An innocent bystander is dead, shot by the good guys. Now the London mayor is claiming that Jean Charles de Menezes, the ‘South Asian-looking’ guy shot by British special forces, was actually a victim of terrorism rather than the cops. It’s Livingstone, I presume:
London Mayor Ken Livingstone described Mr Menezes as a “victim of the terrorist attacks”. [Link]
More innocent people could be shot dead by police… Scotland Yard’s chief admitted yesterday. [Link]
Livingstone’s statement is faulty moral calculus and actively blocks the solution. First and foremost, you must assign responsibility accurately, otherwise you’ll never fix the problem. The terrorist attacks are a contributing cause. The primary cause is the commando who held him down and shot him seven times in the head.
Shoot to kill is indeed a good policy when you’re highly certain the suspect is a suicide bomber. But the criteria have to be tightened and the threshold for action tweaked. We have empirical proof of it: it’s de Menezes’ body. ‘He ran’ and ‘he had brown skin’ aren’t reason enough to kill someone. The criminal justice system doesn’t execute or even imprison people for those reasons.
This is an issue apart from the terrorists, who are obviously mass murderers. It’s of interest because society holds sway over its government’s shoot-to-kill criteria in a way that it doesn’t over deluded, nihilist 19-year-olds. We grant governments a monopoly on the use of force precisely because they have the duty and the means to use it correctly.
Several nonlethal weapons which might work exist today: bomb jammers, stun guns, beanbag guns, rubber bullets, plastic bullets, pepperball guns, sticky shockers, immobilizing goo, veiling glare lasers, flash bang grenades, pain-inducing microwaves and millimeter wave body scanners for detecting explosives.
Even more advanced solutions such as electromagnetic pulse guns and microwave guns which only affect electronics are under development. Many waves (electromagnetic and laser) affect different materials in different ways, for example by discriminating between the human body and explosives or detonators. X-rays, CAT scans, surgical and dental lasers, and luggage scanners rely on a variety of these effects.
But when you say ‘it wasn’t our fault,’ when you go into denial, you immediately truncate the search for a fix and the R&D investment needed to solve the problem. Western militaries have invested significantly in technology to curtail friendly fire. It’s worth doing so for law enforcement as well.
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