Innocent Man Executed?

Shoot first and ask questions later is bad police policy. Just ask the Brits. Obviously, Jean de Menezes handled the situation poorly and brought unnecessary trouble upon himself. However, that hardly justifies two cops holding him down while a third puts five bullets in his head. This isn’t a case of an innocent suspect being accidentally killed while being subdued during criminal acts. This isn’t like the cases of children with water guns or paintball guns being killed by frightened cops. This was an execution. A man whose guilt in anything had not been established – they merely knew he was "suspicious", belligerent, and fleeing – was caught, immobilized, and executed. There is a fine line between protecting citizens and acting as judge, jury and executioner.

I pray this never happens again.

I’m not holding my breath.

Comments 10

  1. Emily wrote:

    Yes, but he was suspicious, belligerent and fleeing in a padded fleece coat (despite the warmer weather) into the Underground, which had been bombed two weeks earlier and almost bombed the day before.

    I’m not saying they should have shot him, nor am I saying it’s good policy.
    What I am saying is that I think, in that split second they had to decide, the British police drew the only conclusion they had available to them: This man is dangerous, poses a threat to London commuters, and must be stopped.

    They were wrong, of course.

    Imagine if we’d had air marshals armed with guns on every flight before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Suppose that, a few days after the attacks, on one of the first flights after air traffic was restored, a man in a bulky coat stood up in the back of the plane and started making his way to the cockpit. Suppose that he was glancing around nervously. A flight attendant approaches him: “Can I help you with something?” He says no, and continues toward the cockpit. The air marshal approaches him. The man realizes it’s an air marshal approaching him and begins to run toward the cockpit. The air marshal runs, but can’t catch up to him before he is to reach the cockpit.

    In that split second, the hypothetical air marshal would have to make a decision: Should he shoot the man to prevent the man from possibly hijacking or crashing the plane? The Sept. 11 attacks would be fresh in his mind — he would remember how airplanes were used as bombs. And he would want to do everything in his power to stop that from happening again. So he might decide to shoot. And then, the next day, it might be revealed that the man approaching the cockpit had been mentally ill (and that’s why he was running), but he wasn’t a terrorist. Then what?

    Again, I’m not saying the shooting was justified. It is a tragedy, without question, and policies certainly should be reviewed to prevent such tragedies. I may not agree with the police’s actions, but I understand them. I probably would have drawn the same conclusion about the suspicious man that they did, if I had been in their shoes. (I think many, many people would have thought the same thing.) And if I’d had a gun, who’s to say what I would have done in the name of protecting my fellow citizens?

    Posted 24 Jul 2005 at 5:45 pm
  2. theomorph wrote:

    I agree with Emily. Innocent people, civilized people, people who understand the system know not to run when the police are pursuing. They recognize that they have rights, and they are usually able or willing to assert those rights in the face of potential police error. You can look as guilty as you want, but the moment you run from the police, you’re broadcasting a message: “Either I’m guilty, or I’m stupid.” Either way, I can’t say I harbor much grief for such a person’s departure from this earth.

    What would worry me is if police had said to the man, “Come with us,” if he had come peacefully with no resistance, if they had taken him outside, had him kneel, and shot him in the back of the head. That would be an unambiguous execution.

    Posted 24 Jul 2005 at 7:31 pm
  3. Funky Dung wrote:

    In principle I understand the split-second decision to shoot someone you fear is a terrorist. What I fail to see the need for is five bullets to the head while a man is held down. That sounds more like an act of rage than anything else. Also, if he’s pinned by the other two cops, why must the third shoot him at all? He was apprehended. Where’s the threat? If you’re really worried about him pushing a button or pulling a cord, why not just knock him out or otherwise incapacitate him. If he’s really so dangerous that you must shoot, why shoot five times?

    Posted 24 Jul 2005 at 9:54 pm
  4. Rob wrote:

    “I agree with Emily. Innocent people, civilized people, people who understand the system know not to run when the police are pursuing.”

    Depends on where you’re from. In some parts of Brazil, your only choice is to run. Well, at least if you want to live.

    Were the police identifiable as police?

    And realize: had they found him on the subway looking suspicious, he may have gotten executed anyway.

    Twisted Mind Alert: Do terrorists set things up so that The Powers That Be think some innocent people are guilty, just to watch the mayhem?

    I really wish I didn’t think of stuff like that….

    Posted 24 Jul 2005 at 10:27 pm
  5. theomorph wrote:

    Depends on where you’re from. In some parts of Brazil, your only choice is to run. Well, at least if you want to live.

    Turns out, though, that this was not in “some parts of Brazil,” but in England, of which the unfortunate victim had been a resident for three years. People don’t come to countries like England or the United States because they expect to have to run from authorities.

    And realize: had they found him on the subway looking suspicious, he may have gotten executed anyway.

    Huh? Not likely. Not after he’d been investigated, as happened after he was killed, and they discovered he was innocent.

    This is one of my pet peeves. When you live in a society like this one (U.S.A.), or that in England, you need to know that you have substantial due process rights, and you need to know that you have the right to assert them. As far as I’m concerned, just as ignorance of the law is not a defense, neither should ignorance of your rights be a reason to go acting like a damned fool and running from police. Even if you’re guilty, you will always come out even worse if you run.

    I know it’s harsh, but in my opinion, people who run from the police deserve whatever they get. Think of all the cases of “police brutality” that make the headlines. How many of those people turned themselves over peacefully or otherwise cooperated with authorities? How many of them acted like damned fools and resisted or ran? Certainly, there’s no excuse for excessive force (e.g., five bullets shot into you while two other guys are holding you down), but neither is there any excuse for inflaming the natural instincts of people who are authorized to carry and use firearms.

    Running from police is about as smart as joking about having a bomb in your luggage when you go to the airport. And if behaving like an idiot gets you offed, I can’t say I have a tremendous amount of sympathy. Or any at all, for that matter.

    Posted 24 Jul 2005 at 11:03 pm
  6. Katolik Shinja wrote:

    Re: Innocent people, civilized people, people who understand the system know not to run when the police are pursuing.

    From: Final minutes of the innocent man mistaken for a terrorist:
    “Lee Ruston, 32, who was on the platform, said that he did not hear any of the three shout ?police? or anything like it. Mr Ruston, a construction company director, said that he saw two of the officers put on their blue baseball caps marked ?police? but that the frightened electrician could not have seen that happen because he had his back to the officers and was running with his head down.

    “Mr Ruston remembers one of the Scotland Yard team screaming into a radio as they were running. Mr Ruston thought the man that they were chasing ?looked Asian? as he tumbled on to a waiting Northern Line train.

    “Less than a minute later Mr Menezes was pinned to the floor of the carriage by two men while a third officer fired five shots into the base of his skull.

    “Again, Mr Ruston says that no verbal warning was given.”

    Posted 25 Jul 2005 at 2:38 am
  7. Katolik Shinja wrote:

    A bit nmore context, from the above article:

    “Another family member said that he had recently been attacked and robbed in that area by a gang of young white men and thought the plain-clothes officers were muggers.”

    Posted 25 Jul 2005 at 4:06 am
  8. howard wrote:

    I could understand the police officers’ actions if (and only if) they had done what they had in a last resort (i.e. – had no other way to immobilize the suspect). But if they did in fact have him immobilized, what could the possible justification be for shooting a defenseless man in the head?

    And don’t give me the split-second argument; these officers are supposed to be trained professionals — the victim, on the other hand, was not.

    If the news story here goes uncontradicted, this is so much worse than just a regrettable error.

    Posted 25 Jul 2005 at 7:18 pm
  9. Jordan wrote:

    I believe that the police officers were concerned that the man was loaded with plastic explosive which he might be able to somehow detonate even if his hands were pinned. Consider, if he had a wire running to a button on his wrist, and he worked his pinky around to that button, 100 people could die in the train car that day. _That_ is why they shot five bullets to the head; not because they were worried that the man might have been planning a few moments ago to pull out a gun but because they believed that, in the next ten seconds, he was going to detonate a huge bomb.

    I do have a great deal of sympathy for the man who was shot, and was probably just confused; he was from brazil and might not have known why plainclothes policemen were chasing him; perhaps a plainclothesman in Brazil is not quite as nice as one from Britain. Whatever his reasons, he ran, and died. It is a tragedy, even if I do defend the cops’ actions as being understandable, not acts of rage but attempted acts for the defense of the huge crowd packed into the underground car.

    Posted 25 Jul 2005 at 11:15 pm
  10. Jerry wrote:

    And to follow up on Jordan’s comment, they’d aim for the head (even though was immobilized) for fear of detonating any explosives that were on his torso.

    Posted 26 Jul 2005 at 5:12 pm

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