Sunday, August 21, 2005

It could have been worse

It is bad enough that it has come out that an innocent man, Jean de Menezes, dressed in a light denim jacket, walked to the London subway on July 22, picked up a paper, rushed to board a train, had his arms pinned behind his back by one cop and was shot in the head by another. But Phil Edwards at Actually Existing asks: What if it had been [one of the four men whose bombs failed to go off on July 21] who was shot?

Would we be hearing calls for multiple resignations? Or would an act of summary justice - an extra-judicial execution in broad daylight, a truly appalling precedent - have been accepted? Would we now be being encouraged to hail the Metropolitan Police for its resolute stance against terror and its willingness to take the fight to the enemy? (They might cut a few corners here and there, but what's the odd dead terrorist to you or to me?)

You're right, Phil -- it could have been worse. People living inside the envelope of rational fear inspired by the July 7 suicide bombings would probably have applauded.

Of course, extrajudicial executions are not exactly unprecedented, even by those quaint British cops, especially when the IRA was involved. Here in the US, it takes no imagination at all to know how we would react if police were to kill a terrorism suspect, even one who was unambiguously not immediately dangerous. After all, this is the land of endless "CSI" and "Law and Order" reruns, on which extrajudicial execution is often portrayed as the only way justice is done. And a generation ago, this is the country that watched on national television as the witless idiots to the Symbionese Liberation Army burned alive in a house in Los Angeles in a shootout with the LAPD.

It is horrible to contemplate our police killing people without out judge or jury, as they too often do. It is even worse to imagine the rapture of revenge we might succumb to if we believed that such a killing had really eliminated a terrorist.

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