this one's not quite dead yet
Shoot first and don't bother with the questions
Posted: 2005-08-16 10:27
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Author: Phil Gengler
Section: Politics

Just when you thought you couldn't hate the world any more than you already do, you read about the facts surrounding the shooting by police of an innocent man in a London Tube station (I talked a little about this in a previous post).

Initial reports about the shooting indicated that the man was wearing a heavy coat in the summer, had jumped over the turnstiles to gain entry, and had run from police. According to the report in The Observer, however, he was not wearing a heavy coat, he did not jump the entrance barrier (he used a regular fare card), and some witnesses say that he was not challenged by police, who some witnesses say did not identify themselves.

We may never know what actually happened inside that station, despite the "dozens of cameras" present inside. Police say that most of the cameras were not working, even after the push for more cameras after the July 7 bombings.

Furthermore, British police have publicly acknowledged a "shoot to kill" policy for people they believe are suicide bombers. Not only does this leave open the possibility of other innocent people being shot dead by police, it also won't help to stop an attack by anyone who has put some thought into it. As Bruce Schneier mentioned in the latest Crypto-gram newsletter: "It is entirely conceivable ... that suicide bombers will use the same kind of dead-man's trigger on their bombs." In that case, killing them would only cause the detonation of the bomb. (Granted, in that situation, apprehending them would likely have the same result; however, when someone is wrongly suspected of being a suicide bomber, if they're apprehended they aren't dead.)

Comments by the Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, show that the policy isn't being thought through very well. The Observer article has Blair describing the "shoot to kill" policy as the "'least worst' way of tackling suicide bombers" and that he "refuses to rule out other innocent people being shot."

If our own forces, the ones we expect to protect us from attacks and to keep us alive, are operating under a policy that they know might result in the killing of innocent people, why are people accepting this? We don't want to be killed by terrorists, but we're perfectly willing to allow ourselves to be killed by the police? What, then, is the difference?

Now, I know this is a British incident, and fortunately, does not (yet) reflect the policies (at least, the acknowledged policies) of any police force in the US. However, given the similarities between Britain and the US, I think it's important to keep an eye on what is happening there, as it may soon find its way to this side of the Atlantic.


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