Sunday, July 24, 2005

Mob Rule in London: Five Shots to the Head for Fashion Mistake

So here's what happened. Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, a man from Brazil, working in London as an electrician, walks out of an apartment building that the police were casing as part of a terrorist investigation. The cops don't like the look of his bulky coat, so they come after him. But these are not uniformed officers strolling up to ask him some questions – it's a gang of up to 20 armed undercover agents in plain clothes coming toward him, the BBC reports. That's right; a foreigner living in London sees a mob of 20 men coming at him, shouting at him to stop, telling him they are the police. What if they're not the police? What if they're a gang of yobs, rightwing hooligans looking to stomp some convenient foreigner? What should he do, what's the best course of action in this situation? He only has a second or two to decide. [Yes, the very same rationale later offered incessantly for the officers' actions in the shooting.] He decides: he runs. They chase him into an Underground station – a mob of 20 men with guns. He jumps the ticket counter, runs into the tunnel, tries to hop onto a train, with the gunmen only a couple of steps him. He stumbles, they tackle him. They hold him down and one of the officers pumps five bullets into his head.

Maybe de Menezes had some other reason to run. Maybe he was involved in some dodgy business. Maybe he had drugs on him. Maybe his work papers weren't in perfect order. Or maybe he just decided that he didn't want to trust in the good will of 20 armed men in plainclothes running at him on a fine English summer morning.

It doesn't matter now. He's dead. And now we know that he wasn't armed, didn't have a bomb, and, according to the police themselves "was not connected in any way" to the recent London bombings. He just wore the wrong coat. He just ran when a gang of men in ordinary clothes told him to stop. He's just another piece of "collateral damage" in the "war on terror." Killed with the best of intentions, for the noblest cause. Just like the tourists in Egypt murdered by the dozens the next day. Just like the people of Iraq every day.

Is there anyone on any side in this hydra-headed "war" who is not killing people in the name of some higher principle – for justice, security, morality, freedom? Is there any side that is not invoking divine sanction for their actions? Is there any hope of ending this mad and maddening cycle of violence as long the most primitive and destructive aspects of our human nature – sectarianism, greed, fear, revenge and the bestial desire for domination over others – remain in the ascendant on every side?