The tragic shooting of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in London has the UK in a state of shock, compounding the effects of the recent terrorist bombings.
At the same time, London police made the right call. Menezes refused to stop when confronted by police. He was wearing a bulky jacket on a warm summer day. There were reports from eyewitnesses that they saw wires protruding from his jacket. Were he wearing a bomb belt, dozens of people could have died. The police had a choice to make – do they take the risk that he wasn’t a suicide bomber or do they neutralize the threat?
The consequences of their decision were unquestionably tragic, but they made the right decision. Faced with those circumstances, the police chose to do what they had to do to stop what they viewed as a real danger.
Contrary to the armchair quarterbacks, real life is never cut and dried like some crime drama in which the bad guys are put away in 60 minutes. In this war against an enemy that has no compunction against targeting innocent civilians, decision-makers no longer have the luxury of assuming the best-case scenario. The argument that we should put blind faith in the idea that a potential threat won’t materialize is simply irresponsible in an age where a single bomb could devastate an entire city, or a vial of some virulent pathogen has the potential to wipe out millions. In such circumstances where we’re playing defense against terror, we have to bat 1.000 or thousands of people could be killed.
It’s certainly cold comfort to the police officers involved who have to live with the guilt of killing an innocent man in the pursuit of their duties. However, the actions they took were the right ones. As tragic as this incident is, had Menezes been a suicide bomber and the police not taken him down, the results would have been dead policemen and dead civilians.
The killing of Menezes was preventable had Menezes chosen to stop when confronted by the plainclothes officers – why he chose to run may never be known. However, when confronted with such a situation, the Metropolitan Police took the actions they felt were necessary to safeguard the lives of the civilians on that train. There are times when doing the right thing can lead to a tragic outcome – this was one of those times.