Monday, July 25, 2005

Dark days

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.


Lorcan said...

There is a South Asian member of our meeting who brought this up, in a new addition to our worship, after meeting we speak of important issues - happiness or worries. He spoke of the fear in the South Asian community now, after this apparent murder of a suspect after he was subdued. A member of the meeting who could not be mistaken for Asian, then made a comment about his feelings for the innocents killed in the London attacks. I spoke of my grandfather, who could easily have been mistaken for South Asian ( when I get back from Canada I hope I remember to post a photo of him on my blog... ). I said I thought of him, when it was announced that the fellow was from Brazil. That only a blind man would ever mistake me for South Asian, but I thought of my family members who could be so misidentified... and then thought, what is the difference. We who would never be mistaken for the permanent suspect class must learn to demand justice... I noticed that it was the dark complexion members of the meeting that were nodding as I spoke... It takes unusual circumstances for most White middle class US or British citizens to understand the cost of loss of freedom for the permanent other.

The point is that we must demand that Amadou Diallo will never again be shot 32 times in New York in a "Shoot to Kill" event and one that killed a wonderful and innocent young man "by mistake"... and yes there is risk in that. Justice is not a numbers game. Justice is worth the risks we take, because in a world where we protect it, we are safe to oversee the actions of our governments, and some times there is risk as the price of freedom. On the other hand, tyranny is a burden every day, it is the constant fear of your state, and the knowledge that if you get out of line there is the visit from the bully boys in the suit, or worse. In a nation without justice, voices like Martin Luther King Jr. are shot down by government actors, lawyers like Patrick Finucane are denounced from the floor of Parliament and executed in front of his family the next day, brave lawyers like Rosemary Nelson are killed by bombs, lawyers like Albi Sacks are maimed by bombs... The cost of tyranny is felt when you are afraid to speak out about justice, the cost of tyranny is the place where you are afraid of your skin, your faith, your mode of clothing, as it could cost you your freedom and your life. Even we White folks can never be sure there will not be something that may divide us out from the norm some day, in a state out of control. There is no true protection in state terror.

RobertB said...

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.

Surely? Sounds rather like the counsel of Caiaphas to me. And you a Quaker...

Otherwise I agree with the gist of what you (and Lorcan) have said. In a world of `illegal immigrants' this was an all-too-obvious tragedy waiting to happen. I hope we learn well the lessons of such a mistake, but fear we will not.

ash said...

Indeed, Robert, I found that statement remarkably Utilitarian... I'm not sure I want an ethics like that.

Lorcan said...

I hope one thing was not lost in the great number of words I used.

Justice is not a numbers game.

One person murdered by the state, is one two many.


postliberal said...

I'm not sure calling it a murder is the best responce. The death is sad. The police didn't seem to realise that they were caught up in a misunderstanding, perhaps even the victim didn't realise what's happened. I hope there can be mourning without points scoring against anyone or any agaency.

Lorcan said...

Wrongful killing is murder. I, as a Quaker, am hard pressed to find a justifiable killing. However, a failure to take enough caution is also murder, it is called Depraved Heart Killing, in US law.

This all begins with the wrongful killing of over a hundred thousand Iraqis. I agree with CA, that we should mourn what this does to the young men who join the police for their sense of responcility... but, frankly, I feel much more for the man killed and his family. We are hearing much of them... we see their tears of TV... just think of that mulitplied a hundred and fifty seven times, and you may understand the cost of this crime Mr. Bush calles a "preemptive war"


Contemplative Activist said...

You've really taken to this anti-utilitarianism thing haven't you Ash?!

I said it might be better to shoot a terrorist than for a terrorist to kill themselves and many others (Quaker an' all, not sure what other Quakers might say tho ;P)

I did not say I supported the shoot to kill policy. As recent events have so tragically shown, it is too easy to mistake an innocent man for a suicide bomber.

I don't think we can take the law into our own hands, I don't think we should sentence people to death, even with a trial - but if someone has explosives strapped to them and they are about to blow up the lives of innocent people - what would you suggest? Such tragedies must be prevented.

I don't like all this 'We must support our police' polemic in the media atm tho. It sounds like, 'Shit happens, get used to it and pour all your lovin' on your local firearms bobby'. The toughest questions must be asked.

Tony Blair says that Iraq is no excuse for terrorism...and I agree with him, but there's no excuse for the acts of violent terror carried out in our names in Iraq either if you ask me.

If we want to stop terrorism, we need to get our act together in creating a peaceful world - and bombing the middle east into democracy isn't the way to do it.

Wish I had the answers...

postliberal said...

Some have pointed out, quite pertinantly, that no matter what is done some people will find a reason to commit violence and terrorism. Even if there had never been war in Afghanistan and Iraq, some would have a grudge again the west. Something should be done because it's right, not because of the potential repurcussions for us - whatever it is that's right, given how many spectra of views there are around.

I don't like violence, and I don't like relfex deference. But I don't wish to be an armchair pundit who judges what has happened with those involved in the shooting last week, because it's far too easy to cast a view at them when we weren't there. And I'd hazard to suggest the police did not set out that day with the intention to kill.

RobertB said...

Don't worry; your pragmatic opposition to the policy-in-actuality was clear enough. I'm was just querying the hypothetical case where one could identify terrorists from innocent Brazilians (by X-ray bodyscanners, say), because I don't think pragmatism alone makes a Peace Testimony.

"Such tragedies must be prevented."

Must? Je ne vois pas la necessite. Often tragedy cannot be prevented; and I do not think it must be prevented by any and every means.

This might be clearer if you consider that the same justification is urged for extracting information by torture from captured terrorists. If, ex hypothesi we hold it unacceptable to resort to torture, even to prevent mass killing, a fortiori it is unacceptable to resort to summary execution for the same purpose.

ash said...

I, too, knew what you meant Ruthie, but I disagree on principle. The principle of sacrificing the one for the many never sits right with me. One may think this situation to be a bit of a no-brainer on ethical grounds (had it been a correct assessment), But I don't think it is or shoudl be.

Everyone should have a trial before they are sentanced- to make an exception of one group leaves us on dodgey ground for tomorrow.

I think I agree with Rob- we should never be in a place where we are allowed to shoot-to-kill, even when people are holding bombs.

Shooting someone 8 times in head is remarkably accessive (it was 8, new info has suggested) and more than enough to stop your average non-armor-plated human from being alive for long. shooting his arms or hands or something my have proven effective in not letting him hit a detonator, for example.

But, since he didn't even have a bomb, This is a tragedy, yes, but also an error that should not happen. You might think it's unfair to expect "our boys" to be perfect, But when they hold lives in their index fingers I don't think we can hold them to any less standard than "get it right or you're fired, at least."