The inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the young Brazilian worker shot dead by police in Stockwell tube station on 22 July 2005, came to a close on 12 December 2008.
Three and a half years after his death, and following a drawn-out legal process involving investigations by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the criminal conviction of the Metropolitan Police for breach of health and safety legislation, and an inquest, not one individual police officer has been held responsible for, or even been reprimanded in connection with, the murder of this completely innocent man.
The current climate of suspicion and fear, deliberately stoked up by the state in the wake of the 11 September and 7 July attacks and the ‘war on terror’, has made possible a significant strengthening of police powers – from surveillance and stop and search powers to the introduction of a shoot-to-kill policy.
What the outcome of the inquest into Jean Charles’s death demonstrates most clearly is that the police are, to all intents and purposes, above the law; they are free to exercise police power in its most extreme form – state murder – without retribution; they are in no way accountable to the public, in whose service such powers are purported to be granted.
Inquest jury returns a damning verdict
After hearing evidence over a period of 12 weeks, the jury returned a verdict that represented “the most damning outcome possible for the Metropolitan Police”. (‘Police evidence called into question by inquest jury’, Daily Telegraph, 12 December 2008)
The outcome is significant, given the considerable constraints that were placed on the jury. Denied the possibility of deciding that Jean Charles had been ‘unlawfully killed’ when this option was controversially forbidden by the coroner, the jury were restricted to providing yes/no answers to a series of very narrow questions on a limited number of issues in connection with Jean Charles’s death.
The jury returned an open verdict, thereby stating clearly that they did not believe that Jean Charles had been lawfully killed by police.
The answers given by the jury demonstrated firmly that they disbelieved the police version of events on almost all points. More significantly, the jury found that a number of serious and avoidable failings in the police operation command had contributed to Jean Charles’s death.
Officers involved walk free
The inquest represented the first time members of the public were able to examine the facts surrounding the case. The CPS had previously decided that no individual officer should face charges of murder or manslaughter, while the IPCC had decreed that no officer should face disciplinary sanctions – decisions made on the basis of police evidence taken at face value; the same evidence that was dismissed by the inquest jury.
The armed officers who killed Jean Charles were granted anonymity at the inquest and were known only as C2 and C12. Both officers gave evidence that they shot de Menezes because of his reaction once they had intercepted him on the tube: they claim that after they had shouted “Armed police!” he stood up and moved towards them; however, this version of events was rejected by the jury.
Despite a clear implication that the shooting officers fabricated their evidence, they will now return to frontline duties as armed police officers. (The Guardian, 13 December 2008)
Those senior officers in charge of the operation will also escape unscathed, despite the unearthing of very serious failings that contributed to Jean Charles’s death. Gareth Peirce, solicitor, summarised the evidence in an interview for Radio 4’s Today programme.
“The family identified … 25 serious and catastrophic failures on the part of [Metropolitan Police Commander] Cressida Dick alone. The focus has been on the armed officers who shot Jean Charles, but a better focus and a more responsible focus would be on the senior command. The handling of the events that led up to the fatal shooting was disastrous and it was disastrous on the part of senior officers …
“We know that there were officers ostensibly trained to operate a military policy in effectively a war situation. They did not even know the basic terminology to use; they seemed incapable of setting up a central command system that obtained information and gave it; they seemed unaware of the extensive danger of so-called ‘identification’ evidence and Jean Charles was tracked and eventually killed on the basis of a litany of assessments which ranged from ‘not him’, ‘possibly him’, ‘probably him’ to the end which propelled the armed officers to ‘that’s him’.” (12 December 2008, cited on inquest.justice4jean.org)
Despite all this, there will be no sanction on the senior officers involved. Indeed, Commander Cressida Dick was fast-tracked for promotion to Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in September 2006. (‘Menezes officer promoted’, BBC News Online, 13 September 2006)
Among the worthies lined up to heap praise on her head in an effort to diminish the impact of the inquest was Ken Livingstone, the trigger-happy darling of just about every revisionist, Trotskyite and opportunist scoundrel on the British left, who, dismissing out of hand the jury’s findings, gave his clear and unequivocal support for Dick, praising her “incredible record” and stating that he had “always considered her Commissioner potential”. (Today, ibid)
Racist officers enforcing racist laws
What is also clear from Jean Charles’s case is the endemic racism that underlies, and provides the foundation for, Britain’s ‘anti-terrorism’ laws and enforcement programmes. The general level of anti-‘muslim’ hysteria, has inculcated large sections of the white population with the idea that any action taken against these ‘enemies within’ is justified in the interest of ‘protecting our freedoms’.
The officers who murdered Jean Charles did so on the basis that he came out of a house in an area, largely populated by poor people from minority communities, they were watching and had brown skin – ie, was a potential muslim – at a time when they had been whipped into a fury of anti-muslim hatred and then sent out with deadly weapons.
And the fact of the matter is that had Jean Charles actually turned out to be a muslim, rather than a brown-skinned Brazilian, no proofs of his total innocence as an unsuspecting bystander would have prevented the media, the government and much of the public at large from agreeing that it was a perfectly ‘understandable’ mistake for the police to have made. No doubt something ‘incriminating’ would have been found to prove that the victim had been in some way a ‘sympathiser’ with ‘muslim radicals’, and that would have been the end of that.
The very fact that various inquiries have been carried out – and that they have received such considerable media attention – shows the difference in treatment meted out by press and state alike (and the corresponding level of public outrage) to muslims/those of Arab or South Asian descent generally as opposed to someone like Jean Charles, who, whilst equally the victim of racism, turned out only to look as though he might belong in one of the aforementioned categories.
What very few non-Asian, non-muslim, non-brown (and non-Irish!) British workers have yet realised, but what many are bound to find out over the coming months and years as the British and world economies continue their downward spiral, is that the British state and its police enforcers will have no hesitation in turning all the same draconian powers on them, should they think of trying to stand up for their rights to employment, decent housing, pensions, heath care and so on.
Shoot-to-kill policy remains unchallenged
After the shooting of Jean Charles in 2005, there were considerable public rumblings that the shoot-to-kill policy, adopted without public consultation, should now be the subject of public debate. Needless to say, the state did not pursue this option, and there has been next-to no comment in this vein in the light of the inquest findings.
Despite a nod to the ‘tragedy’ of mistaken identity, the public are apparently required to accept such tragedies as Jean Charles’s death as acceptable collateral damage in the war on terror. While the British public may well remain a target for future attack (though the threat is undoubtedly vastly overplayed by the state and its media), we must not let this blind us into forgetting the reasons why Britain is a target in the first place.
Nor can we let such fear cause us to submit blindly to increasing curtailment of personal rights and freedoms in favour of strengthening the repressive powers of the police. To do so is to play into the hands of the British state, which aims to nurture an ignorant, fearful and powerless working class, divided by racism and therefore impotent in the face of British imperialism’s efforts to continue its exploitation of the world’s people and resources, as well as its ongoing attempts to pass the burden of the capitalist economic crisis onto the backs of workers here in Britain.
The road to security and peace at home lies in the struggle to end British imperialist exploits abroad by joining those already resisting it, and finally overthrowing British capitalism at home.