Shooting Ourselves In The Foot

2 11 2007

What’s truly worrying about the Jean Charles De Menezes shooting is that the case was brought under “Health and Safety”. We’re becoming a society that’s run by Health and Safety Executives and it really is a concern that in the future the police will be more cautious to act because of worries over contravening health and safety. No law, civil or criminal, was broken, lest we forget.

Some people have argued that this won’t happen because this wasn’t a case of an armed police officer making a snap decision, but rather a planned operation. They’ve rightly said that the officers with their fingers on the triggers acted upon instructions, and as such it’s unlikely that in future an officer holding the gun will be hesitant about firing it if and when he’s told to. Where this argument is naive is that it fails to consider the fact that those giving the instructions may be more hesitant to do so.

People are quick to criticise the police for the mistakes they made. Yet people are equally quick to forget the fact that just the day before the same police averted a repeat of the July 7th attacks. When you criticise an organisation for its failures you should be willing to praise their incredible success. Were it not for the very same police force’s brilliance the day before thousands of lives may have been lost.

Set against that backdrop one “innocent” death is incredibly regrettable but a worthwhile sacrifice for the greater good. It is impossible to seperate the errors made in the De Menezes shooting from the panic that was being felt the day before, panic that had been steadily growing all month. Two years on we all seem to have forgotten how we felt that day, but if we try and remember perhaps we’ll see a fraction of the pressure that a police force responsible for protecting us from this unseen threat must have felt.

What has been consistently overlooked in this entire situation is De Menezes’ own actions and how these may have contributed to his death. The police say he was acting suspiciously. So what do people do? They look at a few scattered piece of CCTV footage, none of which offers a continuous stream from when he entered the station to when he was shot. Feel free to see for yourself here where you can also read about the fact that De Menezes may have been on cocaine and this may have caused him to behave in a way that the police may have miconstrued as suspicious. Yes, it’s a lot of “maybes”, but unlike those seeking to villify the police I won’t claim to know something for certain which we simply do not know either way..

Initially there were some claims that police did not challenge him or identify themselves but these were later laid to rest. Instead the new criticism is that the police did not confront him quickly enough. In the transcripts there was evidence that at least one officer had asked three times for permission to confront the suspect without firing a shot and was told not to. What is missed in this is that the July 7th attacks were performed by a group, as were the attempts the day before the De Menezes shooting.

Clearly any instruction to continue to follow him was intended to uncover any co-conspirators, perhaps breaking up a much larger group. This is all but confirmed by the fact that he had been identified as not being their initially intended target and yet was still being followed. Had he in fact been a terrorist, and stopped, not only would the police officer confronting him have died (and why is that officer’s innocent life worth less than De Menezes’?) but had it been a larger conspiracy the other attackers would have gone ahead without him. So not only would one innocent officer have died but potentially thousands of civilians could have nonetheless have perished.

In no way should Sir Ian Blair resign. Not only did he not pull the trigger but it would be a hollow act. The actions of his force just the day before prove that he has prepared the police incredibly well, a fact not lost on the Home Secretary. People are rightly outraged at an “innocent” man dying but what about innocent people in prison? There must be hundreds, possibly thousands, of innocent people in prison, and yet nobody is calling for the police to arrest less people. This is because we accept a utilatarian model of law and order, that a few innocent people may have to suffer so that the majority of innocent people in society are kept safe. The same model should apply to De Menezes.


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