July 24, 2005

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

Man Shot to Death by London Police: Not a Terrorist After All

WorldMagBlog is linking to a New York Times article, published this morning, reporting that Scotland Yard admitted yesterday that the man gunned down by London police on the Tube last Friday was not connected to the terrorist bombings of July 7, or the attempted bombings of July 21st. The mayor of London, Ken Livingston, had issued "shoot to kill" orders for police, who previously did not carry firearms at all, in regard to terror suspects under certain circumstances. (For a good, short summary of events so far, see this post and this one by Josh at "Freedom Of..." He has yet to comment on the discovery that the man was innocent.)

Interestingly enough, before the announcement was made I had a discussion with some friends of mine as to whether or not the orders were justified. The ultimate outcome just shows the need for a fair, public trial in which an individual can defend himself. Police seem to have thought this man was wearing a bomb, and the shoot-to-kill order seems to have had to do with fear of detonating an explosive device if police shot to wound the man in the trunk, rather than shooting him in the head. What I want to know is how did it come about that the man was shot at all? According to this BBC report, it seems that the man was followed by plain-clothes officers from his home. When they identified themselves and issued instructions it is unclear to what degree he followed them, but he was clearly very frightened. Eyewitnesses reported that the man was already restrained before he was shot! An eyewitness interviewed by the BBC, Mark Whitby, said "they pushed him to the floor, bundled on top of him and unloaded five shots into him." This occurred on the Tube in front of a large number of passengers. If the man was already restrained and under the control of police, why on earth was he shot? Whitby described the man as "Asian," but, according to the New York Times, he has been positively identified as a Brazilian.

This story is typical of the type of panic that the terrorist attacks in the United States previously and in Britain now are intended to engender. They have, in that regard been very successful. In the US, immediately following the 9/11 attacks, Congress hastily passed the horrifically misnamed USA PATRIOT Act, apparently without reading it. The fear seems still to be here (or the federal government is making a shameless power grab, which I consider just as likely), as the House passed a bill to reauthorize the excessive law enforcement powers of the PATRIOT Act last Thursday (you can find out how your representative voted here). London is feeling the same kind of panic, and this is the reason for the arming of police in the first place. I certainly don't oppose arming the police (except that Britain has disarmed the populace, which makes armed police scary), but the police seem to be panicked as well. If we lose our heads we lose our freedom. We must opppose terrorists while also opposing excessive government power, and maintaining our rights. Even had Mr. Menezes been guilty, he would have deserved a fair trial. All the more so due to his innocence. There is a long tradition in English Common Law, later enshrined in the US Constitution, of "rights of the accused." Police in a free country cannot execute a man like this without a trial (particularly if the man is innocent). It seems clear and obvious that the force used was excessive. Britain has a tradition of criminal prosecutions against police in cases like this, and, since the officers were clearly at fault, I can only say that I hope it continues.

Posted by Kenny at July 24, 2005 3:30 PM
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