Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

July 22, 2005

British Police, Treatment of Suspects, and Double Standards

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:37 pm

When I was growing up, I was frequently exposed to the idealistic story that Britain was so peaceful that even British police did not carry guns. I don’t know if it was true at the time, but it is surely not true now — neither the part of about Britain being nearly crime-free, nor of the British police being unarmed. Violent crime in Britain has skyrocketed since 1997, the year that Britain banned private ownership of handguns. (Not surprisingly, opponents of gun control see a cause-and-effect relationship here.)

And, British police now carry guns. And they use them like this:

Eyewitnesses described mayhem at Stockwell Tube station today after a suspected suicide bomber was shot dead fleeing from armed police.

One said the man was shot five times as he ran on to a Northern line train soon after 10am.

Scotland Yard have confirmed they shot a man and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Witness Mark Whitby … “An Asian [meaning South Asian, which in London usually measns Pakistani Muslim -- DR] guy ran on to the train. As he ran, he was hotly pursued by what I knew to be three plain-clothes police officers.”

He tripped and was also pushed to the floor and one of the officers shot him five times.

“One of the police officers was holding a black automatic pistol in his left hand. They held it down to him and unloaded five shots into him. I saw it.

He’s dead, five shots, he’s dead.”

He continued: “As the man got on the train I looked at his face. He looked from left to right, but he basically looked like a cornered rabbit, like a cornered fox.

“He looked absolutely petrified.

“He sort of tripped but they were hotly pursuing him and couldn’t have been more than two or three feet behind him at this time.

“He half-tripped, was half-pushed to the floor.

“The policeman nearest to me had the black automatic pistol in his left hand, he held it down to the guy and unloaded five shots into him.

“He looked like a Pakistani but he had a baseball cap on, and quite a thickish coat.["]

Now think about this for a moment — the police are holding an ethnic-minority guy down on the floor, and a police officer holds a gun right up to him and pumps five shots into him at point blank range as other officers hold him down.

Can you imagine the outcry if police in the United States were to do something like this? If they were already holding and physically controlling a suspect, and they shot him anyway? If several police officers calmly held a suspect to the floor for another officer to shoot him without even having to aim?

You don’t have to if you rememer the massive outcry that nearly brought down the Giuliani administration in New York City when Amadou Diallo was shot by police — and Diallo was not restrained; police though he was reaching for a weapon (it turned out to be his wallet).

You don’t have to if you rememer the Rodney King case — Rodney King was not only not controlled, he was actively fighting the officers, having already been shocked with a Taser to no apparent effect. And he was not even shot, but (merely) beaten; he survived with no permanent injuries. Yet two of the police officers went to jail for that. (Rodney King himself went free.)

Some will say that this case is different — that the Pakistani was a terrorism suspect who had been fleeing police. But how do you think Americans, including the American press (and even me!), would have reacted if two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, New York police had chased down a Muslim, held him to the floor of a subway, and summarily killed him? Even if this is a war more than a crime, you just don’t do things like that.

In fact, even our soldiers and marines don’t shoot people they know are terrorists, once they have physical control over them. That’s why we have all those prisoners at Guantánamo — those are all people who could have been held down and shot rather than held down and captured.

But Americans don’t kill their enemies in a fit of passion after capturing — they give them first aid, sometimes even if the medic giving the first aid was just shot by the terrorists. I think it’s time to review this story from earlier this week.

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