Not feeling safer

By Leila Marie Lawler (articles ) | Jul 24, 2005

I'm no expert, but isn't this why we need the rule of law, that little thing bequeathed to us by Western Civilization but quickly ebbing away?

The police in London had a shoot-to-kill policy, and they made use of it, gunning down a Brazilian electrician, a Roman Catholic who spoke English well and had tripped and fallen. The action and the policy strike me as increasing the ordinary citizen's feeling of being terrorized – not assuaging it.

Some folks argue that laws and policies increasing government's powers enhance our liberty by protecting it.

It all seems to make sense in that "you are getting sleepy" kind of way, as long as we assume that we already know who's innocent and who's not. But self-hypnotism won't remove the reality: that once an innocent person falls into the grip of power, his only defense is the law. Remove that, and you remove his hope, and even his life.

The argument behind the rule of law and due process doesn't ignore danger. The founding fathers, when they put, say, habeas corpus, or the 5th Amendment, in the Constitution, didn't think they were making citizens safer. They understood the risks entailed in hampering law enforcement and the punishment of those suspected of crimes. The idea is that while we may not be safer, we are freer, and we are willing to accept the consequences.

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  • Posted by: Eleazar - Jul. 27, 2005 7:42 AM ET USA

    Janet. First point is that the legal system in GB, while similar to ours, does differ. Murder is a legal term. One of the components that must be proven is that the accused had intent to do harm, “mens re.” Given the circumstances, I don’t think that intent can be proven. Those officers also have a duty to protect the public and a right to protect themselves. If their defense can prove that, given the circumstances, their actions were justified, they’ll be exonerated.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 26, 2005 8:16 PM ET USA

    Eleazer, the definition of murder is "the unjust taking of innocent human life". Was it unjust? Obviously - he was already pinned to the ground by several cops (from several sources). "Mitigating circumstances?" "Stress?" Not acceptable for any officer of the law. You might ask if the guy was innocent; isn't that presumed until proven otherwise? I hope those cops are not given a "pass" on this one, lest a lethal precedent be set and then all of us will be at the mercy of cops' "stress".

  • Posted by: Eleazar - Jul. 26, 2005 8:11 AM ET USA

    First, I never said, “if you are innocent no one will have a reason to accuse you.” A former police officer myself, I don’t think that you surrender any liberties by stopping when asked by a cop to do so. In the US, if you don’t want to answer questions beyond their identity, invoke your 6th Amendment right to counsel. Running away gives a cop, plain clothes or uniformed, reasonable suspicion that you’re up to something untoward. If the cop’s wrong and he unlawfully arrests you, sue.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 25, 2005 9:09 PM ET USA

    As I read the various accounts, the police had pursued the man, they pushed him to the ground, they had him pinned - and then they shot him. By moral teaching and plan reason, this constitutes excessive force. They shot him when he was already in their power and no longer a threat - "jumpiness" is not acceptable, not on the part of those who have been entrusted with power and authority. They are culpable for murder.

  • Posted by: leila - Jul. 25, 2005 4:40 PM ET USA

    Eleazer, did you read in the story that the man was pursued by "undercover", i.e. plainclothes, cops? Perhaps he thought THEY were the terrorists! I for one would not necessarily stop in those circumstances. And your thinking that "if you are innocent no one will have a reason to accuse you" is precisely what I'm trying to challenge here. Today a person could disappear into prison without recourse to due process if suspected of terrorism. Maybe you are okay with that if he were guilty. The point is what if he's innocent? And what if he disappears for other reasons convenient to the state? The rule of law exists to protect us from raw power. I won't trade safety for totalitarianism; but I'm not even being offered safety.

  • Posted by: Eleazar - Jul. 25, 2005 12:16 PM ET USA

    You can bet that if he had detonated another bomb, there would just as many passionate people wondering why the police couldn’t protect them. We have the same problem in here in the US; people try to run from the police and/or make gestures that are stupid, if not calculated to evoke a response, then they wonder why bad things happen to them.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 25, 2005 11:15 AM ET USA

    It seems that the Menezes family in Brazil wants to sue the London Metropolitan Police. If the Menezes family wins the lawsuit (God willing!), it should change the police's shoot-to-kill policy. The police's "mistakes will happen" attitude and blaming the death of Jean Charles de Menezes on the terrorists makes me want to scream. I hope that there is a better way to protect innocent people from terrorists than putting "suspicious-looking" innocent people at risk of being killed by the police.

  • Posted by: Phil - Jul. 25, 2005 9:24 AM ET USA

    Boethius, you miss the essential point. If the police had waited for the man to kill others in the subway station, they would have waited forever, because he apparently had no intention of harming anyone. His behavior was suspicious, yes. But is suspicion a warrant for the death penalty? It is not "correct" to kill an innocent man.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 25, 2005 9:19 AM ET USA

    I agree with Aussie. This is a tragedy, but one that would not have occurred had this man (in a heavy coat on a hot day) not ran from the police and jumped a turnstyle. If that really happened (as the reports say), the police were correct to kill the man rather than waiting for him to kill everyone else in the subway station.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 24, 2005 11:38 PM ET USA

    What you describe is such a frightening concept. It's chiling. But thank goodness it could never happen in our lives, or in any institution in America whose mission it is to promote justice. Naaaaaaaah, would never happen. Wait...London? Dallas? There's a difference, isn't there?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 24, 2005 11:06 PM ET USA

    I think, Leila, that the horrifying accident that happened here and which resulted in the (Oh, God, No!) destruction of this innocent life, is another in the long history of the conflict between the Law (intellectuals) and its implementation (Police), I fear there will never be a good resolution of this conflict. Also, I think we have to recognize that the function of the Police long predates the function of the Law. And, I think, in times of war, has primacy.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 24, 2005 9:16 PM ET USA

    I may be completely wrong here. I didn't see the incident. Neither did Leila. According to my reading, the tragedy happened because the unfortunate man ran off when challenged and jumped over a barrier. If this is indeed what happened then the reaction by the jumpy police was not exactly unexpected. It was a tragedy indeed. It should not have happened.