Corbyn And Shoot To Kill

Mick Hall defends British Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who expressed serious misgivings about a state shoot to kill policy. Mick Hall is a Marxist blogger @ Organized Rage.

  • Shouldn't the leader of the opposition point out the possible dangers of shoot to kill? If not now when fear and tension are high, when?

Jeremy Corbyn was castigated by Blairite LP MP's, Tories and media when he said: 
I’m not happy with the shoot-to-kill policy in general, I think that it's quite dangerous and I think can often be counterproductive. I think you have to have security that prevents people firing off weapons, where they can. There are various degrees of doing things as we know … but the idea you end up with a war on the streets is not a good thing. Surely you have to work to try and prevent these things happening, that’s got to be the priority.

 To make sure his position was clear Corbyn later clarified his views:
As we have seen in the recent past, there are clear dangers to us all in any kind of shoot to kill policy. And we must ensure that terrorist attacks are not used to undermine the very freedoms and legal protections we are determined to defend. But of course I support the use of whatever proportionate and strictly necessary force is required to save life in response to attacks of the kind we saw in Paris.

His spokesperson added, Corbyn’s remarks were designed to show that he would abide strictly by the law in authorising the use of force against terrorists. In the first place, “proportionate” force covers circumstances where non-lethal force is appropriate. In the second place, “strictly necessary force” covers circumstances such as the Bataclan shootings in Paris on Friday, where lethal measures by security forces are required to protect life. Corbyn would authorise this force in such circumstances.

Yet in troubled times like these Corbyn would be neglecting his duty were he not to also remind the government of the dangers of Shoot to Kill. Not least because in the past 'shoot to kill' has proved to have deadly consequences which left innocent people dead.
Jean Charles de Menezes
Two weeks after the London bombings a 27-year-old Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by police while on his way to work. Gary Younge used this case succinctly to sum up the dangers of Shoot To Kill:

The descriptions varied. Officer Frank assumed he was “a white man”, but thought: “It would be worth somebody else having a look.” Officer Ivor believed he had “Mongolian eyes”; Officer Harry said he was “acting in a wary manner”; Commander Dick thought him “very, very jumpy”. But a consensus soon emerged: he was a jihadi about to blow up London’s tube.

Within an hour the descriptions were unanimous. He was a dead man. How could he not be? The police had put seven bullets in his head. Within 24 hours a new consensus was taking hold. They had all been completely wrong. He was not off to spread terror through the capital, but to fix a broken fire alarm in Kilburn. He was not a terrorist, but a 27-year-old Brazilian electrician. His name was Jean Charles de Menezes.

Any shoot-to-kill policy inevitably rests on the presumption of guilt, often of a crime that has not yet taken place. In the most literal sense of the word, such policies are based on prejudice – a judgment made about who someone is and what they might do, prior to any evidence about either. Those presumptions do not come from nowhere. They are rooted in an array of received wisdoms – a constellation of probabilities, generalisations, bigotries, calculations, likelihoods, falsehoods, archetypes and stereotypes. Judgments are made through the crosshairs of a firearm. The verdict is always the same – death. There is no leave to appeal.

Was Corbyn wrong to remind the government that such dangers exist with the shoot to kill strategy?

As we have seen when US Drones target 'Terrorists,' and end up killing guests at a wedding party. Killing innocents often acts as a recruiting sergeants to the very organisation which has created bloody mayhem on the streets of Paris, Beirut and Ankara over the last six weeks. Something similar happened in the north of Ireland when security forces shot dead innocent people, although there the beneficiaries were the IRA.

Gary highlights the dangers of a shoot to kill policy at times of high tension:

The young Asian man running through the city with a backpack might be late for a football match; the woman in the hijab on the bus looking nervous and talking to herself might be on her way to an interview or an exam. You just don’t know. And once they’ve been shot, it’s too late to find out.

Police officers thought that De Menezes looked suspicious because he changed buses and looked fidgety, which is apparently how a well-trained terrorist would behave. It turned out he switched buses because the tube stop was closed, and was on edge because he was running late for work. 
And when people are refracting their impressions through a lens of fear they rarely see straight. De Menezes was shot two weeks after jihadis had attacked tube trains and a bus in central London and a day after the failure of another plot. People were understandably jittery. Initial witness reports said that De Menezes was wearing a suspiciously large padded jacket on a hot day, had vaulted the ticket barriers, and kept running when asked to stop.
Anthony Larkin, who was on the train, said he saw “this guy who appeared to have a bomb belt and wires coming out”. Mark Whitby, who was also there, thought he saw a Pakistani terrorist being chased and gunned down by plainclothes policemen. Less than a month later, Whitby said “I now believe that I could have been looking at the surveillance officer” being thrown out of the way as De Menezes was being killed. The Pakistani in a padded jacket turned out to be a Brazilian in a light denim jacket who picked up a free paper and swiped his Oyster card.
I ask again, when should the leader of the opposition point out the possible dangers of shoot to kill; if not when fear and tensions are high?

Of course where a terrorist is pointing a gun at people or stands up, shouts 'Allahu Akbar' and threatens to pull a pin on a suicide vest. Most of us can see the need and would agree with the police using lethal force.

But as Gary points out:
We would all rather be safe than sorry. The problem with a policy such as shoot-to-kill is that its potential to make us safe is dwarfed by the likelihood that it will make us sorry. 

 Gary's article in full can be read here. 

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

1 comment to ''Corbyn And Shoot To Kill"

  1. "And when people are refracting their impressions through a lens of fear they rarely see straight."

    Younge is correct, none of us us when in states of heightened emotion can think straight. One would hope that despite the very real possibilities of Jihadists wearing suicide belts that professional security personnel will exercise reasonable calmness and proportionate restraint in what are undoubtedly challenging circumstances.

    I agree with Corbyn's stance. When there are so many willing to take a populist stance and fan the flames, a principled opposition leader ought indeed urge for due caution and restraint where possible.


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