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.

6 Responses to “British Police, Treatment of Suspects, and Double Standards”

  1. Ben Bateman Says:

    Suppose that you thought that the suspect had a bomb strapped around his waist, such that he only needed to push a button to vaporize you and a couple dozen bystanders. And suppose that, as the suspect falls, he’s clutching his hands to his chest instead of holding them outspread. Five shots doesn’t sound so execessive there, does it?

  2. ollie Says:

    Actually, had we killed the wrong guy, our current administration would lie and refuse to admit that they made a mistake. At least the Brits owned up to their mistake; though it was a horrendous one.

  3. scooter Says:

    Brilliantly stated, as always. I fear for that once great nation.

  4. ollie Says:

    Yes, a horrific mistake was made. But the British owned up to it right away; they admitted to making a mistake!!!!!!!

    How I wish this current administration could do that.

  5. Different River Says:

    Ollie wrote:

    Actually, had we killed the wrong guy, our current administration would lie and refuse to admit that they made a mistake.

    This is a scandalous accusation that is utterly without foundation. First, police in the United States did not hold suspects to the ground and and shoot them after 9/11/01. Not even once. Not actual terrorists, not suspected terrorists, not Arab or Arab-looking people in airports or train stations or anywhere else. They never killed a “wrong person” because they never killed anybody. Suspects were arrested, investigated, and “wrong people” have been released, not killed.

    Second, this administration absolutely has admitted mistakes in this regard — every time the release someone from Guantánamo, they are in effect admitting they had the wrong person. And dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people have been released from Guantánamo. If anything, the threshold for release is too low, since several people released from Guantánamo after swearing up and down that they are not terrorists and will never fight against the U.S. have later been re-captured fighting against the U.S. or conducting terrorist attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere.

    But still, they are not held to the floor and shot; they are returned to Guantánamo for further investigation.

    The fact is, British police ran after a guy, held him to the floor, and shot him dead without even bothering to check that he was the guy they were after, let alone giving him an actual trial. This sort of behavior by police is simply not tolerated in America. I challenge you to give me one single example to the contrary.

    Ben Bateman does raise a possible mitigating factor, but I think we need a lot more information to determine whether the actual situation was anything like the possibility he raises. Based on what I’ve heard, it seems the police were holding his arms down so he could not have pushed a button to detonate anything, even if he had had anything to detonate.

  6. Pauline Redding Says:

    Interesting that so much information was missed out from your account.
    1. The vast majority of police in UK still do not carry guns. There are special armed response teams who are used when there is a need but the average policeman is armed only with truncheon (nightstick?)
    2. The man left an apartment that was being watched as part of the ongoing battle against terrorism.
    3. The man was followed by police. He was wearing heavy clothing in a heatwave.
    4. He was challenged by police and instead of standing still, he vaulted a`turnstile into a subway station.
    5. He continued to run onto the platform and entered a train.
    6. Police at that point jumped onto the train, grabbed him and shot him to prevent any chance of him detonating explosives. It had to be a split second decision.
    Brave police, I think. Yes it’s terrible he was an innocent man and nobody regrets that more than the police involved BUT I am sure that someone ordered to halt in the US at any time would be fired on by police. So please don’t try to
    take the moral highground on this – we have had bombers in London for 30 years and have had to deal with the fact that terrorists can attack anywhere, anytime. Our police have identified and arrested many involved in recent attacks within two weeks and are doing a GREAT JOB. Are you saying that no-one in the US has ever been shot by police and it was a mistake?

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