First of all, the weather is a bit on the chilly side for summer, don’t you think? It’s an absurdly low 15degC (59F) right now, and the sun hasn’t even set yet. I suppose I am thankful that last summer’s fatally powerful European heat wave has yet to be repeated. Still, how am I ever going to make that trip to Kew Gardens if the weather keeps up like this? (And the weather forecast predicts more of the same for the next five days.)
Secondly, but more importantly. Did anyone else just feel awful when the news about the Brazillian electrician broke? So on Friday a man was shot on a London underground train by plainclothes policemen. He was shot eight times. Seven shots in the head. At close range. The police officers had pursued him into the station, tackled him on the train, jumped on top of him and literally fired into the man’s head, right before a terrified carriageful of commuters. One strand of the immediate public reaction was outcry that the police had the power to simply execute a man in public, with no actual proof of a threat, not to mention an investigation or a trial. Couldn’t they have simply incapacitated him (as they already had by tackling him)? At most shoot him in the leg? These questions were overshadowed by news reports that the man was a suspected suicide bomber.
Then within 48 hours it emerges that the dead man was not, as police had suspected, a suicide bomber, but an innocent Brazilian electrician living and working in London. Something had clearly gone very wrong, at least for the dead man.
The police were perfectly justified in their actions – that’s the gist of the official message from the police comissioner, the home secretary and others who are defending Scotland Yard’s “shoot to kill” policy as necessary given the grave security situation in London currently. Of course the relevant authorities are grieved by the mistake, but unconvinced that there was anything amiss in the incident.
Horrifying. That’s what I think. It reminds me of martial law, because that’s the only situation that comes to mind where regular civil and criminal law can be ignored. But of course we are not under martial law. As far as I can tell, the police officers never warned that they were going to shoot, and I cannot believe that the dead man would have claimed to have been holding a bomb when he was not, in fact, a suicide bomber. Of course, pending more official details all that I can say is based on news coverage of the incident, but certainly no one has reported hearing police warnings being shouted at the man, nor threats from the Brazilian man. It seems the police assumed that the deceased might be (or even most likely was) carrying a bomb because he was wearing a bulky padded jacket. (Official reports claim that this struck the police and witnesses as unusual given the warm weather, but I personally recall Friday being quite a chilly day, actually.)
But essentially, based on the fact that he ran, and based on what he wore, the police were free to shoot the Brazilian man, point blank, in the head (so as not to set off any explosives on his body), multiple times. With no sign of a warrant, due process, actual visible or verbal treats or anything of the sort. Shoot to kill. License to kill, it sounds like to me.
And why did the deceased run if he was innocent? The evening papers are reporting that his visa has just expired, making him an illegal immigrant or visa overstayer in the UK. Perhaps that’s why he ran from the police, who knows at this point?
So much for human rights. (You know, like the incontrovertible right to life and the right to due process, even within martial law?)
Those who might want to claim that Singapore has all kinds of similar policies that at best stretch the definition of civil liberties, due process and human rights are missing the point. None of that changes the fact that this is a terrible thing to happen, at least on a philosophical level (in the short- or even medium-term tough security measures may indeed be expedient to safeguard the city at large). I am just as outraged by the inconsistent, anachronistic or simply indefensible features of Singaporean legislation and policy (like our lack of martial-rape laws, the outrageous application – not to mention existence - of our unnatural sex laws, the provisions and application of the Internal Security Act, our racially-biased immigration policies, our position on anti-personnel landmines etc. etc.), but right now I am commenting on the tragic, undeserved and brutal death of Jean Charles de Menezes, aged 27.
Moreover, Singapore might be a model economy or even a model State, but London and the UK are supposed to represent a model democracy and one of the world leaders in pressing for the global recognition and protection of human rights (something I doubt Singapore would try to claim leadership in). Which makes this whole situation all the more terrible. If Singapore does the same (here I’m reminded of Singapore’s mandatory capital punishment for drug trafficking and kidnapping), we might eventually say apathetically, “Hiyar, Singapore government/law/PAP/courts/police are like that one, what – you dunno meh?” or something similar. But if the UK (and the US, with its Patriot Act and the like) are indeed being forced to take the measures they are taking, what does that say about the feasibility of “Western” democracy and human rights in an insecure world? Or about the power that terrorists really wield over us (even if it is unintended)?
And in the meantime, another innocent person is dead.
Next time, Jason makes the case against whining scholarship bond-breakers and wanna-breakers. Stay tuned.