Tuesday, July 26, 2005

London, Police, and Suspicion

Bill and I have spent several days discussing the subway (sorry “Tube”) shooting in London that happened last Friday.

It’s old news now, but just in case it’s new to you, London plainclothes police officers chased a terrorist suspect into a tube station. He had come out of a building suspected of housing terrorists, he was wearing a bulky coat of some sort on a warm day, he ran when cops told him to stop, and then tried to get on a train after jumping the turnstiles. The cops tackled him and then shot him five times, most of the bullets destroying his head. He turned out to be a young Brazilian electrician, Jean Charles de Menezes, who was not carrying a bomb and apparently has no ties to terrorists.

For me, Menezes is a victim of terrorists much as were the people in New York and the Pentagon on 9/11 and in London on 7/7, but in a more indirect way. He unwittingly fit a terrorist profile and then made a fatal mistake of running when he should have stopped. We’ll never know if he realized the plainclothes officers were police or thought they were thugs chasing him in a bad neighborhood. We can’t know what caused him to run even while cops were yelling at him. He can’t tell his story.

Yet, sad as it was, the police are not at fault either. They did the best they could with the information they had. Menezes seemed suspicious and any reasonable person given what is happening in London now would come to the same conclusion. They knew that the surest way to prevent a suicide bomber from triggering his belt is to destroy his brain. Without a brain, a terrorist cannot press a button, pull a wire, or flip a switch. If Menezes had been a bomber and had blown himself up on a packed train car, the police chasing him would be killed, commuters would have died, and the police department pilloried.

But, here’s the worst part. So long as we're facing terrorism we're risking a situation in which police officers will be justified in shooting anyone who is wearing unusual clothes—might be a bomb in those baggy jeans or a gun hidden in those camo hunting clothes. Or, anyone who lives or works in a building in which terrorists may live or work. Or, anyone who seems a little different and is seen as a risk.

In other words, we will live in a police state in which authorities will expect us to conform to certain rules and behaviors. If you think I’m mistaken, look at security lines at airports. Look how passengers are queued in ropes like sheep. Look at their vacant stares. Look at people removing their shoes, their belts, and tossing change in cups. Imagine what would happen if someone made a joke about a bomb or a gun. This mentality is coming to the rest of society.

There may come a time where your religion will be questioned. If you’re a Muslim you’re automatically a suspect, and if you’re a Branch Davidian—oh wait, never mind. If you have certain skills you might raise suspicions. A chemist might have to submit to periodical interrogations to ensure he or she is not mixing explosives. An electrical engineer might have to prove he or she is not assembling bombs. If you’re a gun owner, you better own politically correct guns (perhaps certain shotguns and muskets). And, forget about wearing a coat on a day that your local constable thinks is a touch warm.

Islamofacist terrorists have placed us between hammer and anvil. The only way to defeat them is to give police more power to stop them; including shooting belt-wearing suicide bombers on sight—or those who we think are bombers. However, giving police too much power to act on vague suspicions destroys our society.

I’m a gun nut and I can see a pro-gun solution, one in which regular citizens are armed like Israelis, but those who seem a little different from the rest of us would still be suspect. A suspicion that can destroy us.

Terrorism will destroy our society as we know it if we let it. We must convince Muslims in Britain and America that it is in their best interests to expose bombers in their midst. Menezes’s death may actually focus attention on what happens to innocent people when police must act on too little information. Maybe something good will come out of his unfortunate death when Muslims and others realize their lives and freedoms are at risk. So Jean Charles de Menezes requiescat in pace.

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