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.
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