Anthony McIntyre thinks An Garda Síochána have questions to answer over a recent killing of a man in Dublin but they are about rights not race. 

It seems pretty straightforward: while behaving violently, a Dublin man, George Nkencho, met a violent death. What is less straightforward is that because he behaved violently his life should have been ended violently. The immediate threat posed by the violent behaviour has to be the determining factor in whether or not lethal force by the state is used. At the moment of his death it is difficult to see what life other than George Nkencho's own was at immediate risk. 

The society we share is deeply concerned about the the deaths of Garda such as Adrian Donoghue, Tony Golden or Colm Horkan. What is less certain is that it is just as concerned about the deaths effected by Garda of George Nkencho and Mark Hennessey, both shot dead in circumstances where it seems a less lethal option could have been pursued.  This is less easily asserted in the case of Hennessey where the Garda who killed him claimed to believe the victim was in the car with Hennessey and that an immediate threat was posed to her life, even if it does resonate of British Army claims of "suspicious movement" as justification for killing unarmed citizens during the Northern conflict.

There might be no compelling reason for the public to be as sympathetic to the two dead citizens as it is to the three slain Garda, the tendency being towards distinguishing categories of aggressor and non-aggressor and where empathy is reserved for the latter.  But public sympathy needs to be hived off from public concern. Cold as it might seem, it remains possible to have little or no sympathy with the victims while harbouring deep concerns about actions of An Garda Síochána that result in the deaths of any citizen.  Doubtless, unlike George Nkencho, it would be hard to elicit public sympathy for a character like Mark Hennessy, who was shot dead sitting in his car shortly after he had kidnapped and murdered Jastine Valdez. Nevertheless, society only licenses the Garda to kill under very specific circumstances, and only as a last resort. There is no carte blanche license to kill. There is no capital punishment.  Citizens have every right to expect not to be killed. The Gardai have seriously limited rights to kill citizens. 

For some on the Left, Mr Nkencho was conveniently named. "George" allowed comparisons to be made with George Floyd, who was publicly garroted by a racist cop in the US. Hoping to emulate the success of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Gardai were quickly accused of racism, supposedly having killed Mr Nkencho because of his skin colour rather than any perceived threat he posed. There is little I have seen thus far which would allow the view to form that the Hartstown shooting was guided by the skin colour of the target. To claim so is to miss the more plausible point which would seem to be one of the Garda not exercising sufficient restraint when confronted by people armed with knives rather than firearms, and who have no hostage facing imminent death if armed intervention is not carried out promptly. 

Moreover, the issue is further blurred by a family friend taking to the television screen to proclaim that  George Nkencho would not have harmed a fly. Despite having no previous convictions, he was brandishing a knife and waving it menacingly. Even allowing for a depressive illness as a mitigating factor, his behaviour was not harmless.  Claims to the contrary are so far removed from the facts on the ground that it actually damages the case being made on behalf of Mr Nkencho. Similar to the claim  that the death was the result of a racist mindset, the public would want to see a lot more evidence before it is going to seriously entertain either suggestion.  

In both the Hennessy and Nkencho deaths, it seems, albeit it to varying degrees, that each man could have been incapacitated without being killed. Unarmed prison staff when confronted with knives do not call for an armed response. Instead they have trained personnel who can efficiently disable and disarm the assailant through the use of shields without resorting to shooting them. "The Garda Public Order Unit is equipped and trained in the tactic" but was not mobilised on the day

A police intervention that bypasses firearm use also poses a much lesser risk to the wider community. The mishap of a ricochet becomes non-existent. In the case of Mr Nkencho one of the six bullets fired into his body passed through his arm. After that it could have lodged anywhere. His family have claimed that the Garda were aware that there were people to the rear of Nkencho when they opened fire.

I do not wish to see Garda killed under any circumstances. Nor do I wish to see citizens killed by Garda under any circumstances. The first is absolute, the second, by necessity, conditional. But the conditions should be so stringent that the difference is almost negligible.

⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

The Killing Of Georgie

Anthony McIntyre thinks An Garda Síochána have questions to answer over a recent killing of a man in Dublin but they are about rights not race. 

It seems pretty straightforward: while behaving violently, a Dublin man, George Nkencho, met a violent death. What is less straightforward is that because he behaved violently his life should have been ended violently. The immediate threat posed by the violent behaviour has to be the determining factor in whether or not lethal force by the state is used. At the moment of his death it is difficult to see what life other than George Nkencho's own was at immediate risk. 

The society we share is deeply concerned about the the deaths of Garda such as Adrian Donoghue, Tony Golden or Colm Horkan. What is less certain is that it is just as concerned about the deaths effected by Garda of George Nkencho and Mark Hennessey, both shot dead in circumstances where it seems a less lethal option could have been pursued.  This is less easily asserted in the case of Hennessey where the Garda who killed him claimed to believe the victim was in the car with Hennessey and that an immediate threat was posed to her life, even if it does resonate of British Army claims of "suspicious movement" as justification for killing unarmed citizens during the Northern conflict.

There might be no compelling reason for the public to be as sympathetic to the two dead citizens as it is to the three slain Garda, the tendency being towards distinguishing categories of aggressor and non-aggressor and where empathy is reserved for the latter.  But public sympathy needs to be hived off from public concern. Cold as it might seem, it remains possible to have little or no sympathy with the victims while harbouring deep concerns about actions of An Garda Síochána that result in the deaths of any citizen.  Doubtless, unlike George Nkencho, it would be hard to elicit public sympathy for a character like Mark Hennessy, who was shot dead sitting in his car shortly after he had kidnapped and murdered Jastine Valdez. Nevertheless, society only licenses the Garda to kill under very specific circumstances, and only as a last resort. There is no carte blanche license to kill. There is no capital punishment.  Citizens have every right to expect not to be killed. The Gardai have seriously limited rights to kill citizens. 

For some on the Left, Mr Nkencho was conveniently named. "George" allowed comparisons to be made with George Floyd, who was publicly garroted by a racist cop in the US. Hoping to emulate the success of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Gardai were quickly accused of racism, supposedly having killed Mr Nkencho because of his skin colour rather than any perceived threat he posed. There is little I have seen thus far which would allow the view to form that the Hartstown shooting was guided by the skin colour of the target. To claim so is to miss the more plausible point which would seem to be one of the Garda not exercising sufficient restraint when confronted by people armed with knives rather than firearms, and who have no hostage facing imminent death if armed intervention is not carried out promptly. 

Moreover, the issue is further blurred by a family friend taking to the television screen to proclaim that  George Nkencho would not have harmed a fly. Despite having no previous convictions, he was brandishing a knife and waving it menacingly. Even allowing for a depressive illness as a mitigating factor, his behaviour was not harmless.  Claims to the contrary are so far removed from the facts on the ground that it actually damages the case being made on behalf of Mr Nkencho. Similar to the claim  that the death was the result of a racist mindset, the public would want to see a lot more evidence before it is going to seriously entertain either suggestion.  

In both the Hennessy and Nkencho deaths, it seems, albeit it to varying degrees, that each man could have been incapacitated without being killed. Unarmed prison staff when confronted with knives do not call for an armed response. Instead they have trained personnel who can efficiently disable and disarm the assailant through the use of shields without resorting to shooting them. "The Garda Public Order Unit is equipped and trained in the tactic" but was not mobilised on the day

A police intervention that bypasses firearm use also poses a much lesser risk to the wider community. The mishap of a ricochet becomes non-existent. In the case of Mr Nkencho one of the six bullets fired into his body passed through his arm. After that it could have lodged anywhere. His family have claimed that the Garda were aware that there were people to the rear of Nkencho when they opened fire.

I do not wish to see Garda killed under any circumstances. Nor do I wish to see citizens killed by Garda under any circumstances. The first is absolute, the second, by necessity, conditional. But the conditions should be so stringent that the difference is almost negligible.

⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

30 comments:

  1. A sober and more reasoned approach to Mr Nkencho's killing. It would have to be the exceptional case where lethal force was required to neutralise someone with a knife.

    Re: His mental state, that might mitigate his criminal liability but irrelevant to how dangerous he was. Many killers have had mental health issues who might not have been killers if they were of sound mind.

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    1. Christy - this is right. Mental illness often makes people much more dangerous.

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    2. A consultant psychistrist told me that people with mental illness are less likely to commit violent crime than those who are well, unless they have consumed drink or drugs.

      Unfortunately there is a stigma with mental illness, exacerbated by tabloid newspapers and their sensationalist headlines and stories.

      We have moved on from dumping people in the looney bin to be abused and forgotten but more education is needed for an accurate understanding and a removal of stigma.

      People often blame those with mental illness particularly if the trigger was drink or drugs despite not blaming people with physical illness arising from a similar lifestyle.

      But, saying that, mental illness can often reduce pain or give an air of invincibility which is dangerous if that person is violent.

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    3. Simon - I would not subscribe to that view. The jails are packed with mentally ill serving time for violent offences who should be elsewhere getting treatment. I don't think it is stigmatising people to make that observation. I think we often work on the underlying assumption that the person is intrinsically violent when in fact they are ill. I think mental illness can lead to a loss of faculties or self control that might manifest itself in harmful activities.
      Mental illness comes in so many forms that it doesn't do much for understanding if we regard it as one dimensional.
      We should certainly not stigmatising those with mental illness but at the same time we should not be categorizing those who are violent as mentally well when in fact they could be unwell. That ends in a situation where they are punished rather than treated.

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    4. AM, my point is people suffering mental illness are less likely than others to be violent unless drink or drugs are involved. Therefore people aren't more likely to be violent due to mental illness but other factors are more important.

      Maybe a combination of drink/drugs and mental illness would make someone more likely to be violent but thats another thing than mental illness on its own.

      You're 100% about treatment rather than prison. It was the phrasing of your reply to Christy which prompted my comment rather than the suggestion that treatment is a better solution than lockimg people up. However, I wasn't saying you would stigmatise anyone or any group.

      Some of the countries in Northern Europe have better ways of dealing with offenders. Unfortunately, in these islands many are focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation or reduction in reoffendimg.

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  2. From just reading the wikipedia entry on this it looks like the Garda tried everything within reason to nullify the threat though. Tasers and Pepperspray, and he still kept coming.

    I know this may sound rather cold but at what point do you say enough is enough, this guy is clearly intent on harming others, we don't have the resources close to hand to pacify him and he just keeps coming.

    I know you mention the screws having shields but the cops are not PO's,the screws are in a static situation and they can prepare for many scenarios in a specific location. The Garda are responding to a fluid dynamic with uneding variables.

    Not casting judgement it's a just a very difficult problem with no easy fix.

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    1. Steve - did they try shooting him in the legs? In the Abbeylara killing of John Carthy, the Garda on the ground were said to have tried everything other than kill him before they eventually did. It got so dangerous at one point that armed detectives were seconds away from shooting him because they felt the Emergency Response Unit was never going to fire and the situation was deemed critical. The problem there was more a management one. It might well transpire here that the Garda on the ground felt there was no option, and denied the service of a trained non-lethal intervention unit, did what they felt best. But at the current minute, it remains difficult to see whose life was in danger.
      I think you are right and there should be no rush to judge the Garda and put the boot in just to sound radical. But I think the role of a balanced society is to make it as hard as possible for anyone to justify killing someone, so that when a killing actually occurs and is deemed justified, the action will have jumped a very high bar. If robust mechanisms of scrutiny are not in place, then a dangerous latitude can evolve which in all likelihood will lead to abuses.
      It is only be persistent scrutiny that the management of these matters will be finetuned resulting in less room for error.

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    2. AM,

      Anyone who has been instructed in the use of firearms knows that you use them to nullify the threat. Shooting a person in the legs is Hollywood stuff, besides there's arguably a GREATER chance of hitting an artery in the legs and the person bleeding out.

      Totally agree with the high bar, and I'm also wondering at a human level what the Garda responsible is going through. It's easy for us to sit behind a keyboard and pontificate but it was clearly a chaotic situation.

      Christy,

      Didn't they already try with the taser and pepper spray, and didn't he keep coming?

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    3. How many people in the North (keep it quiet incase we upset Peter) died from gunshot wounds to the legs?

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    4. AM,

      Aiming a shot to the thigh for the first offense which is usually what happens so they miss the artery,as the wee hood is prone on the ground.

      Firing a sidearm at a moving target advancing upon you and trying to nullify the threat by aiming at the legs is a lot higher of a risk, but there's a been a few who've bled out in the North over the years.

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    5. what percentage of people shot in the legs have bled out? A tiny one. Nor are we restricted to talking about wee hoods. People will survive shots to the artery but not to the heart or brain.

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    6. OK would you take the centre of mass shot at a rapidly advancing armed person or try to disable by shooting at the legs? You have two seconds to decide.

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  3. Steve

    They could have easily maintain safe distance and waited him out.

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  4. Great piece AM you have covered all the bases but if I may add to the debate that in a few cases of Garda killings the Garda involved in the actual shooting have taken early retirement because they never wanted to be put in that situation again

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    1. I can imagine that is true but it comes after the event which suggests better to try to prevent the event taking place. No dead citizens, no Garda who have killed. The thing can only be improved rather than perfected

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  5. None of us were there so none of us know the full circumstances. The Garda will have standard operational procedures and someone on the ground will have made a call. The knife man had already stabbed a shop assistant and didn't go down after pepper spray and tasering. The officer in charge had an extremely difficult decision to make. He ended a man's life and faces for the next 2 years endless tribunals, reports, evaluations and counseling which may result in him losing his job or pension. You can question police SOPs or training but never underestimate the difficulty of the job. I'll stand with the Garda until someone proves they acted illegally.

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    1. I don't think anyone here at any rate is underestimating the difficulty of the job.
      Before all else, in my view, we should stand with the right of citizens not to be killed by the state unless it can be compellingly and convincingly demonstrated that death was the only option. It is no reflection on your past for me to bring up the point that in the North it is evident that the state often slayed people and then falsely accused them of posing some threat. There is no ready reason to uncritically accept the state narrative in these matters. So, while I presume no guilt on the part of the Garda, I think we are a long way off being able to make a definitive judgement.

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  6. Peter

    If Micheal Stone had only been armed with a knife in Milrown Cemetry untrained civilians could have unarmed him without any deaths occurring. I am not saying the cop who fired was wrong because my suspicion is that at least one other cop moved too close, too soon that may ha necessitating shooting.

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  7. If the Garda are trained to use guns and have expert marksmen.....Why didn't they shoot him in the hand...?

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  8. AM
    "There is no ready reason to uncritically accept the state narrative in these matters"
    I never said we should. I said we can question police SOPs and training but none of us was there in the heat of the situation to experience the commander's call. Therefore we should tentatively accept the Garda narrative until someone proves something different. My sympathy goes to the shop keeper who was stabbed. No worker, shop assistant or Garda, should face stabbings at work.

    Christy
    "...could have unarmed him without any deaths occurring"
    How do you know? Would you like to take the lead on that op? Funny how both you and AM use the Troubles from 20 odd years ago to make your points against me. If Georgie had faced the Provos and not the Garda he would have been beaten black and blue with hurley bats, given 2 behind the ear and dumped at the border.

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    1. Peter - try setting the whataboutery aside. There were no points made against you, whereas your "what about" the Provos is point scoring, not even point making.

      Michael Stone was referred to by Christy because it indicates what is possible. It takes little imagination to work out where Stone would have ended up had he not been rescued by the cops. But that is hardly the point.

      Even your silly comment that "If Georgie had faced the Provos and not the Garda he would have been beaten black and blue with hurley bats, given 2 behind the ear and dumped at the border" ignores the very real possibility that the person sending him to eternity was working for the state and doing it with the state's foreknowledge. Which is yet again a salutary lesson on accepting a state narrative. Fatuous arguments of "what about" advance nothing.

      My own comments in relation to the North are not remotely against you either but are a drawing on experience about the state killing citizens and then covering it up. That is what makes it relevant, not you.

      You are free to tentatively accept the Garda narrative. It is nuanced and flexible, rather than uncritical. I neither accept nor reject it. I do think we need to press continuously to see if state responses to aggressors can be finetuned to reduce if not eradicate the lethal option. And you can bet your last penny before it becomes a cent that many in the Garda are thinking the exact same thing. I know quite a few Garda but none who would want to kill you in the street.

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  9. Without knowing all the facts many of which are outside the public domain it is impossible to come to a definitive conclusion about this incident.

    Nothing in the public domain points to a race dimension except the colour of the deceased's skin which is needed for a racially motivated state killing but not proof of it.

    This piece is excellent, doesn't jump to conclusions and correctly questions the use of lethal force. Could this man's death have been avoided? Unfortunately, none of us have the information or forensic examination skills to come to a conclusion but the question is worth asking. The answer may bring closure or help prevent future deaths if the Garda response was wrong.

    The Ombudsman has these resources and is accountable and transparent. Best to await the official response. NGOs and lawyers can then examine it.

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    1. Simon - glad you found the piece useful. Any Garda who would allow an assailant to stab them would be foolish, and negligent if they allowed him to stab someone else. They have to protect themselves and the public. What we are trying to do here is explore whether there is a better way of doing things that would ensure no deaths, rather than demand the Garda be disbanded.

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    2. AM, it was an excellent piece. It asked useful questions rather than pontificate.

      Negotiating on principle rather than position is more likely to lead to agreement and this piece, by using a principled argument is more likely to lead to reasoned debate than the positions of 'disband the garda" or difinitive statements on either side of the debate about the circumstances as soon as the story breaks.

      Assumption is the mother of all cock-ups.

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  10. AM
    The silly whataboutery started with your "It is no reflection on your past for me to bring up the point that..." nonsense. Can we not discuss this without you casting up what happened 30 years ago? Are there not other more recent and more relevant instances from our current health and safety obsessed years? I thought you might bring up the shooting of the Brazilian lad on the tube after the London bombings or the SOPs and training (or lack thereof) of American cops but no, you go straight to the RUC of the 1980s.

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    1. Peter - that is more induced by your paranoia than any intent on my part. Because of your hypersensitivity it was important for me to preface my observation with "It is no reflection on your past for me to bring up the point that..." But even that set you off on one.
      Not much I can do about that.
      The Brazilian lad on the tube is a fine example but it does not sit to the fore of my mind. My experience of state killings and smearing the target afterwards lies in Belfast rather than London. This is a matter or record. If you can't deal with it, the problem is your own not mine. I wish it were otherwise but there you go.

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  11. Nor when posing the type of questioning that we do here, do we forget this type of thing

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  12. AM
    My paranoia? I thought the discussion was about modern police operations in an age of ombudsmen, health and safety, EU courts, smart phone camaras and human rights lawyers etc not about 30-40 year old policing during a conflict. The Garda cannot, and should not, get away with what the RUC got away with. What George's killing has to do with the Troubles is beyond me, but I knew as soon as I commented that that is exactly where you would go on it.

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  13. Peter

    Having experience of catching Stone I can envision how dealing with someone with just a knife would be much easier. If you saw the video then you would see that at least one Garda gets too close that caused the armed cop to shoot to protect him as Nkencho lunges at him. Had that idiot kept his distance Nkencho might still be alive today.

    Had they just kept him at a safe distance and waited him out then they would not have needed to shoot, taser or pepper spray him at all, the safest method for everyone they did not try.

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