Shoot To Kill
It makes me wonder when journalists in the UK regurgitate,
almost verbatim, what they are fed by the police and government.
As the fourth estate, isnt it our function to question
these authorities in the interest of the public good?
An innocent Brazilian man, 27-year-old Jean Charles de Menezes
was shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder
Friday at Stockwell tube station in London.
The shooting dominated media coverage over the weekend, when
police suggested that he might be connected to the botched
London bombings of July 21. The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch,
ran the tasteful splash headline, One Down...Three to
Go, while the Daily Express called for police to Shoot
Yet since the announcement of de Menezes innocence,
the media have softly, very softly, buried the story in supine
acquiescence to the powers that be.
Official authorities have since attempted to defend their
misguided shoot-to-kill policy, which was only discussed with
the public after someone had been shot dead.
In the past few days, the actual account of events
released is starkly opposed to what the police and government
publicly announced this weekend as justification for this
Here are some of the assertions which journalists failed
to challenge at the time of de Menezes death.
First, a simple use of language. Police referred to the man
who was shot as a bomber. Major media followed
I know that we, as journalists, should be able to rely on
official sources like the police. But if a reporter is not
presented with concrete evidence, regardless of the source,
he or she should question that sources basic assumptions.
If the police tell you someone is a bomber when
they dont find any explosives on the suspect, avoid
using a word indicative of guilt. The word bomber
was used by media on all sides of the political spectrum,
rarely qualified with the word alleged or suspected
that any responsible journalist uses when reporting criminal
Second, police said the suspect de Menezes was
wearing an unusually large coat, one which they thought might
be concealing a bomb. The police claim that when challenged,
he ran away, jumping over ticket barriers into the station.
This is what my British colleagues would refer to as a porky,
or fib. De Menezes family has since been informed by
police that he was wearing a normal denim jacket. This is
backed up by footage from the security cameras in the tube
station. Police also informed his family that when de Menezes
arrived at the subway, he used a ticket to go through the
If de Menezes ran away, he must have done so after he was
already inside the station. He must have seen men, dressed
in plain clothes, running after him, guns drawn. Witnesses
also contest the fact that police even gave a verbal warning.
Finally, anonymous sources (not the good kind) from the Home
Office suggested that de Menezes visa to live and work
in the UK had expired.
The issue of visas and asylum seekers is currently a hot
button in Britain, and one that was used during the May 2005
national elections to galvanize xenophobic feelings among
the white working- and middle-class public.
Playing on voters xenophobia is one thing, but doing
so in the name of a dead man is unconscionable.
Outcry over the allegations of de Menezes illegal visa
status forced Home Secretary Jack Straw to confirm publicly
that, to his knowledge, de Menezes had the legal right to
live and work in this country.
But most importantly, de Menezes immigration status
was irrelevant. Had be been here illegally (which he wasnt),
it still would have been unacceptable to kill him on mere
suspicion, without the due process that supposedly separates
democracy from fundamentalist or authoritarian states.