That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Living above the law

It’s a horrible irony. On the fifth anniversary of this, the police also decide to announce this.

On 22 July 2005, Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by police fairly deliberately, with seven gun shots to his head, while sitting on a Victoria Line train at Stockwell tube station. The rationale to shoot him dead, without knowing his name or his business, was little more complex than assuming that his olive complexion and black hair (in a neighbourhood full of Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants) were suspiciously Al-Qaedesque. Menezes had done nothing whatsoever to raise suspicions that he was a terrorist threat – this was bad police information, bad police protocol, and an “anything goes” police policy in place that summer after the London bombings.

During London’s G20 meeting in 2009, Ian Tomlinson was also killed, though less deliberately, by police securing the summit. A newspaper salesman in the Bank area of the city, he was walking away from his kiosk after a shift -and walking away from riot police who were on guard. Perhaps the police suspected he was an anti-freedom, Gap-window-smashing anarchist, as everyone on the street was that day. Rather than ask him, police beat and kicked him to the ground and terrorised him with snarling dogs. Within half an hour, he had a heart attack and died.

No officer at any level was held accountable for the death of Menezes, and today it’s announced that no officer will be held responsible for the death of Tomlinson.

Physical assault and murder, whether premeditated or as tragic mistakes, are against the law and are punishable by anything up to life imprisonment. If I’d been assaulted or murdered on my street or in the tube, it would be a small comfort to think the machinery of our justice system would take its natural course – especially if the evidence of the attack is in place. Evidence such as video, and a clear identification of the perpetrator.

Apparently not. Whether in the UK, or in Canada, we have this crystallising pattern of juiced-up riot police forces, acting far outside the boundaries of reasonable force, assaulting complete innocents and not seeing any judicial reprimand after the fact.

It’s in the interests, not only of our hard-won civil liberties, but of the police forces themselves to: deal with their bad eggs properly, to submit to independent inquiry when adrenalised riot-protocol leads to such tragedies, and to go out of their way to correct instances of wrongful detention, assault, or murder. Anything less gives the real impression of an institutional culture of aggression and disrespect for the very law they defend.

Filed under: International, Politics, UK, , , , , ,


July 2010
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