Shooting Jean Charles

The Met are on trial for breaching Health and Saftey legislation, when they shot the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes seven times in the head. The phrase “no shit, Sherlock” comes to mind, although it is surely inappropriate for a case where the detectives were, without question, shit.

Here’s Cressida Dick’s rather pathetic testimony on her role in the shooting:

“Secondly, from the behaviours that had been described to me – given that I thought they thought it was him – it could, very, very well be him.

“The behaviours that were described – the nervousness, agitation, the sending of messages, the telephone, getting on and off the bus – added to the picture of someone potentially intent on causing an explosion.”

This is shocking, not least because the actions described by DAC Dick, those that persuaded her that Mr de Menezes should be “stopped,” are precisely those actions I indulge in every day. A “nervous, agitated man sending messages” is exactly what I look like on pretty much every morning on the way to work. And who, in their lives, has not had a senile moment of indecision at a bus stop?

More seriously, the entire affair is shocking because of the low burden of proof that was required for the state to take someone’s life. The fault lies not with the officers who carried out the shooting, but with the decision to put such an ill-advised “shoot to kill” policy into the field at all. Who made that decision, how, and when? Only when this question is answered, and that person brought to account, can we begin to explain an attone for this terrible, avoidable death. And until this happens, every one of us in this democracy remains collectively responsible.

We should stop worrying about what kind of bullets were used in the incident, and focus on who was putting out misinformation in the immeidate wake of the killing, and subsequently.  That line of enquiry might lead us to the person who had made a decision that they did not want to take responsibility for.

12 thoughts on “Shooting Jean Charles

  1. If they had enough evidence to shoot him, they should have stopped him long before he got near the tube station, surely. If they really thought he had an explosive device, whatever were they thinking to let him go underground?? And of course, if they had stopped him, they would have found out that he wasn’t who they thought he was, and he would still be alive.

  2. I think the real question is how did they come to think he was a suicide bomber? How could they have got that so utterly wrong. If you accept that they believed he was, then the shooting is potentially justified, in the public interest.

  3. Sadly when people panic they stop thinking clearly which I think is what happened here. Of course we don’t expect our police to panic but they are human. Having clear rules to rely on in a panic provoking situation is important and maybe the rules were not sufficiently helpful

  4. I think the issue at stake here is that the “panic” has found its way into lawmaking and policy-making, those things we rely on so that ‘human’ panic doesn’t have dire consequences.

  5. I also think, when you look at the chain of events, the biggest error was the incorrect identification of the man. Given that everyone else was only acting according to the information that they had, it’s the source of that info that is mostly to blame. If he would have turned out to have been strapped with explosives, there would be pats on the back all round, wouldn’t there?

  6. Well, no. We would have asked why he wasn’t stopped earlier. I don’t think they would have felt they needed to stop him with such gusto if he hadn’t been on the train. That was Cressida Dick’s motivation for ordering him to be stopped, she said.

    But of course, the biggest error – indeed, the only definite mistake in the entire operation – was the misidentification. The point is, that errors of identification should have figured a little more prominently in the overall planning and policy. Clearly they weren’t. The result is that an innocent man has been killed quite lawfully, which is a much worse state of affairs. So we’re all at fault, really.

  7. I think he was shot precisely because he got on a train, this confirmed a number of pre-existing false assumption held by the pursuing police.. He came out of the right building, he looks foreign, he’s acting supsiciouly, wearing a coat on a hot day, and finally, he got on a tube. This was a classic example of what psychologists call confirmation bias, where pre-existing false assumptions are (in this case inadvertently) confirmed by an observed action/event and become practically unshakeable.
    The type of bullets/number of shots are irrelevant, once “confirmed” as an active suicide bomber, police folowed a standard protocol (shut down the nervous system by disabling the brain stem to prevent any autonomic responses from triggering an explosion) developed, believe it or not, in israel. You have to bear in mind that the police would have believed that their, as well as others, lives were in immediate danger. Cock up rather than conspiracy.

  8. Oh, absolutely, which is why the blame cannot lie with the trigger-men, but with the policy as a whole.

    I certainly don’t believe that there was a conspiracy to kill anyone in order to strengthen the percieved terrorist threat. I think the “cover-ups” such as they are, were designed to avoid taking the blame and responsibility for a fatally flawed, ill-conceived policy.

    The “confirmation bias” issue goes to the heart of the problem, and the importance of civil liberties and human rights. These safeguards are in place precisely to avert the errors of “confirmation bias. Those who carp on about how they impede terrorist investigations are, I think, missing the point.

    All this is an extension of my first ever blog post.

  9. Well. I think even if he hadn’t gone underground or got on a train, if they thought he was a suicide bomber, then they must have also thought he had a suicide bomb on him, in which case, he would need to be stopped pretty drastically whether underground or not. You wouldn’t want to just go up and say excuse me, can I question you, to man you’ve been told is wearing a suicide bomb, would you?

  10. That’s clearly not the procedure though, otherwise they would have capped him as he left the block of flats. It was then that he was wrongly identified as a terrorist.

    I repeat: The fatal falw was in the misidentification. That needs to be 100% correct before deadly force is authorised. Clearly, the use of deadly force was used too lightly and quickly in this case. That’s what needs to be changed immediately. If we can’t eliminate the risk of a false positive, then none of our policement should be carrying guns and we need to find some other method of counter-terrorism.

  11. This is a good question. Can someone answer it? Although maybe it has been answered in the negative by Matt Munro’s most recent comment.

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