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Shoot-to-kill victim in London
His only crime was to leave his house for work

August 5, 2005 | Page 4

ALAN MAASS reports on the innocent victim of the London police's shoot-to-kill policy.

BRITISH PRIME Minister Tony Blair and his government are hoping for lots of mileage from the roundup of dozens of people in connection with last month's bombings in London. Police raids last week were carefully managed so that the media would have plenty of photos and video footage.

But none of it can erase the image of a 27-year-old Brazilian man chased by undercover police onto a London subway train--his life ended when a cop obliterated his brain with seven bullets from an automatic pistol.

Jean Charles de Menezes' only crime was to leave for work the day after a second round of attempted bombings in London. His apartment complex in south London was under surveillance by police, who followed him to a subway station.

No one knows what happened there, since the police account has changed. De Menezes may have been running to catch a train, oblivious until the last moments of the cops chasing him. Or perhaps he fled from three men in plain clothes, waving guns, who may or may not have identified themselves as police.

At first, the official story referred to de Menezes' suspiciously "bulky" clothing and claimed that he jumped the station turnstile to get away from his pursuers. Both were lies, according to de Menezes' cousin, Vivien Figueiredo, speaking to reporters after meeting with the police. "He used a travel card," she said. "He had no bulky jacket, he was wearing a jeans jacket. But even if he was wearing a bulky jacket, that wouldn't be an excuse to kill him."

Initial media reports also said that de Menezes was Middle Eastern in appearance. Wrong again, though he was a person of color, an electrician from Brazil--and therefore an object of suspicion in Tony Blair and George Bush's "war on terror."

And the message from London Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair? Get used to it. "Somebody else could be shot," he warned. "But everything is done to make it right."

De Menezes was not the first person to be killed by a British cop or soldier following a shoot-to-kill policy. "Many people in Northern Ireland nodded in recognition when they heard of Jean Charles de Menezes being shot repeatedly in the head as he lay face down and helpless on the floor of a tube train," wrote socialist journalist Eamonn McCann, a founder of the 1960s civil rights struggle in Northern Ireland.

McCann wrote that of the 357 people killed in Northern Ireland by British police and soldiers, less than half were members of Irish Republican paramilitary organizations. Nearly 200 of the victims were unarmed civilians.

Blair's government clearly wanted last week's arrests in the bombing investigation to shift attention away from de Menezes' murder.

It got a helping hand from the media. "They looked pathetic without backpacks filled with explosives," sneered the opening line of Time magazine's eyewitness report of the arrest of two men suspected of trying to set off bombs in the second round of attacks on July 21. But the story that followed in Time had few facts to tie together the detained men--or, in fact, to connect the failed bombings on July 21 to the deadly suicide bombings two weeks earlier.

So, for example, British authorities are at a loss to explain why different explosives were used in the two sets of bombings. But the media aren't taking "don't know" for an answer. "That means either that the same 'chemist' made two different batches," Time declared, "or that more than one chemist was at work, and may still be on the loose."

Meanwhile, Blair's government is heaping abuse on anyone who raises the connection between the bombings in London and Britain's role in the U.S.-run war on Iraq. "Until we get rid of this complete nonsense of trying to build some equivalence between what we are doing helping Iraqis and Afghans build their democracy and these people going and deliberately killing people for the sake of it, we are not going to confront this ideology in the way that it needs to be confronted," Blair declared.

But the line isn't working. A poll taken after the first London attack found that two-thirds of people in Britain thought Blair's role in the Iraq invasion was related to the bombings.

The government's only resort is to intensify its propaganda about stopping the "terrorists"--which inevitably means stoking racist hatred of Arabs and Muslims.

"The usual self-congratulatory contrast between 'our' civilization and 'their' barbarism has set the stage for a cycle of moralistic inquiries into the motivations of suicide bombers and the supposed duty of 'good' Muslims to restrain 'bad' ones," Saree Makdisi, a UCLA professor teaching in London this summer, wrote in an article for the Los Angeles Times. "Few have noticed that suicide bombing is merely a tactic used by those who lack other means of delivering explosives. Fewer still seem to notice that what happened in London is what occurs every time a U.S. or British warplane unloads its bombs on an Iraqi village...

"American and British media have devoted hours to wondering what would drive a seemingly normal young Muslim to destroy himself and others. No one has paused to ask what would cause a seemingly normal young Christian or Jew to strap himself into a warplane and drop bombs on a village, knowing full well his bombs will inevitably kill civilians (and, of course, soldiers). Because 'our' way of killing is dressed up in smart uniforms and shiny weapons and cloaked in the language of grand causes, we place it on a different moral plane than 'theirs.'"

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