Monday, July 25, 2005

His Only Crime Was Being The Wrong Colour and Gender at the Wrong Time

Last Friday, London's hysteria claimed its first victim. Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old Brazilian electrician, was shot and killed while taking the subway to work Friday morning. As far as we can tell, Menezes' only crime was being the wrong gender and the wrong colour for London cops. London officials say that Menezes disobeyed orders from armed police officers and attempted to jump a railing, which Menezes' family deny. This killing follows in the wake of London's new policy to shoot to kill suspected suicide bombers. We're not talking about the US here, so I'm less familiar with the British parliamentary system, but even in a legal system based on precedence, it's got to be difficult to rationalize a "shoot first, ask questions later" approach to terrorism. Menezes committed no crime, he was carrying no explosives, but because he was a tad unruly (and this could be anywhere from causing a scene to looking too "swarthy") and he fit the racial profile of suspected terrorists (i.e., he was brown and a he), he paid the ultimate price. Prime Minister Tony Blair all but condoned the killing, saying "I think we are quite comfortable that the policy is right, but of course these are fantastically difficult times." The problem with this paranoia, these random bag checks that we're seeing in NYC, even the added security in airports is that they are applied unevenly across the racial board -- police are still at their own discretion to stop an olive-skinned man with facial hair under no other suspicion than possibly being Arab. Meanwhile, we're never going to see a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Menezes being gunned down in any subway station, even though terrorism is a universal phenomenon that can neither be eradicated nor racially linked to any one particular race or another. And, meanwhile, we'll never see these bag checks make any real difference; ask yourself, if you were a suicide bomber, would you really still be trying to sneak bags onto subways or would you maybe find a way around these reactive measures? They say the only criminal who returns to the scene of a crime is one who wants to get caught. And neither will we see the majority mobilize to defend the civil rights of the Arab community -- the vast majority of Americans are simply too certain that it will never happen to them, that they will never get killed in the subway for simply looking the wrong way at a police officer. We're simply too comfortable in our terrorization, too willing to give up our civil rights for the deceptive comfort of false security, too eager to go back to the "simpler times" to care about the minorities who have to pay the price for our comfort. After all, what's one or two or twenty or a hundred dead Arab or "Arab-looking" men whose only crime was being brown? London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair put it simply but honestly: "On Sunday Metropolitan Police Commissioner said he regretted Menezes' death but defended the policy of shooting to kill suspected suicide bombers, warning that more people could be shot." And you can bet we won't be seeing a white man or woman being among those getting shot. Update (7/25): Chesire over at Marginal Notations points us to a post at Sepia Mutiny which points to a clear colour issue in this whole debacle. I remembered this description back on Friday but thought they were talking about another incident; it turns out that when Menezes was first shot, he was described as "Asian"-looking, which in the UK means what we Americans refer to as Indian or South Asian, a people frequently mistaken for Arab. His behaviour was described by witnesses as frightened, "like a cornered rabbit". When police caught up with him, (there's some conflict as to whether they ordered him to stop first, according to eye-witnesses) they shot him at point-blank range, eight times, as per the policy of shooting to kill suspected sucide bombers, preferably in the head to prevent bomb detonation.


Anonymous Kaede said...

I think this is a huge difference in how the case has been covered by the media on both sides of the big pond. When it first went down, there were eye witness accounts of his behaviour (NOT from the police) and they all said the same thing - he did what the police said he did, not something else. A witness on the train where he was shot said that he had what appeared to be something with wires sticking out of it. Sure he was an electrician, but come on. When you know that people are on the lookout in your area for those acting suspicious etc. etc. are you not going to at least have a little common sense here?

The thing that bugs me is how much things are blown out of proportion when a mistake has been made. A huge and fatal mistake to be sure, but still a mistake. I don't believe in the shoot-to-kill policy as a strong pacifist, but you have to remember, they had their eye on him for some time apparently, and they don't always act on a whim. Despite what the media and others might assume. These are people used to dealing with the IRA, for God's sake. Those people ARE blond, blue-eyed white people, who have been killed on sight etc. before. There have also been innocents killed where they were suspected IRA members as well, so again, this is not new. It's all just so over-hyped it's sickening.

There is a link to witness accounts that are curiously now not being linked to the original case link which really kinda bugs me, because there were witnesses who are now being sidelined for the cause of a good story.

7/25/2005 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

kaede, you make a good point about the IRA, however, i'm still concerned that "arab-looking" people are being unfairly targeted in this current sweep. i actually worry that this story is being under-hyped... at least on this side of the pond.

7/25/2005 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

I don't understand how the media can blow out of proportion an incident where the police murder an innocent man.

That's always important, and always something people should deal with in detail.

7/25/2005 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger nykol said...

well put james. that IS the bottom line.

7/25/2005 04:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

Everyone is forgetting that the police didn't know he was innocent at the time. They don't deliberately go out there to kill people who are not white, James. Not even here. He was acting suspiciously, in an area they were keeping under surveillance due to suspicious activities. You can't tell me they wouldn't be concerned by that? Sure they MAJORLY over-reacted, but you have to admit the guy contributed, even in some small way, to his own fate. That is all I am saying here.

Don't tar everyone with the same brush that you are used to using over there (ie things are done differently here, all things considered) until you know all the facts of the story which you won't get from just looking at biased media reports. You guys are smarter than that. Also keep in mind the usage and meaning of words that you choose to use. Murder implies deliberate action. They didn't know the guy was innocent. THEY FUCKED UP for heaven's sake. That is not necessarily murder. That is called a monumental cock-up and mistake. One that they will pay for, the law and the media will make sure of that.

And yes, cheshire, that IS the bottom line. They fucked up. They didn't deliberately murder the guy. He turned out to be innocent but they DIDN'T KNOW THAT.

7/25/2005 07:46:00 PM  
Blogger nykol said...

@kaede: There's a few things that need to be said here.

First of all the general statement "over there" is a stereotype. You need not use that phrase when discussing what I think you mean are the States. Also, you don't know what exactly we, the commentors actually read.

In addition, I was born and raised in NYC. My stepfather was supposed to be in the WTC the day of the attacks. An acquaintance of mine - her sister died in the attacks. I remember the iron-fist policies that Giuliani had as well, so I speak from experience.

Secondly, if that did happen here, and incidents similar to that has happened in the past (Amadou Diallo, for one), I would still be highly critical. Brute force is unecessary. They put EIGHT shots in the the poor man. In addition, what I take issue with is the policy, the protocol, and the reaction of the UK police. There was no proof that he had a bomb, was there? He ran - I would have too. He was in fear for his life. I'd would have been petrified. Also, I do not think that he was proven guilty - he was a suspect, and a weak one at that.

Ultimately what this boils down to is policy and ideology, both which are seriously flawed on both ends of the spectrum (both the terrorists acts and the US/UK strategies to combat it).

Even the mayor of London knows where to lay the responsibility and origin of the problem (that being US/UK ME policy).What happened in London goes way beyond the boundary of "fucking up." The bottom line is that they brutally killed an innocent, due to a number of gross missteps is just the tip of the iceberg. What happened in London was a debacle, to say the least, but it was an act that was based in faulty logic, paranoia, racial/ethnic profiling AND was ultimately another manifestation of behavior that is ultimately an act of terrorism in and of itself. Both the US and the UK need to recognize that. The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone even recognizes that to some degree. Just do a search on BBC news to see whom he ultimately holds responsible for the events of the last several decades.

Finally, the killing of ANY innocent is the bottom line. That should never be minimized, just because "they didn't know." And for the the chief of Scotland Yard to say that other innocent people could be shot dead by the police is wretched, wretched, wretched - and irresponsible.

7/25/2005 10:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some facts.

Menezes lived in the same block of flats where explosives forensically linked to 7/7 had been found.

Eye witnesses confirm the police account of events - he was challenged to stop. He ran. Police chased him, he jumped a barrier into the underground and carried on running even when challenged to stop again.

He had on a bulky jacket and wires were sticking out of his pocket.

London was bombed only the previous week.

It was a mistake. A tragic mistake but hardly evidence of racial profiling (Hello? The guy doesn't even look vaguely Arab!) - what should the police have done? Let him get on the underground train? Shot him in a way designed to detonate the explosives they thought he may be carrying?

I'm not pretending that our police aren't racist - not by any stretch of the imagination - but this is a questionable example of it.

7/26/2005 03:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

Asking people to think about the facts is hardly minimising what was done, cheshire. What I am saying is there is a chance that yeah, against MY better judgement, they may have been justified in the use of force. Excessive force (in this case) no, not by any means, but as the above poster (who appears to be from London?) has pointed out, they have a duty of care to everyone else as well so they had to do something. Not 8 shots' worth of something, but something. They took the judgement call. Would you do the same in their shoes or would you take that outside chance that he's not got a bomb when it goes off in your face?

Hindsight is always 20/20 in these kinds of situations, remember that. You are always free to second-guess and the police are always damned if they do, damned if they don't anyway. Not an ideal situation to be in to do your job on a GOOD day, let alone during times like these.

7/26/2005 05:58:00 AM  
Blogger nykol said...

@kaede: I agree with you up to a certain point about 20/20 and hindsight. Yet I don't think that asking people to think about the facts is the minimising part. What I think is actually minimising is the the rhetoric and policy behind the entire event. It seems as if the implicit statement is "foreigners beware," or anyone who appears to be foreign.

And it is profiling - whether you want to believe it or not. It's a profiling of "us" versus "them," those who are immigrants/of non-European descent, against those who are "natives" in the UK. The foreigners, the non-Europeans are at risk. The message seems to be those who are foreigners should be walking on eggshells. In fact, the Guardian posted an article today noting that 2/3 of Muslims are thinking about leaving the UK.

I certainly understand people's need to feel safe; and I still don't agree with your position or anonymous' either. Shooting someone SEVEN times in the head and once in the shoulder is not the way and never will be. "Justified" violence will only produce even more violence.

7/26/2005 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Just to toss this into the mix, Brazilian people have a vague resemblance to Arabs, apparently (at least according to those waging the War on Terror). They are darker skinned, with dark-hair, and somewhat dark complexions. It's no secret that people of South America are targets of covert or even subconscious racial profiling in airports. My Brazilian co-worker travels frequently with my boss, who is the whitest white man on the planet, and from Long Island.

They joke about how my Brazilian co-worker will walk behind my boss when they are travelling together in the field, and how my boss is never stopped, and my co-worker always is. They've taken to having my boss carry the "dangerous" materials (i.e., our bee killing jars and ethanol) because there's no chance of him getting it confiscated. My Brazilian co-worker always has his belongings frisked because people can't quite tell if he's Brazilian or Arab. Personally, I don't find it very funny.

Even a vague resemblance is enough for most officers who, admittedly, are just trying to do their job in keeping people safe. Unfortunately, when they buy into the belief that only "they" will hurt "us", the "they"s end up paying the price.

And to anonymous, none of the behaviours you cite should warrant a death sentence. Diallou pulled out a wallet, at night, when surrounded by cops, and was shot 41 times. Acting like Menezes acted in any way suspicious that justified the cops' actions suggests that Menezes was at fault when the bottom line is, as chesire says, he was an innocent man killed by the police for no reason at all.

7/26/2005 09:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

I am just going to have to disagree with you and leave it there and I won't even give my reasons. Normally I would but I respect you too much for that and I am sorry.

7/26/2005 01:48:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Man oh man! Don't you love the War on Terror? It provides the perfect reason to kill other people - fear.

@Anonymous: Racial profiling or not, Menezes died because the police would rather shoot an unarmed innocent man than take the chance that he may be gulity of terrorism. If that's ok with you, cool. You may wake up one morning as a citizen of a police state, but remember, that's your choice.

And frankly, I have a hard time with the 'it's not racial profiling' argument. Whether in the UK or the US, I've never heard of a White European or a White American being gunned down by police in the manner of an Amadou Diallo or a Jean Charles de Menezes. I certainly don't wish that fate on anyone, but that doesn't seem to happen to White people, years after the crimes of the Unabomber, the BTK killer, Tim McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris. The reason isn't hard to figure out.

7/26/2005 02:59:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

@Kaede: We can't excuse fatally incorrect policework with bad nerves from terrorism. If that isn't letting the terrorists win, I don't know what is. No one said that police in any nation deliberately do out to kill non-Whites. (Apartheid is over, thank goodness.) However, the mark of a civilized nation is its treatment of its most reviled members, and the War on Terror is de-civilizing us all. The only reasonable question to emerge from the sorry murder of Jean Charles de Menezes is how a well-trained, professional police force in one of the world's major metropolitian areas can kill a man over 'suspicious behavior' alone, judged only by the police themselves. Until that question is answered, the police only add to our personal fears over public safety.

7/26/2005 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

You've never lived here during the Troubles, James, when people WERE gunned down just like that. On all sides. Where in Northern Ireland, they are STILL being gunned down on all sides under the guise of a cease fire. Countless RUC officers have gone on trial for killing innocent (and not always innocent) people who they felt were terrorists because they didn't stop at police checkpoints, because they acted suspiciously. You can't tell those who live here that they don't know when they've had to live with this for over a hundred years since the Republican movement began. I thank my lucky stars that we live here in Scotland where there's been less of that rubbish but people in the South had to deal with it on an almost daily basis until a little under 10 years ago. Now the US is playing the catch-up game.

I don't recall either of us saying it was oke what they did. Far from it. But put the blame squarely where it belongs. On BOTH parties, not one, not the other. BOTH parties. Look at and listen to the facts, then make up your mind, instead of prejudging it solely based on the racial arguments. Forget the colours for a moment. You are constantly asking us to do it for you, do it for us. It might surprise you with the results.

7/26/2005 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger nykol said...

@kaede: I think you made a really good point. A friend of mine and I were discussing how actually the UK - in spite of the grim situation actually has a better handle of dealing with terrorism than in the US (Troubles, IRA, etc.). So, you are totally correct here - one of the issues is that the US is playing the catch-up game. What if the London bombingsdid happen here? How would we handled/mishandled it? Considering our president at the moment, the rhetoric would have been much stronger.

I also don't want you to think that I am demonizing London, the UK, the police, etc. From what happened on Friday, I think it speaks to a much larger issue: this "us" versus "them," how this "problem" of division actually alienates much of the world's population. Race, is an issue, but not the only issue. It's terribly complex. We do need to think about immigration, feelings of alienation, diasporic communities, communalism, miconceptions about religion, whether or not dispersed actually feel "at home." And if minority and/or immigrant communities are alienated, why did it happen in the first place? That's where we all (and I mean ALL dominant powers, UK, US, etc.) really need to do some serious reflection and analysis.

Indeed, this is a far bigger problem than the current UK situation.

So, yeah - I'm cool if we disagree, and I'm not hatin' on anyone. And I hear you on the Troubles analogy. I'm always willing to at least "listen" - even if I disagree.

Sorry for the epic post.


7/26/2005 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger James said...


Staying as colorblind as possible, exactly where did Mr. de Menezes screw up? If both parties are at fault, Kaede, what did Mr. de Menezes do wrong? And the real question: should it have cost him his life?

7/26/2005 08:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

Anonymous said...

Some facts.

Menezes lived in the same block of flats where explosives forensically linked to 7/7 had been found.

Eye witnesses confirm the police account of events - he was challenged to stop. He ran. Police chased him, he jumped a barrier into the underground and carried on running even when challenged to stop again.

He had on a bulky jacket and wires were sticking out of his pocket.

London was bombed only the previous week.

Courtesy of the anonymous Londoner who posted this above. Even for an electrician, a bulky jacket in this weather is insanity. Really. If you want to stay in one piece, regardless of nationality or colour, don't act like a complete prat is what I am saying here. You do stupid stuff, yes, you may just end up paying for it with your life and this is true at any time, not just when bombs have gone off in the London Underground. (You might actually want to have a look at the link I posted above *sighs*)

As to the answer of whether it should have? Only the police can answer that. I wasn't there and never will be as I refuse to have anything to do with this sort of thing. I don't live with my head in some idealistic clouds saying it shouldn't ever, because it will. Realistically nobody can say it should never happen because we are all human and error is one of the biggest human things of all. It is something that the officers in question will now have to live with for the rest of their lives, but this is their job. They get paid to make decisions like this so we can live in relative peace and security, all things considered. Do I like it? Fuck no. I wish that people would stop killing each other, but I recognise it's not gonna happen in my lifetime. I am doing my part in teaching my son respect for everyone regardless of colour, religion, race, gender....whatever and I think that's all anyone can do at this point. When more people are taught respect for life.....then who knows....

Thank you cheshire, this is all I was saying and all I was asking for. It is a much bigger thing than any one country, no matter how anybody likes to claim one particular issue as their own. All we can do is live with the fallout and hope to make the world a better one out of it in the only ways we know how.

7/26/2005 10:20:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Anonymous quoted circumstantial evidence. If the police are justifying their execution of de Menezes on living close to killers he never knew, or having wires on his person, or being scared and running when they barked orders at him, that simply does not work to justify their actions.

I mean, I'm starting to realize that the problem here is similar to the underlying motivation of people who are okay with racial profiling. At the end of the day, if one does not believe a situation can possibly happen to them, they have no reason in their minds to oppose the situation on principle.

What happened to de Menezes could happen to me, with a quick turn of fate; people need to put themselves in that position before they rush to defend scared and trigger-happy policemen.

7/27/2005 11:25:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home