Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Fit for purpose

My cousin’s daughter – she was about the same age as me – died after being knifed outside a nightclub in Toronto. I’m not exactly filled with warmth and fellow-feeling for the drugged-up bastard that ended her young life. Yet like most good lefties, the idea that the state should execute him in punishment does not convince me.

This logic extends further. Even in the case of conviction after due process, on multiple counts of murder, based of unassailable evidence and perhaps even admission of guilt, I still do not favour the death penalty.

All the above applies with double force to summary execution. Yet if there are ever circumstances under which that policy could be theoretically justified, the prevention of a suicide bombing presumably qualifies. The utilitarian calculation at work seems unanswerable.

That’s how the Association of Chief Police Officers is seeking to excuse Operation Kratos, the ‘shoot to kill’ policy that lead to the gunning down of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station last year.

ACPO maintain there is no need to change the strategy they have developed for such situations. ACPO president Sir Chris Fox declares himself ‘pleased’ that Operation Kratos has been deemed – to use police-speak - ‘fit for purpose’. He adds:

'The police service has an overriding duty to protect life, and occasionally, in discharging its duty, force is used … Very rarely officers, in order to save life, may have to take life.’

There’s just one snag. De Menezes wasn’t a suicide bomber, and there were no rational grounds for thinking he was. Taking life did not save life. The young Brazilian electrician was, to put it bluntly, the victim of state-sanctioned murder.

Rightwing columnist Bruce Anderson, writing in the Independent, famously eulogised the slaying, arguing: ‘Anyone who behaves as Mr de Menezes did can not have been keeping abreast of current affairs. His conduct invited the police to draw the conclusions which they did and to act as they did. He was the author of his own misfortune.’

What? Doesn’t read newspapers? Shoot him. Seven times in the head and once through the neck for good measure. Unfortunately for Anderson, it soon transpired that the initial police accounts of the incident were, to put it mildly, misleading. De Menezes's real crime was to have brown skin and wear a warm coat.

A racist policy that allows such tragedies to take place does not protect the public in any way, and certainly isn’t ‘fit for purpose’.


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