The forgotten victims in the War on Terror

Who remembers Jean Charles de Menezes? He was, of course, the innocent Brazilian man gunned down in the London subway by British plainclothes police in July of 2005. To refresh everyone’s memory, de Menezes was heading to work on July 22nd, 2005, two weeks after the July 7th, 2005 subway bombings, and just one day after the failed attempt to bomb 3 more subway stations and a surface bus, when he was pursued by plainclothes police into Stockwell Tube station and shot 7 times in the head, and one in the shoulder, with 3 more shots missing de Menezes entirely.

De Menezes was apparently followed from his home, through his neighbourhood, onto at least one surface bus, and into the station before any real pursuit took place, and its unclear just what made police change tactics from surveillance to active pursuit and take-down. Reports that de Menezes was wearing a heavy, unseasonable jacket in warm weather, that he jumped the turnstiles, have been discredited as more facts came out in the days after the shooting. While initial police statements made de Menezes appear to act in a guilty fashion, later disclosure of the facts of what he was wearing, as well as statements from witnesses contradicted official police statements.

In the end, the London police were unable to point to any actual evidence to indicate why police pursuers felt de Menezes was dangerous. All statements made by police immediately after the event, such as statements about clothing, have since been discredited by fact, and they leave open a real question as to why de Menezes was targeted in the first place, and even more question about what led police to believe he was dangerous enough to unload 11 bullets on a crowded subway train. What is clear in the aftermath is that de Menezes presented NO danger to the people in the subway car, and those people were most at risk while police were pumping 8 bullets into de Menezes, and missing with 3. While some charges have been laid against the police service in general (charges related to “failing to provide for the health, safety and welfare of Jean Charles de Menezes”), no individual officers have been identified or charged in relation to this shooting, and no real explanation for why Mr. de Menezes was targetted has been offered. Essentially, other than a big “Ooops” very little in the way of explanation from the Metropolitan Police has come from the incident.

Later in 2005, on December 7th, US Air Marshall’s in Miami shot Rigoberto Alpizer on the tarmac at Miami International Airport after the agitated man tried to rush off the plane. Some reports indicated that he used the word bomb, while others said they heard no such word. Alpizer’s wife followed closely behind indicating Rigoberto was suffering mental illness and hadn’t taken his pills … she was unharmed in the incident, but her pleas went unheeded. After the fact, no bomb was found, nor was any threat to the plane found.

In both of these cases, the argument used by authorities was a simple one … with lack of complete evidence, police are forced to make a decision to protect public safety, and while facts afterward indicate the wrong choice was made, had either man actually been a suicide bomber, public outrage at non-action would be greater. And as far as the argument goes, its a reasonable one … had either de Menezes or Alpizer been wearing an explosive vest, then the police officers who shot to kill would have been hailed as heroes.

The problem, of course, is that neither man posed a threat to the public. Public safety concerns are valid … of that there is no question in a world where people fly planes into buildings. But what seems to escape people is that Jean Charles de Menezes and Rigoberto Alpizer were both members of the public, and both were precisely the people the authorities were charged with protecting. Clearly, police did very little to protect the public safety of de Menezes or Alpizer, and since neither man posed any ACTUAL threat, killing them both robs them of their own rights to life and liberty, AND does nothing to increase the safety of others. In fact, all that happened in each of these cases is that the very people charged with protecting the public, instead shot and killed two of the very people they were charged with protecting.

de Menezes and Alpizer are the forgotten victims in this war on terror. They are the people killed by the policies that are supposed to protect the public. They were killed not by terrorists, but by those who are supposed to protect us from terrorists. Whatever reason there may have been to suspect either of them, the facts are that neither was a danger … and when the terrorists have backed us into a corner that has us accepting the gunning down innocent civilians in broad daylight on crowded subway trains and airport tarmacs as a necessary safety measure, it seems VERY clear to me that the war we are fighting is already lost, and the terrorists have already won by forcing us to abandon those principles that made our side worth fighting for in the first place. de Menezes and Alpizer are victims of the war on terror for sure … but they are not victims of the terrorists, but instead of the policies that we have put in place to fight the terrorists.

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