Shooting people…

Unarmed people…

People who have their hands up trying to surrender…

[Apologies for the sudden change in tone. One minute I am joking about Boris and cabbages and the next I want to discuss the rule of law. In my defence, such changes in tone reflect what goes on in real life. There are some people who’s lives experience a sudden, and fatal, change of tone seemingly for no good reason. It does not seem right to just keep on joking about cabbages like this doesn’t happen.]

I was struck by the similarities between the recent case of Daniel Shaver, shot, with his hands up, by what we are pleased to call a “police officer” while trying, albeit drunkenly, to surrender and the most notorious recent example of…

Um, what do we call this if “murder” is a legal term defined by the courts and the courts decline to call this “murder”? “Execution” implies a legal process, so that is out too. “Extrajudicial killing” maybe?  OK. That will do for now. Just remember to decode “extrajudicial killing” in scare quotes to the murder we all know it to be silently in your head as you read this.

OK, where was I? Let’s start again.

I was struck by the similarities between the recent case of Daniel Shaver, shot, with his hands up, by what we are pleased to call a “police officer” while sincerely, albeit drunkenly, trying to surrender and the most notorious recent example of “extrajudicial killing” in the UK; That of Jean Charles de Menezes. Both were shot while unarmed. Both were either attempting to surrender or possibly (in the case of de Menezes) without even having a chance to react to the police presence at all.  Both were shot in front of witnesses and/or video cameras. (In the case of de Menezes it seems that we are asked to believe that the man was a type of kryptonite effective against all video cameras and that the lack of all the key CCTV coverage is in no way suspicious.) Both turned out to be innocent of whatever the police were pursuing them for.

Such events are very unusual in the UK although the promotion of many of the people most plausibly culpable suggests that it may become less so.

In the USA, such things are not as unusual (although still uncommon) and the two things exceptional about Shaver’s case are that the victim (Are we allowed to say “victim”? “Extrajudicial killee maybe?) was not black and that the shooter was even prosecuted at all.

It is easy to get complacent and to accept these events as normal. In times of trouble the idea of empowering the state to conduct “extrajudicial killing” might be an easy populist sell. Think of the FBI under J Edgar Hoover in which his “G Men” were promoted as popular heroes despite being every bit as lawless and violent as the gangsters they imagined they were so much above. Think of the killing squads of Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines, who no doubt imagine that they are somehow better than the people they kill. This is the road to Hell and it is paved far more with self-aggrandisement and self-delusion than with any actual good intentions.

Think about how damaging the secret “Shoot To Kill” policy in Northern Ireland was. It enabled the terrorists to play the role of victims and to raise funds and recruit new members off of their perceived victimhood. It made the state appear arbitrary, cruel and lawless which are exactly the attributes that the terrorists need in order to create an impression of moral equivalence between themselves and the state.

Now, given that we already tried this once and it blew up in our faces, please hold your nose and contemplate the abject idiocy of Gavin Williamson’s open call to run a shoot to kill policy on British Terrorists returning to the UK. Yes, as pretty much everybody points out. That ain’t legal. That ain’t how it’s done!

So now I need to say some things so basic that it is humiliating to need to say them:

  • Everybody is entitled to the protection of law, no matter what they have done.
  • Everybody is entitled to a fair and open trial, no matter what they have done. If they really are as bad as you think then this will show the world that you are right. If you are mistaken then this will be found out before the harm is irreparable.
  • The elected governments make laws and judges pass out sentences, on those convicted by juries, according to those laws. No shortcuts! No secret trials. No forced confessions. No secret punishments on the side. No thugs with guns dealing death imagining themselves as Judge Dread!

Seriously though? Can we apply that to everybody? Yes! Even the terrorists? Yes!

Let me be clear. If the Allies had been able to take Hitler alive in 1945 then even he would have deserved a fair trial, with defence lawyers and everything, just as the other Nazis had. Why not? It is not like they couldn’t prove he was guilty. He was the guiltiest person in human history!

So what is the solution?

I think there is a lot to be said for what Black Lives Matter want: Better police training so that police don’t misinterpret fear as aggression, confusion as hostility and pulling up jeans for grabbing a gun. These are all things that happen to black suspects far more than others but as the Shaver case shows, it can happen to anybody.

Cops who make the wrong call in good faith and then fess up deserve some sympathy but not complete exoneration. Clearly many of these cases are correctly considered manslaughter although I’m not really seeing that in the Shaver case and certainly not in the de Menezes case.

As soon as you ladle on a cover-up, the whole thing gets a whole lot worse. It stops being about individual bad or incompetent cops and it becomes about a police force, or even a whole state, seeking to set aside the rule of law for those it finds expedient and lie about it. Such expediency is never worth the cost. The cost is the licence it gives others to imagine themselves above the law.

And for the terrorists?

Let them come home with no fear of being shot. Let them fess up to what they have done, if they have the guts, and tell the story of how it all went to shit for them. Either way, let the courts try them and sentence them based on what it is proved that they have actually done. Like the Nazis, some are guilty of much more than others. Some of them are just teenage dingbats who went off to fight in a war that they didn’t understand for a twisted view of religion put into their heads by some sedentary old dingbat who has never even seen a gun himself and who faces no consequences at all. Some may have seen the error of their ways, and might one day become useful in dissuading others from the same sort of idiocy. Others may need to be kept locked up for a very long time as they remain ideologically committed to blowing people up. This is why we have trials. To find out who is guilty of what and how badly. We can’t just shoot them all!

  • Civilised societies don’t shoot people for being black.
  • Civilised societies don’t shoot people for sitting on a train.
  • Civilised societies don’t shoot people for being drunk.
  • Civilised societies don’t shoot people for overstaying their visa.
  • Civilised societies don’t shoot dingbats, even if they have done bad things.

Real cops never shoot suspects that they don’t need to. Any cop that does is just a thug with a gun.

Real governments don’t boost their machismo by talking shit about shooting people they don’t need to. It exposes their amorality and it is bad politics. Any government that does this is just a gang of war criminals that has completely given up any pretence of respecting the rule of law and is too stupid to even lie about it.

Now, I don’t have a religious bone in my body but I think that the Christians have the right idea when they define a major part of virtue by how you treat your enemies. This makes sense. Anybody can be nice to their friends (well, unless you are a complete dick anyway) but it takes some real moral guts to deal justly and fairly with those who oppose you, those who you fear, those who you mistrust, even those you fear and mistrust for very good reasons.

[Sorry. That was long and depressing. I’ll try to get back to the cabbages and Boris next time.]


December 9, 2017. Law, Sensible.

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