Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Shoot first

"In Britain, police now shoot suspects. Good." So says veteran columnist Peter Worthington, clearly in his dotage.

But he's got company. Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has said bluntly that his forces would shoot to kill again. Meanwhile, Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian Catholic with no links whatsoever to the London bombings, was shot, as it now turns out, eight times, seven bullets in the head and another in the shoulder. One is tempted to add: summary-execution style.

Perhaps predictably, the usual anonymous sources leaked "information" to the BBC that de Menezes was an illegal immigrant, a charge that is news to Foreign Minister Jack Straw, and one that the family hotly denies. The "illegal" slur is clearly intended to be mitigating in some way. Not only would it conceivably explain why he ran when approached by police, and excuse their conduct; but the simmering right-wing undercurrent in blogland is that, as such, he probably deserved what he got.

The truth is, of course, quite different. De Menezes spoke fluent English within four months of entering the country. He had young ambitions: to become educated, to be a rancher in Brazil some day. He loved Britain.

He had been possibly already been mugged in the vicinity of the tube station where he met his end. He had been stopped by the police three times on his moped for speeding violations--no trouble, no attempt to escape, none of that.

So why cut and run as he did? A number of eyewitnesses reported, contrary to the claims of the police repeated uncritically in the media, that no warnings were shouted, and the plainclothes officers chasing him did not pull out and don their police caps until de Menezes had started to run, his back to them.

Said his cousin afterwards, "Jean had lived in Sao Paulo. It is a dangerous city and he knew the rules there ­ if you run away when the police tell you to stop, then you are dead. He knows you don't run away and his English was perfect. There is no explanation for him ignoring a warning because there was no warning."

What goes through the mind of a young, dark-skinned immigrant who sees a few tough-looking people pick him out and start chasing him? This is the land, after all, of runaway football hooliganism and rampant racism. In his place, I would probably have run like hell to get away, jumping onto a subway train as in the movies. And been blown away by my pursuers.

This was racial profiling at its best--urged on by at least one senior Canadian columnist. Who's winning the war on terror?

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