people is to get the cops to arrest him.

But now, consider the situation of someone who thinks that an old friend or family member might be involved in one of the nutcase death-cults. Should they call the police? Perhaps. But the police are shooting on suspicion, without warning. Making that call is apparently going to put that friend or relation in line for summary execution.

So what do you reckon are the chances of a normal person making that call now?

And there's no chance that any of your family will ever be shot eight times in the head by an over-zealous or badly directed policeman. Obviously.

I'm not sure. I doubt that they will. I also doubt that they would run away from armed police.

Must be nice to have a family who have nothing but cool heads and iron nerves (and perfect hearing). Some of the rest of us are more human.

But you have no idea whether the policeman was over-zealous, or that he was badly directed, so blanket condemnation isnt warranted.

Indeed. I'm trying to be provisional about any specific suggestions or opinions I offer, because - as ever - the details of news reports are changing from day to day. For example, it was initially said that the victim had vaulted the ticket barrier; more recently, it's been suggested that this was in fact one of the cops.

The guy left a house under surveilance,

Which he knew how, exactly?

Its irrelevant how he knew.

He didn't know - couldn't have known - that. Implying that he could sounds like a weaselly attempt to shift blame away from the people who killed him.

Reports vary. The best I've been able to pick up seem to suggest that he was challenged maybe once, by armed men who certainly weren't wearing any sort of uniforms.

I'd suggest that was selective reading.

I've not seen a single suggestion, anywhere, that he was challenged by uniformed officers. If you have, please don't just make vague "suggestions" - provide details.

As to how many challenges were issued - that's in the realm of uncertainty at present (and may well stay there forever). But the reports I've seen imply that there was just one challenge. For example, see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/07/25/nshoot125.xml&sSheet=/news/2005/07/25/ixnewstop.html

(Noting that this is a conservative newspaper quoting police sources.)

However, I'm sure the inquest will make conclusive findings.

I hope that they'll try. As other people have noted on this thread, even trained policemen often turn out to have (genuinely) unreliable recall of such events.

The police have specifically said that they're permitting themselves to shoot people dead without any warning whatsoever.

I havent read that.

Google for "Kratos guidelines". See, for example, the Telegraph story above, or http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/crime/article302923.ece

(It even appears that, by insisting that they issued a challenge in this case, the police are claiming to have violated their own guidelines - possibly because "We shot him without warning because that's the rule, sorry, honest mistake" would have looked even worse.)

If someone shouted "Armed police! stop!", I'd stop.

I suggest that it's easy to say that; it's a lot harder to prove the fact without really getting into life-and-death situations. And even then, other people are entitled to have other reflexes.

Armies spend months training their recruits how to respond in such circumstances, and don't always succeed.

No, they spend months training recruits how to shoot people, and avoid being shot. "Surrender or be killed" comes naturally.

From what I've been told, this isn't entirely true. Apparently, for example, much military training is about getting people to dive for cover when they hear a whoosh and a bang, before they go "Hey, what was that" or look around gawping to see where the fireworks are coming from. Human responses to stress are weird and messy, and neither perfectly predictable nor always very effective. (We evolved to handle leopards and lions, often by climbing trees or leaving grandma behind as we ran; we aren't really set up to handle artillery fire or small black metal implements that can kill at a distance.)

But if there's someone here with real infantry combat training, I'd be happy to have my knowledge improved.

However, the police are paid to deal with tricky situations calmly and with minimum necessary force. When there's evidence that they aren't doing so, we're entitled to criticise.

As far as I can tell, they were perfectly calm. And they did deal with a tricky situation, and with what they considered to be the minimum necessary force.

Vaulting barriers, pumping eight rounds in someone's head... Maybe not perfectly or minimum.

What would you have suggested they done?

To begin with, actually, as I said several posts back in this thread, I'm not really sure that the cop who pulled the trigger should take the main blame here. I'll agree that he was in an impossible, even nightmarish situation. So anything that I think should have been done starts earlier.

First, they should have improved their intelligence operation. They "identified" a Brazilian electrician as a suicide bomber. I don't know how their intelligence operations work, but whatever they were doing there, they were doing it wrong.

Second, having misidentified the guy, they should have reacted quicker. If they really thought he was carrying a bomb, he should never have got on that bus. Which doesn't mean that they should have shot him sooner, necessarily, but frankly they could at least make their claim that they were doing what was "necessary" a lot more credible.

And third, they should have deployed uniformed officers to deal with the situation. Human reactions are messy and unpredictable, but yes, many people will respond to police uniforms by freezing up and turning cooperative. People in civilian clothes, yelling and waving guns, just look like a horrible threat to be avoided. They may have said something about being police, but in the echoing confusion of a rush-hour tube station, I'm not sure that would even be audible.

Sam Dodsworth said...

This Sunday Times article doesn't sound too good for the police:

He was not wearing what witnesses called a “black bomber jacket”, but a denim jacket. It was about 17C and his clothing would not have been out of the ordinary.

He did not vault a ticket barrier, as claimed. He used a travelcard to pass through the station in the normal way. His family believes that he may have started to run simply because he heard the train pulling in... Indeed, a train was at the platform when he got there.

Police clearly believed that de Menezes might have been a suicide bomber, even though he was not carrying a rucksack. This raises a key question: why was de Menezes allowed to board a bus in Tulse Hill and travel to Stockwell, if officers thought that his body might be rigged with explosives?

[...]

Lee Ruston, 32, was at the bottom of the escalator that de Menezes ran down. He believes that he heard every word said by officers.

According to him, officers did not say the word “police” or offer de Menezes the prospect of arrest. “I heard a voice shouting ‘get on the floor, just get on the floor’. Another voice said the same, ‘get on the floor’. I then heard the crack of gunshots,” he said.


Stockwell, as a number of people have pointed out, is also the site of the last embarassing firearms cock-up, in which a chap carrying a table-leg in a plastic bag was killed by police marksmen.

Also, it appears that we may actually have had three different shoot-to-kill policies introduced in the last two or three years... see this piece, which has some interesting things to say about the management issues in the case.

Sam Dodsworth said...

And while I think of it, two headlines spotted on the Tube this morning:

"RELIGIOUS HATE CRIMES SOAR BY 600%"
- Metro

"FREE TO PEDDLE POISON: British-born preachers who praised the London bombers cannot be jailed say police."
- Daily Mail

Lucky we Brits understand irony, eh?

ref said...

However, that is not the entire landscape of the issue. The man is not entirely devoid of responsibility, either.

That's sort of what I'm saying. He in fact is entirely devoid of responsibility. Failure to co-operate with the police is barely an offence at all, let alone one that warrents shooting.

Failure to co-operate with the police is a serious offense. Anyone who witholds information as to a kidnapped child's whereabouts, for instance, is guilty of a very serious crime.

Now, its clear that these two things aren't the same. But its clearly not the same as a person running away from the police after being caught in the act of public urination, either - which would be a negligble act of failure to co-operate.

I am perfectly willing to admit that the death of Jean Charles de Menezes was an accident, and that it was an accident that came about as a result of some extremely complex circumstances. I am even wiling to accept that his running from the police contributed to their making the mistake of shooting him. But it was still a mistake.

I certainly wouldnt even begin to deny it was a mistake. When someone who is innocent of attempting to blow people up gets shot in the head, something's went wrong somewhere.

However, the issue is not as simple as people would like to make it - and much of the condemnation I've seen of the police isn't in the form "they made a mistake born of complex circumstances".

If a bomb-suspect, when attempting to be stopped by armed police, starts running towards a tube and scaling bannisters etc, then the "real and specific" evidence increases.

No, it doesn't. The circumstancial evidence increases. There is still no real and specific evidence.

I'm not entirely sure. You're probably correct, however taking the following into consideration:

1) Bombers have been bombing people in tubes
2) A (wrongly) suspected bomber makes a desperate* attempt to make it to a tube running away from armed police

* I think 'desperate' is justified - running away from police, down escalators, scaling turnstyles etc

Its definitely not concrete evidence, but its hard to argue that it seems very dodgy.

And when things like that happen, given the potential for loss of human life, decisions have to be made.

In this case it turned out to be a decision that cost a man innocent of any attempt to kill anyone else's life, his life. In that sense the decision was wrong.

I think it could also be argued that it was an understandable decision.

I think the bottom line is that we just dont know exactly what happened, and we also must take into account the entirely complex nature of the series of incidents.

In doing both, we can only conlude that there are only certain things we can say with any degree of certainty, and any kind of absolute stance adopted beyond that is probably unwarranted.

You seem to be missing the point that Andrew is making (and, similarly, the point that I made in my post). I am not saying that because he was innocent the police were wrong to shoot him. I am saying that given the evidence they had the police were wrong to shoot him.

Well, in that case what you are saying is that you believe they were wrong to shoot him. There is no objective criteria to mark it against.

In a legal sense (it appears) they weren't wrong to shoot him. Society's view seems somewhat split.

If it is your personal opinion that they were wrong to shoot him on the basis of the evidence they had, then thats fine. Its not hard to see the supporting evidence for that position.

However, the complexity of the situation naturally gives rise to another "side of the coin" and any attempt to come down on an absolute sense on either side seperates things that logically belong together. In my opinion.

Even if he had been guilty. Even if he had been carrying forty pounds of semtex, without - as Andrew puts it - real and specific evidence that he presented a threat to the public, they should not have shot him.

"Real and specific evidence" isn't as rigorous a discipline in police work as you would like it to be, I wouldn't imagine.

Real and specific evidence means something like "they have actually seen the bomb" or "the intelligence services have evidence that he was planning to go to Stockwell and blow up a train."

I can remember people saying around the event that they thought they seen him with a bomb round his stomach.

And "the intelligence services have evidence.." isnt very precise either.

It does not mean "he looked a bit like an arab, and had a coat you could have hidden a bomb under."

Looking like an arab with a large coat, coming out a flat bombs were made in is enough to follow someone.

Failing to stop when told to do so by police, and running desperately towards a tube station could be argued to be enough cumulative evidence that the man was a bomber.

It seems like you are purposely making the situation less complex than it is to suit your argument. If it was as simple as "they shot him in the head because he was an arab and looked like he may have had a bomb" then I dont think there would be scope to disagree at all.

Phil Masters said...

In a legal sense (it appears) they weren't wrong to shoot him.

In fact, that appears to be in some dispute. See, for example, http://comment.independent.co.uk/letters/article303064.ece - the first letter under " Can 'shoot-to-kill' be reasonable force?" - and more importantly, given that the letter apparently comes from a lawyer, see http://comment.independent.co.uk/letters/article302460.ece - under "Was force 'reasonable'?".

I'm not a lawyer myself; I certainly wouldn't like to guess what a court would decide on this. But the idea that the police, or even the Home Secretary, are allowed to arbitrarily change the rules by which the police operate, removing requirements for warnings and so on, sounds questionable at best to me. I don't think that the point should be pre-judged.

I can remember people saying around the event that they thought they seen him with a bomb round his stomach.

A lot of things were said at the time, many of which have been contradicted since. All we can say is that the facts are still somewhat uncertain. However, the police are supposed to be trained in observation under pressure, and the guy definitely wasn't carrying a bomb - but they shot him anyway. This is highly bloody unimpressive.

Looking like an arab with a large coat, coming out a flat bombs were made in is enough to follow someone.

Has anybody said that bombs were being made in that building? I've not heard anything to that effect.

"Looking foreign and living in a building which the police are watching" may be grounds for observation. It's not usually a capital offence, though.

Failing to stop when told to do so by police,

No; possibly, "Failing to stop when shouted at by armed men in civilian clothes, who may have said something about being police".

(Incidentally, the police do appear to be insisting that they gave a verbal warning - but this destroys their grounds for using plain-clothes officers in this situation. It's just conceivable that they could be convinced enough that they had an imminent suicide bombing on their hands, and that the only way to stop it was to bring down the bomber instantly and with no warning, which might in turn require plain clothes. But otherwise, if the situation merited a warning, then the people with the guns should be clearly labelled as police, by wearing uniforms. Shouting out in an echoey and crowded tube station isn't good enough.)

and running desperately towards a tube station could be argued to be enough cumulative evidence that the man was a bomber.

You seem convinced that he was "running desperately" and that he jumped the ticket barrier. Both these claims have, in fact, been questioned.

You're complaining about other people pre-judging police actions on the basis of garbled reports - but you're also putting huge amounts of faith in other, equally garbled reports. In truth, neither is really fair - but given that we know that plain-clothes police put eight bullets into the head of an innocent man, killing him, the onus is heavily on them to demonstrate that they were justified. And some of us are having extreme difficulty believing that they can ever quite succeed.

Dan Hemmens said...

Ah, and a point I forgot to address.

No, I "really meant" (whatever that means) what I really said. I asked what you thought the police should have done.

And I answered. They should have "not shot him."

You are, in fact, begging the question. By asking what I think the police should have done, you assume that it is vitally important that the police Do Something. I don't. I consider Doing Something to be valuable only if you are damned certain you are doing the right thing. I think that the police should have plain and simple let the guy go. Yes, there was a chance he might have blown up a bomb and killed a lot of people. The same is true of any one of the hundred thousand people that get onto tube trains every single day.

Phil Masters has provided a far more detailed answer to your question, and I by and large agree with his conclusions. However you did not ask how anti-terror policing might be made more effective, you asked "what the police should have done." The answer to that is very simple, they should not have shot the guy.

ref said...

In a legal sense (it appears) they weren't wrong to shoot him.

In fact, that appears to be in some dispute. See, for example, http://comment.independent.co.uk/letters/article303064.ece - the first letter under " Can 'shoot-to-kill' be reasonable force?" - and more importantly, given that the letter apparently comes from a lawyer, see http://comment.independent.co.uk/letters/article302460.ece - under "Was force 'reasonable'?".

I'll have a read over them. I said 'appears' as I haven't heard anything to the contrary. If it turns out that it wasn't legal, then they will have to be accountable to that.

I'm not a lawyer myself; I certainly wouldn't like to guess what a court would decide on this. But the idea that the police, or even the Home Secretary, are allowed to arbitrarily change the rules by which the police operate, removing requirements for warnings and so on, sounds questionable at best to me. I don't think that the point should be pre-judged.

You are, of course, correct. The original point was showing the futility of trying to find an objective standard to measure the whole scenario against.

I can remember people saying around the event that they thought they seen him with a bomb round his stomach.

A lot of things were said at the time, many of which have been contradicted since. All we can say is that the facts are still somewhat uncertain.

Absolutely. Again, the only point in mentioning it was to lend perspective. Things arent' clear cut, so I'm suspicious of any clear cut conclusions.

However, the police are supposed to be trained in observation under pressure, and the guy definitely wasn't carrying a bomb - but they shot him anyway. This is highly bloody unimpressive.

Yeah. They did make a mistake in that sense, but until we know all the facts, we cant make any kind of binding judgements on the impressiveness or not of the situation.

Looking like an arab with a large coat, coming out a flat bombs were made in is enough to follow someone.

Has anybody said that bombs were being made in that building? I've not heard anything to that effect.

Yes, I did hear that. If it turns out not to be true, then my assessment of the situation will change with this.

"Looking foreign and living in a building which the police are watching" may be grounds for observation. It's not usually a capital offence, though.

No-one's saying that it is. This is just another attempt to reduce the whole thing.

Failing to stop when told to do so by police,

No; possibly, "Failing to stop when shouted at by armed men in civilian clothes, who may have said something about being police".

Well, thats the thing. I'm not arguing that it did happen that way, just that given that its a possibility, conclusions cant be drawn with any degree of certainty that effectively ignores it.

and running desperately towards a tube station could be argued to be enough cumulative evidence that the man was a bomber.

You seem convinced that he was "running desperately" and that he jumped the ticket barrier. Both these claims have, in fact, been questioned.

Thats ok. If they turn out to be wrong, then the police will have to be held more accountable. The point remains that there is another side.

You're complaining about other people pre-judging police actions on the basis of garbled reports - but you're also putting huge amounts of faith in other, equally garbled reports. In truth, neither is really fair - but given that we know that plain-clothes police put eight bullets into the head of an innocent man, killing him, the onus is heavily on them to demonstrate that they were justified. And some of us are having extreme difficulty believing that they can ever quite succeed.

I'm not putting my faith in anything. I've not got a vested interest in the police's accountability or lack thereof in the matter. I'm simply showing that there is another side to this debate, and all the righteous judgement of the police's actions in this matter is based on half-information, as is any claim that they are definitely in the right.

Dan Hemmens said...

It seems like you are purposely making the situation less complex than it is to suit your argument.

And it seems like you are making the situation less complex than it is to suit your argument.

If it was as simple as "they shot him in the head because he was an arab and looked like he may have had a bomb" then I dont think there would be scope to disagree at all.

And there would be equally little scope to disagree if it was as simple as "the police had very good reasons to believe he presented an imminent danger to the public, so they used the only means available to them."

I actually think we agree more than we seem to.

I agree that the police reaction was understandable. I just don't think that understandable is the same as justifiable.

The police have extremely stressful jobs, and firearms officers have a huge burden on them, particularly now. I feel genuinely sorry for the officers involved.

My belief is that the police made an understandable mistake in the heat of the moment. However when you make a mistake that kills a man, you have to be held accountable, even if that mistake is understandable.

Just because you're afraid that something terrible will happen, that doesn't absolve you of respobsibility for your actions.

Dan Hemmens said...

I'm simply showing that there is another side to this debate, and all the righteous judgement of the police's actions in this matter is based on half-information, as is any claim that they are definitely in the right.

Y'know, from one point of view, that's actually rather patronising. We're intelligent people, we know that there are other sides to this debate.

However, while the information we have is sketchy at best, the very fact that accounts of events are so confused lends a certain amount of support to the argument that they didn't have sufficient evidence to justify the shooting.

The police cannot be permitted to kill unless they have real, concrete evidence that the victim presents a threat to the public. This does not mean suspicion. This does not mean reasonable suspicion. This does not mean "he was running away". This means serious evidence, the sort of thing that would stand up in a court of law. They demonstrably did not have such evidence in this case, so the shooting was demonstrably unjustified. Understandable, but unjustified.

Charles Filson said...

Perhaps there is something to be said for having police that always carry firearms.

When a person first carries a firearm, whether a police officer or military or civilian, they will be hyper-conscious of the firearm. They will touch it a lot and be very likely to unconsciously move their hands toward it when under stress...any kind of stress.
In the Army they have soldiers spend days walking around with a rifle and in some branches, even sleeping with it. In my civilian hand-gun classes they told us, for this very reason, to either carry all the time or not at all. (which is why I don't even own a hand gun despite having goen through all the classes, tests, and training for licensing.

Perhaps it would be best not to issue weapons to people who are not used to carrying them every day.

I have to reiterate the point I made that Dan agreed with: for this Police Officer this was probably a nightmare, that (given that he has a shred of humanity) has kept him from getting any sleep since. My guess, and hope, is that every time he closes his eyes, and often when they are not closed, he sees the shooting. He bears some of the responcibility for this trajedy, but the people who put him in this situation without proper training, intelligence, back-up and alternate options bear much much more.

Incidentally, do British Police carry any sort of Less Lethal weapons? A Taser might have been a good option (Of course that might trigger a detonator), or an acoustic weapon; perhaps a sand bag gun to knock the guy over. I'm not sure, but I have to think that there is some kind of less lethal weapon that might be a better choice for police who are not used to carrying firearms.


Incidentally: In Texas there is a very legal defense called "He needed killing". This legal defense goes something like: if you kill a random person and later discover that they had either just commited a heinous crime or posed a danger of doing so in the near future, you have done a public service and are not libel for murder, even if you had no evidence of the wrongdoing at the time that you killed the person. Texas is a different world. (But there are a lot of really great things about it too.)

Phil Masters said...

He bears some of the responcibility for this trajedy, but the people who put him in this situation without proper training, intelligence, back-up and alternate options bear much much more.

There, by the way, I absolutely agree. Whether the cop who pulled the trigger is a psycho or a saint is almost irrelevant; the "intelligence" operation that put him in that position was what was demonstrably screwed up. If he gets scapegoated while his superiors get left alone, I'll be appalled.

Incidentally, do British Police carry any sort of Less Lethal weapons? A Taser might have been a good option (Of course that might trigger a detonator), or an acoustic weapon; perhaps a sand bag gun to knock the guy over. I'm not sure, but I have to think that there is some kind of less lethal weapon that might be a better choice for police who are not used to carrying firearms.

Tasers are just coming in over here, albeit with some controversy themselves. (Pepper spray is also around in at least some forces; other less-than-lethal stuff is limited to riot actions or not used, I think.) However, the argument about this whole "shoot to kill" policy involves the point that, if you're really dealing with a suicide bomber, anything other than immediate total incapacitation gives him the chance to detonate the bomb - and a torso hit can detonate the explosive itself, which is why British police marksmen have suddenly switched from "centre of mass" to aiming for the head in these cases.

It's also been claimed that a taser not only doesn't incapacitate effectively enough, but again, might itself set off a bomb. (I don't know enough about home-made explosives to guess how true that is.)

In fact, despite all that, one suspect in the recent terrorism investigations was arrested, up in Birmingham, by cops using a taser. This led the head of the Metropolitan Police to more or less openly criticise his provincial colleagues for taking an "incredible risk", and no this sort of comment is not normal protocol between British police forces. (Frankly, this ends up looking like the London force are annoyed that other people are showing them up by not killing suspects.) The Birmingham police pointed out that all incidents are different, and presumably they didn't think that the target was likely to be wearing a bomb, but it's all led to a certain amount of debate.

Dan Hemmens said...

This led the head of the Metropolitan Police to more or less openly criticise his provincial colleagues for taking an "incredible risk", and no this sort of comment is not normal protocol between British police forces.

Jesus, did he really say that? That's sodding terrifying.

Phil Masters said...

Jesus, did he really say that?

Yep.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

Okay, is it just me, or are we missing the point here?

There are two questions at work here.

1) Did the officer who fired the gun follow protocol? If not, it seems to me that the situation is his fault, no matter how stress-induced.

2) If the officer followed protocol, is the protocol designed in a manner that allows summary executions of suspected bomb-holders?

Talking about specific details seems to muddy the waters. On the other hand, if the officer didn't follow protocol and that fact is ignored, there seems to be an even larger problem than Old Western style shoot-to-kill justice.

Or, to put it another way,
Did the officer follow the rules?
Were the rules good?
Will the rules be ignored, rather good or bad?

Charles Filson said...

I don't think that is the point at all. The question that we are all missing and forgetting to ask is: 'How is this George Bush's fault?'

That's what I want to know. For the life of me I can't figure it out, unless the officer in question was really CIA in disguise and this is all a clever ruse to increase the PM's deportation powers. But that would only make Bush a stooge for Tony and we all know that Tony is only a poodle.

Can somebody figure this out? How can we pin this on Bush?

Paul Brown said...

Can somebody figure this out? How can we pin this on Bush?

The only way I can think of is that following his foreign policy like it was a good idea is more than a little responsible for getting us into this situation, but even then it's still our fault for being stupid enough to follow him in the first place.

"Who is more foolish? The fool, or the fool who follows him." Ben "Obi-wan" Kenobi

"Yousem people gonna die?" Irritating floppy eared git

Phil Masters said...

Good question about protocol - except that the protocols which the Met are following at the moment don't seem to be very clear. The rules about armed police and so on used to be fairly explicit, but so far as I can make out, they've changed them at least once recently, to deal with the threat or actuality of suicide bombings, without necessarily telling anyone much.

Which is part of the problem, of course. But yes, this may be the time to stand back a minute and see if the inquiry turns into a can of worms or a whitewash. Always see what your metaphors are before you scattergun the swamp full of alligators.

Charles Filson said...

Paul,

Were the US and UK not in Iraq, then Al Queda would be bombing London because of the western presense in Afghanistan. If we were not in Afghanistan then they would be bombing us because of the sanctions on Iraq. Had we lifted the sanctions on Iraq then they would be bombing us becuase of the relationship we have with the princes of Saud, and if we were actively working against the princes of Saud then they would bomb us becuase of Palestine. And if the US and UK were actively persuing independence for the west bank and gaza (as we are) then they would bomb us becuase we support an Israeli state. And if we cut off all support of Israel then they would bomb us because of the French head-scarf ban or becuase we have troops in Kuwait or because we buy too much oil or not enough.

Al queda needs the Great Satan and the Little Satan to be their enemy in order to survive, and they don't need us to do anything in particular to be that enemy. Al Queda is like a spoiled toddler. If we constantly give in, they will simply demand more.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Up to a point. In the 1970s, no-one had heard of Osama Bin Laden, but London was regularly blown up by that nice Gerry Adams. At the time Neil and Maggie kept telling us that this had NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH POLITICS, and that it was just BAD IRISH PEOPLE who liked blowing people up for the sake of it, and blaming it on Cromwell and William III. Ken Livingstone, who at that time was in charge of London, kept saying "No, actually, they are going to carry on bombing us until we address the situation in Ireland which is let's face it a bit of a mess." The idea of treason had not been thought of in those days, so Maggie abolished him, and then Tony made him mayor and he spent the rest of his life telling people not to pull the chain when they did a wee. Meanwhile, John sat down with Gerry and had a jolly good friday agreement, since when the IRA have blown up hardly anyone. The point being that, during the 70s, Osama wasn't trying to blow up London, and now he is, so somewhere along the line I can't help thinking that we must have done something to annoy him.

You are quite right, of course, that having got into this mess -- and Ken is probably right to say that it's a mess which we've been making since the end of the first world war -- saying to Osama "Okay, we'll change our policy towards Iran" wouldn't make any difference.

Louise H. said...

Al Quaida is limited, like every other organisation, by the resources available to it. I have no doubt that had they the resources then they would try to kill far more Westerners regardless of our foreign policy, and to that extent then it is no doubt true to say that our policies are irrelevant to them.

However where our policies are not irrelevant is in creating the pool of hostile people from which Al Quaida can recruit.

The Real IRA was just as hostile to Britain, if not more so, than the Provisional IRA. But they never became a significant force in Northern Ireland because the climate there changed and they didn't have the resources to draw on.

Charles Filson said...

It is not western policies (per se) that make people who are willing to go blow up the west.

I won't say that the little sit-down that the John had with Gerry had nothing to do with the end of Irish bombings, but have you considered that Ireland might have also run out of people who were nhappy enough to bomb people for other reasons?

The per capita GNP of Ireland is about $31,900. That's not bad. That's about $2,000 more than Britain.
Yet in 1995 it was $15,820. $4000 per annum below britain. In 1990 it was $11,400. $5000 below britain.

It's ever so slightly possible that the Irish stopped bombing when they had something better to do...like spend their paychecks at the pub. (to be glib)

I suggest the same is true of the middle east. Not very many people who make a good wage and live in a nice house; wear Levis and eat green giant frozen peas, blow themselves up. But not many people in the middle-east make a good wage. Their Gini indexs are way out of wack. The money is concentrated in a few wealthy people.

What happens when less then 1% of the people hold over 99% of the wealth in a country? Ask the Romanovs. It's revolution. The people see their squalor and your wealth and want to do something about it. There is a time worn way to avert this though. Get the people to look at somebody other than you as the enemy.
During the Sanctions on Iraq, Saddam Hussein kept telling his people that they were starving due to the sanctions...while he built 74 new palaces each worth tens of millions.

Western policies make us an easy target. We do, after all, take umbrage at the idea of the eradication of Israel, or "pushing them into the sea." and other less noble things, but Western Policies are not entirely to blame, and they are not the root cause of the unrest. The unrest would still be there even if we did not buy oil from the middle east.

Charles Filson said...

I just realized that I forgot to make my point.

My point was that the answer to stopping cross-cultural violence is not in non-intervention. Sanctions were both one of the most immoral thing we could have done to Iraq and one of the most useless. The same is true of the US Embargo on Cuba.

The way to bring people together is openness, trade and verbal congress. Unfortunately these things will enrage the extremeists, because they will also spell the end for fundamentalism. It is this clash and imminant end to an accepted way of life that is, I think, causing much of the violence and anger.

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles Filson Said:

It's ever so slightly possible that the Irish stopped bombing when they had something better to do...like spend their paychecks at the pub. (to be glib)

You're confusing the Republic of Ireland with Northern Ireland, which continues to be one of the poorest areas in the UK.

Northern Ireland was hived off from the rest of the island largely because of the industries there, such as shipbuilding. Nowadays no-one makes ships in the UK and those areas aren't worth an economic dime.

Around that time the UK Gov started holding talks which acknowledged the existence of the Irish Sea. Co-incidence?

Gavin Burrows said...

I'm currently being reufally amused by the Government's current line that the Judiciary mustn't interfere with their plans for secret courts, because they're the elected government who look all smart and nice on the telly and the Judges are a bunch of old guys who wear weird wigs and talk about quaint yesterday stuff like the presumption of innocence.

Just checking, but this is the same Government who, almost immediately on gaining power, handed over control of interest rates to the Bank of England, because this sort of thing is best left to the sober-headed professionals and taken out the hands of short-term political expediency?

DailyLinks said...
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Horse Sense said...
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