The Death of Jean Charles de Menezes

The ability to make light of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes belies a horror that grows deeper as details of the incident emerge.

On the morning of July 22, de Menezes left his flat, which happens to be located in the same housing block where Hamdi Isaac lived. Isaac was suspected of involvement in a failed subway attack the previous day. The building was under intense surveillance, but the officer assigned to a video camera who could have identified Isaac was in the bathroom when de Menezes left the building.

De Menezes, a 27-year-old electrician, left the first floor flat he shared with two cousins, walked through a playground, and caught a bus to the Stockwell subway station. He boarded a subway car, where within seconds he was assaulted by a team of officers, held down and shot seven times in the head at point-blank range.

Witnesses said that the suspect looked "South Asian," wore a bulky jacket with wires visible, and ran through the subway station before jumping over the turnstile. Police initially issued a statement saying that "his clothing and his behavior at the station added to suspicions" of de Menezes.

No less than the chief of the London police declared that de Menezes was "directly linked" with "terrorist operations."

Not a word of any of it was true.

Immediately, some things about the incident didn't add up. Cops wasted no time releasing subway surveillance images of the four men suspected of responsibility for the July 7 bombings, which killed 54 people and injured more than 700. Where was the image of de Menezes? If the cops genuinely believed de Menezes was carrying an explosive device, why did they allow him onto a bus and into a subway station?

If the first victim of war is truth, its second victim is innocence.

De Menezes wasn't wearing a bulky jacket in warm weather (it was 65 degrees F that morning, but that's beside the point). He wore a light denim jacket. De Menezes walked at an ordinary pace through the subway station, pausing to pick up a newspaper, and passed through the turnstile. The guy with a bulky jacket and dangling wires who ran and jumped over the turnstile? Those were cops.

At least two cops boarded the train. One barked an order at de Menezes, who stood up but apparently made no threatening gesture. No doubt he was startled and confused, as anybody would be in similar circumstances. One cop tackled de Menezes, throwing him back into the seat. While one cop restrained de Menezes, a second reached forward, his gun about a foot away from his skull, and fired seven times.

To be sure, the cops were on edge. We've all been on edge since September 11, 2001. In London, the cops were trying to prevent another subway bombing.

What is most disturbing is the lack of shock over de Menezes' death. Many people seem to think that the sacrifice of innocent life is a fair trade for security. The irony of that concept is mindboggling.

Shooting "suicide bombing" suspects in the head is now standard operating procedure for many police departments in the U.S. and Great Britain. This is the approach recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in a recent advisory.

What have we become if summary public execution is not only regarded as acceptable, but even necessary?


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