In two quite unrelated discussions, my attention has been drawn to the fact that police officers who kill members of the public are rarely held to account.
In one discussion, on the alt.usage.english newsgroup, someone remarked that in some places the police regard walking as a suspicious activity. Normal people go by car. While some thought that this kind of thing only happened in America, I experienced it three times in the UK — the police stopped me when I was walking, and wanted to know where I was going and why. On two occasions it was late at night, and I was walking home from work — from Brixton bus garage where I had finished a late shift driving buses, and I was wearing my London Transport uniform when the police stopped me. Perhaps British criminals go around disguised as bus drivers. The third occasion was when I was going for a walk in the Surrey countryside in broad daylight.
The conversation moved on to the police shooting people on suspicion. Many people recalled the case of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot by London police seven years ago because they thought he was someone else that they suspected. That shooting shocked many people at the time and got a lot of media publicity all around the world. But it turns out that it was not an isolated incident. It was not something rare and exceptional, but something that happens all the time.
From Britain comes this story: Police have shot dead 33 people since 1995 – only two marksmen have ever been named | Mail Online
The identities of just two police officers involved in 33 fatal shootings have been made public in the last 15 years, a Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed.
Since 1995 a total of 55 officers have opened fire on and killed members of the public, but in only two cases have their names been revealed.
And from the USA comes this one: Police Officer Who Shot at Amadou Diallo to Get Gun Back – NYTimes.com
More than 13 years after the police shooting of Amadou Diallo, Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has agreed to restore a service weapon to one of the four New York City officers involved, a decision that Mr. Diallo’s mother characterized as a betrayal.
So when we read in the news about the shooting of striking miners at Marikana and are shocked by it, we should perhaps remember that this kind of behaviour by police is not unusual, and that it happens in other countries too, even in Britain, where the police are normally thought to be unarmed.
Spectacular incidents that make headlines, like Marikana and the gunning down of Jean Charles de Menzez at a London tube station, are thought to be exceptional. Though they are scary, we take comfort in the thought that they are exceptoional.
What is even more scary, though, is that such incidents are not exceptional, but are almost routine, and, in Britain at least, the police can shoot people with impunity, behind the cover of anonymity. Britain may have abolished capital punishment, but carrying a table leg in a shopping bag is apparently a capital offence.
It’s a bit like a cricket match. There are no spectacular boundaries, no sixes and fours, but by running ones and twos the batsmen can soon build up a formidable score. There may not be many Marikanas, but when you add up the ones and twos, it’s even more scary, because it looks as though it’s routine.
Police state, anyone?