It's Blame the Victim, All Over Again
The brutal murder of Jean Charles de Menezes
By now the fatal police shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in the wake of the London bombings is already beginning to fade from the news. See the Wikipedia for a good collection of details and articles about the case.
Basically, Mr. Menezes was a 27-year-old electrician from Brazil, a legal immigrant who had the misfortune to be living in the same block of flats as suspected bombers. When he left for work on the morning of July 22, he was followed by a large group of police who were suspicious of his warm clothing (and of course, his brown skin). They let him get on a bus, but when he got to the Stockwell subway station, they began chasing him with guns (remember, they were in plainclothes).
A terrified Mr. Menezes (who by some accounts had been assaulted by a gang a few weeks before) ran into the station and tried to get on a train, but several police pushed him to the floor of the subway car and another shot him seven times in the head and once in the shoulder, as horrified passengers looked on. Politicians and police officials have expressed cursory regrets, but say the "shoot to kill" policy will continue.
Now, it's bad enough that he was murdered for the crime of being brown and wearing a fleece jacket (the police say his jacket was suspicious because it was a warm day, but it was only 62 degrees out and he was from Brazil). Nothing will bring him back to his family and friends. But a large part of the public/official reaction to his death and the "shoot in the head to kill" policy has been "well, it was his fault" or "anything done to protect the public from terrorists is justifiable" (never mind that Mr. Menezes WAS a member of the innocent public). This sort of reaction breaks down into several sick arguments (see the BBC for a good sampling):
- It was his fault for running from police (who were dressed in plain clothes and may not even have identified themselves, depending on conflicting reports). Anyone who runs from police is obviously guilty and deserves to be shot.
- Our sympathy needs to be with those courageous police, it's so hard to be a police officer that anything they do is justifiable. (i.e. I'm not brown so I'm not scared of the police).
- Law-abiding people have nothing to fear from the police. (Hey, I'm not Muslim, as long as I'm not shot who cares?)
- If they HADN'T shot him and he had turned out to be a suicide bomber, it would have been much worse. (So anyone can then be shot, "just in case!"?)
- It was the TERRORISTS who killed Menezes, by forcing the police to do what they did. (Right, just like the TERRORISTS bombed Baghdad, right? Terrorism absolves us of all responsibility for our actions!) In other words, some innocent people have to die to protect other, more important (and perhaps more "photogenic") innocent people!
One of the most poignant comments I saw on the BBC site was the following:
Surely the most frightening thing is how quickly we have come to share the terrorists' evident belief that innocent people must die. Robin Saltonstall, Beverley, UK
That pretty much sums it up. Anyway, I haven't seen a whole lot of bloggers commenting on this, but IndyMedia UK has a collection of great imaginary media talking points about the shooting (it's worth noting here that the policy is being referred to in the media as "shoot to kill to protect", as if anyone was "protected" by the murder of an innocent man). There's some pieces on the Huffington Post by Hooman Majd and Richard Bradley. The blog Sporula has a good piece called "The London Shooting and the Myth of Race". And Earl Ofari Hutchinson has an excellent piece on what this says about racial profiling in Britain in general. And there was a post in a Daily Kos diary Monday with some discussion.
Update: Shoot to Kill Cartoon Mini-Roundup
I haven't been able to find many other cartoons about this. Scottish cartoonist Brian Adcock cautions police to "mind the gap" in their thinking. Tim Jackson notes that these kind of police brutality incidents are all-too-familiar to Americans. And I'm not sure what exactly the Guardian's Steve Bell means by this one. If any of you readers see any other cartoons about Menezes or the shoot-to-kill policy, please let me know in the comments...
Update 2: Awful pro-shooting piece in the NY Times
Today's (7/28) NY Times has a guest op-ed defending the killing of Mr. Menezes, "When You Have to Shoot First," similar to a recent NY Post editorial. The writer makes the same tired "the police had no choice because he was wearing a long warm coat on a hot summer day" argument (as if poor choice of dress justifies murder when they had no other evidence), and actually compares Mr. Menezes to a group of men who shot at a friend of his (nevermind that Mr. Menezes was unarmed).
Update 3: Police admit Menezes was NOT wearing a bulky jacket and did not jump turnstile as previously claimed
From the Guardian (Brazilian did not wear bulky jacket):
Speaking at a press conference after a meeting with the Metropolitan police, Vivien Figueiredo, 22, said that the first reports of how her 27-year-old cousin had come to be killed in mistake for a suicide bomber on Friday at Stockwell tube station were wrong.
"He used a travel card," she said. "He had no bulky jacket, he was wearing a jeans jacket. But even if he was wearing a bulky jacket that wouldn't be an excuse to kill him."