Last week, a suspected terrorist was shot dead by police in London. I had mixed feelings about it at the time. If he was carrying explosives, then surely it must be better for him to be shot by the police and thus loose only one life, than for him to blow up himself and many others. But then again, how does anyone know who is a terrorist and who is not.
Yesterday morning, I went to the newsagents to pick up a Sunday paper in preparation for a long awaited lazy Sunday morning. I hadn't even looked at the headlines until at the desk about to pay. Then I saw it - the man who was shot at close range by police was innocent, had never been suspected of any contact with terrorists - a young life, so brutally and quickly taken. His only crimes seem to be living in the same block of flats as the suspected bombers and wearing a padded jacket on a warm day.
In a discussion about this someone pointed out to me that the young man did not stop - but hang on a minute, how was he asked to stop, was he asked politely? I doubt it. He was chased by men in plain clothes (how was he to know they were police) pointing a gun - what would I have done? I suspect I might have ran too. The psychologist in me knows how easily mistakes can be made - how groups can act impulsively and cloud one another's judgement especially when split second decisions must be made, how deadly a mixture fear and the desire to save one's city and community can be and how in this current climate of fear, suspicion and hyper-vigilance, we can expect more terrible, terrible mistakes.
One of the things that bothers me most about all this are the reports that the man was shot 5 times in the head at close range. Why 5 times? What were the psychological states of the police concerned here? Fear? Heroism? Terror? Shock? Anger?
We have had another dark day, another innocent has been slaughtered, another young man has turned into a killer - I cannot imagine what damage this action will have done to the man who did the action and to all those responsible - the wider police community and government policy makers. It is a tragedy, we must lay aside excuses and face up to these tough questions and do everything we can to find another way.