Monday, July 25, 2005

An unnecessary tragedy

So the man shot by the police at Stockwell tube station (near where my brothers live) on Friday was Brazilian. When the news came out we were assured he was a bomb suspect which has steadily been downgraded to an innocent civilian. Worse, I was under the impression he had been shot running away when it now transpires he was bundled to the ground, held down and then shot - five times.

Something is seriously amiss when that happens. I've been trying to think how it might have happened that he got shot. He walked out of the same block of flat under surveillance by the police. But why would it only be people linked to the bombings who would live there? He had a bulky jacket on. But in Brazil it only needs to be 17 degrees and the coats go on. He was followed and became agitated. That's understandable - whenever I'm in Brazil I'm always looking over my shoulder. It's one of those things you do. And apparently the police followed him onto a bus. Excuse me? If they were suspicious why on earth was he allowed to get on there?

Then we have the police shouting a warning. But were they plain-clothed? If so how can we differentiate them from people who might want to do you harm? That might explain why he ran away yet was legally allowed to live here. Yet even if he ran, jumped over the ticket barrier and jumped on the train, surely if he was held down there was absolutely no reason to shoot him?

Looking through some of the messages which have been going around the Brazilian community over the last few days it's clear that there's a lot of anger. There's concern that 'morenos' (dark people) are being targeted by the police, regardless of race or faith. While there is recognition that the police are under extreme pressure at the moment, there's additional frustration that following this tragedy the community has no political voice. As one member said, rather than listening to what Brazilians in the UK think about this incident the first commentators on the scene are Asian Muslims. Yet what the case shows is how concerned all of us who don't fit the national stereotype - white and blond or ginger-haired - may face in this time of high tension.

I have other less-tragic experience of this differentiation. Last week at the rock festival in Tin Pan Alley the police came looking for a barman who had thrown a drunk out and who fell on top of me and two girls sitting by the kerb. One of the girls tried to give a description of the man responsible, calling him 'foreign looking'. But as I mentioned to a friend the other day, he may well have been British-born of Greek parents. But because he didn't look 'English' he had to be 'foreign'.

One final observation: another friend and I were speaking about this shooting on Friday, before any of the details had come out. We both agreed that there would probably be public acceptance for this kind of action, but one mistake would make the whole fight against terrorism that much harder. And there was a case to be made against ID cards in this respect; you could just imagine a 'foreign-looking' illegal immigrant being stopped by the police, running away and the same shoot-to-kill policy being applied. And that has to be unacceptable.

There was a demonstration by the Brazilian community at Scotland Yard yesterday afternoon. There will be another at Stockwell tube station today at 6pm.

Update: There's now conflicting accounts about whether de Menezes's visa had expired. That may well explain why he ran away from the police. But this doesn't change those points I made above regarding ID cards.

I dislike the undertone of all this, which is that if he was here illegally, his death has less meaning than if his papers were in order.

No it bloody doesn't.


Anonymous said...

Guy, it seems that all elements in London who feel the situation is now getting out of control, whatever their colour, race, beliefs or ethnicity, need to unite to send a clear message that despite the need to combat terrorism this cannot occur at the expense of human dignity and safety. Jean cannot be allowed to become yet more 'collateral' damage in the War on Terror.

Guy said...

Thank you for that. I couldn't have said it better myself.