If the man shot at Stockwell tube station on Friday had been a suicide bomber complete with bomb belt and the works, then I don’t suppose anyone would have objected to the police shooting him seven times in the head. I know I wouldn’t. I believe in due process, but I also believe in self defence.
Which would you prefer, one suicide bomber shot in the head before he could detonate his bomb or lots of dead people because he had a chance to.
So on the face of it, the Stockwell shooting is just a tragic mistake, one of those mistakes that happen to protect the common good. The police on the day didn’t know he wasn’t a bomber and because he ran away, they had good reason, however mistaken, to believe he was.
So it goes, and it’s all the fault of the terrorists for bombing London in the first place.
This argument works well enough until you think into the particulars of it.
First, according to the news, Jean Charles de Menezes was the subject of police surveillance before he was gunned down. Eye witness reports tell of a large number of plain clothes officers chasing Mr. Menezes, which suggests quite a large surveillance operation.
The police were watching him in the good faith that he was a terrorist subject when even they admit, after the event that he had no connection with terrorism.
This clearly means that they were watching the wrong person, that Mr. Menezes was someone other than the person they thought they were watching. Or, worse that they were expending these resources on watching someone for no reason at all.
In either case this large spying operation failed to establish the simple fact that he was an a electrician and not a terrorist.
After that failure, alarm bells should have started ringing when Mr. Menezes started running when challenged.
Had he been a suicide bomber he would have blown himself up at this point to take as many people with him as possible. What does a suicide bomber have to gain by running? Is he looking for a better target? Well, he has a dozen armed police bearing down on him, what better target is that?
We should make a simple identification guide for the police: a) people with invalid visas run, b) suicide bombers explode.
Of course, we have been energetically looking for ways of making it Mr. Menezes fault.
Even the Beeb (do I mean ‘even the Beeb’ or ‘of course the Beeb’? I’m not sure) has been in on the act. In a headline story this morning, about 600 words of stuff about bombs and suicide attacks and hunts for the bombers and the imminent threat of more, they drop the news that Mr. Menezes was apparently in Britain without a visa. The effect of this revelation in the midst of the terror-apocalypse news was to suggest that, being visa-less, it was all right for the police to shoot him, and that he was of the same moral status as a terrorist.
Perhaps if he wasn’t a terrorist last Friday when they shot him, he would have been by Saturday morning. So that’s all right then.