The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Neither Bob nor Thomas, but Moran, when he described listening to the news on Radio 4 as being without equal for making you feel both bored and angry. (From his really excellent stand-up routine Monster.) The beef is that in a review of the papers this morning, columnists in the likes of the Torygraph and News of the Screws are putting the blame for the death of Jean Charles de Menezes on the London terrorists and clearing the polis of virtually all responsibility; others are condemning the police for killing an innocent man. It's wonderful the heights of stupidity you can rise to when you're unencumbered by fact.

From my reading of Times, Guardian and BBC reports, I gather that 1) material from the failed bombings had led police to put the house where Mr de Menezes lived under surveillance 2) he went out unseasonably dressed, in a heavy coat 3) he ran when challenged by armed plain-clothes police 4) he jumped a ticket barrier at Stockwell Tube station 5) he was shot five times at close range while lying on the floor of a train.

Now, after that things get a little hazy. It's not clear, for example, how de Menezes wound up on the floor - some say he was pushed, others that he tripped. One account (in the Times) says that an armed officer put a gun down to him before firing. Anti-terrorism police have apparently been told to fire at the head of suspected suicide bombers rather than the torso, for fear of setting off explosives. Given that the head is a far smaller target, I suppose that you would want to have the gun close before you fired.

But if police were that close to him, close enough to push him over and shoot at near point-blank range, why not restrain him physically? Well, an individual who is sufficiently angry, afraid or desperate takes one hell of a lot of restraining, even by people who have been trained. I'm sure any prison officer or psychiatric nurse would say that. Geoff Thompson (martial artist and former bouncer) has a story about a ju-jitsu man who was mugged and put an armlock on his attacker, a technique which had people tapping out almost instantly in the dojo. The mugger head-butted him and ran off nursing a broken arm.

Now imagine what a suicide bomber could do in the half-second when one of his arms isn't quite under control.

I'm no supporter of trigger-happy police (see the case of Harry Stanley) and I don't want to say they definitely did or didn't do the right thing, not before all the facts are out (if that's even possible). But one can see how what might look like an execution-style killing to witnesses would be justified in the mind of someone who had only a second to decide.

It's terrible, no mistake, what happened to Mr de Menezes, but I just wish the columnists would shut the fuck up and ask more questions, instead of rushing to excuse or condemn. It does no-one any good, and it's just a cheap way of filling papers.

Why did de Menezes run? Having started running, why didn't he stop? Did the officers identify themselves properly? Did they know who de Menezes was? Was de Menezes restrained when he was shot? And so on.

Oh, and whether or not the police acted properly, whether or not their victim was innocent, they are responsible for killing him, regardless of the circumstances, which can at best be mitigating. Don't try and hide from that one.

Incidentally, the Times piece is the best-written, the Guardian the most rambling, and the BBC the slightest.,16132,1535246,00.html,,2087-1706793,00.html


At 25 July 2005 at 10:32 , Blogger Fence said...

The shooting incident is a whole heap of trouble. And I agree that asking questions would serve much more of a purpose at the moment than leaping to conclusions.

According to some article I read, FT maybe?, he was running because he was late for work.

As for why he didn't stop, maybe he didn't hear them? Maybe they weren't all that clear when they shouted. Someone said that "Police Stop" when shouted in a hurry sounds a lot like "please stop" and that maybe he just ignored it.

Of course from a newspaper's point of view asking questions without knowing the answers doesn't make for a good story does it?

Whatever the reasons, the shooting is a tragedy. For the man who was shot, his family, and for the police who shot him.


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