Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Menezes Tube Afp
Earlier, I blogged about the Brazilian man who was shot by officers in the UK in the Stockwell subway who suspected him of being a suicide bomber. The reports has said that he was wearing suspicious clothing, that he ran away from the polices, etc. We had a lively discussion in the comments of that blog post. Mike B, just posted a link to an article in I don't know this publication so don't know the accuracy of their reporting, but they tell a different story.
Blunders led to police killing of an innocent man

Key points
• Leaked documents claim suspect was not running away when shot
• Earlier claims on suspect's dress and vaulting of barrier also challenged
• Revelations will add to embarrassment of Met Police over killing

Key quote
"As he walked out of my line of vision I checked the photographs and transmitted that it would be worth someone else having a look. I should point out that, as I observed this male exiting the block, I was in the process of relieving myself." - SURVEILLANCE OFFICER

According to this article, the man was not properly id'ed leaving the house by either the officer taking a pee or the next one. Somewhere along the way, they upgraded it to code red. According to interviews in the article, the victim didn't jump the gate and had actually sat down in the train before the police came and shot him 7 times in the head after grabbing him.

If this is true, this is pretty awful process on the police side and shoddy reporting by the media who tried to cast him as some sort of guy who was so suspicious that it was HIS fault and not the fault of the police.

Has this been reported anywhere else? I'd like to see any other reports. Also, does anyone know the reputation of

UPDATE: Some coverage by the BBC.


The Scotsman is (arguably) the biggest newspaper in Scotland - more of a serious newspaper than what you'd call a 'tabloid' in the UK.

This story is big in the media in the UK, and it is pretty appalling. Check out the BBC site for further coverage. I remember at the time saying to somebody 'Well looks like he was really suspicious anyway", but it seems this wasn't the case at all. A lot of sources from the leaked documents say he used his pass card to get through the barriers, only jogged when he saw the train coming into the station, and most importantly wasn't wearing a 'large coat' but rather a denim jacket.

This story is also big in France - as I suppose it is everywhere in Europe, and presumably in Brasil.
For those of you who speak French, see for instance Libération, Le Figaro or Le Monde.

Scotsman is an excellent newspaper, and is - according to my Lpkc stats - the most blogged newspaper in the English-speaking world, in terms of blogpulse links per thousands of paper subscribers.

BBC world service has been covering the story extensively on the radio. It sounds like the key is that the police had a fairly consistent story about the shooting which has now crumbled with the release of a secret memo more accurately describing the situation.

Welcome to the police state.

7 shots in the head doesn't seem correct. I don't know many calliber bullets that will allow you to shoot someone in the head seven times. I am assuming the policy were carrying something larger then a .38.

The BBC story I read said he was shot in the head once at very close range. There are several studies on the use of force by police when they are traveling in a group and emotionally charged.

The story is rather big in Sweden too. The weirdest parts is that he supposedly wore a tight jeans jacket (meaning that he couldn't have had a bomb strapped to himself) and that the top police boss, sir Ian Blair, have been trying to stop an independent investigation of the shooting.

I actually went back to your previous post on False Positives a couple of days back to check if you had included this update....and now you have :-).

Appalling, shocking and fishy are three words that spring to my mind in this regard. I get the feeling there's something missing in the reports. So far the only points to come out of the investigations all point towards the deceased NOT acting suspisiously.....whereas in fact one would expect the policemen involved to explain WHY they shot the man to death AFTER having pinned him down. I'm sure they had a reason - even though it might be a crappy one. I'm waiting to hear it though.

The Charles de Menezes killing was appalling. It was a tragedy and should never have happened. The facts coming out after the fact make this even more of a tragedy. My heart goes out to his family and I hope this type of mistake never happens again.

That said, is it surprising it happened though given the palpable tension/fear in London in the immediate aftermath of the second round of bombing? I would venture, no. Even after 30+ years of dealing with, sometimes pre-announced, IRA bombings I don't think the counter terror teams were fully prepared to deal with suicide bombers. Who is? How are our countries police/military forces trained to deal with coming face to face with someone you think is wired to blow himself up? Would they, given the same fluid situation and the same incorrect facts, done any differently?

I was on the tube on 7/21 coming into town from Heathrow when they stopped & evacuated our train in the immediate aftermath of the failed bombings. The fear on peoples faces when the announcements started was heart stopping and the silence deafening. Fear only intensified when officers boarded the cars at the next stop and walked thru the car with MP5's stopping and staring at darker skinned men for very uncomfortable lengths of time. Racial profiling in action? Sure. Did it make me feel better that armed officers were doing it? Absolutely.

Guess in my rambling what I'm trying to say is that I, for one, will not be one to judge those officers involved in the killing of Charles de Menezes. Having only a tiny tiny snapshot of the kinds of constant stress those officers deal with on a daily basis, I can only say thank you that there are people out there willing to help protect us. That might sound a bit 'rah rah rah', but really...until you've experienced that type of fear/uncertainty first hand you really don't know how comforting it is to see an officer with a big gun standing nearby ready to take action.

Scott [9] wrote: "That might sound a bit 'rah rah rah', but really...until you've experienced that type of fear/uncertainty first hand you really don't know how comforting it is to see an officer with a big gun standing nearby ready to take action."

By the SAME token, YOU will never know how horrifying it is to see an officer with a big gun standing nearby ready to "take action" - when you're a dark skinned person.

And I have a somewhat naive question - consider the following:

1. Surveillance officers spot someone who they *think* is acting suspiciously
2. They have been informed that suicide bombers are willing to blow themselves up when identified, in order to do whatever damage they can before being apprehended.

Now in such a case, why would the policemen identify themselves? If they did, and IF the suspect was wired with a bomb, he would (presumably) blow himself up and kill those around him. Hence they would have to shoot him before he knew what was happening. All of this on a mere suspicion.

So then what if they're not sure? Do they identify themselevs and give the suspect a chance to come clean? or is that option not considered, in the interest of the rest of the crowd around him?

Obviously, the big immediate issue here is that a young innocent man is dead. We have to accept too, that when you send policemen out with guns, mistakes will sometimes be made. That is the price we pay and like Scott says we have to accept it to some degree. We certainly shouldn't sit in judgement on the policemen involved until we hear the whole story.

However, behind the story lurks the issue of media-manipulation. The facts are being spun and re-spun here and the public is only being drip-fed information.

Police sources are now criticizing the media for reporting on the fresh evidence of the last few days before there has been a full investigation.

However, the police sources are only complaining because the shoe is now on the other foot. At the beginning of the investigation, the police was quick to put out its own version of the story, even though it must have been known to police that there were contradictory statements in existence.

That, rather than the actual killing is what we need to be concerned about.

There's a number of things going on here. The journalists are apparently doing little digging on the story and are still just reporting the official story. The story is emerging almost entirely due to un-named whistleblowers. But it really shouldn't be allowed to die until some kind of truth emerges. It's already being suggested that the whole section of the narrative about the house being watched and the surveillance officer turning off the video to take a pee is backfill and didn't actually happen. Given the other inconsistencies in the official version this is entirely believable. So what the hell did happen? Was it really just "sorry guv, the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time"?

Somewhat irrationally, I have a deep distrust of policemen with guns. They always seem like amateurs to me. But I'm stupidly proud of our brave professionals when the SAS go in and storm an embassy.

And there's a cognitive dissonance here that Americans in particular may not appreciate. Hand guns are banned in the UK and our police don't carry guns. Except that they do and hand guns are easily available. The idea that the Police do actually carry guns and what's more they actually use them to kill people is extremely unsettling. Even if we know it's true we don't want to think it. When we still have an underlying idea that the Police are people who are basically honest guys who will tell you the time and give small boys a clip round the ear'ole and tell them to be on their way.

And I don't actually care how scared and trigger happy everybody was in the days after the bombs. If we don't have accountability and a public debrief then we're not civilised. And that way, madness lies.

As Simon Jenkins and others have pointed out there's a whole series of dubious or strange statements that have come out since the bombings. And the press rarely if ever follows up and explains what happened when those stories fade away. Perhaps the strangest is that there was a training exercise happening *in the same stations when the bombs went off* which was why the emergency services were so quick on the scene. That question is not necessarily the precursor to a conspiracy theory. But why was it reported at the time and then quickly dropped?

And so on. What a mess.

I agree with what Antoin said about media-manipulation. After hearing half a dozen different stories about what happened, I'm unsure what to believe about this case. The facts in the scotsman article just give me a bad feeling, it's as if they're being spun. It just doesn't seem to be a very believable scenerio - a Brazilian man wearing completely non-suspicious clothing calmly walks into the subway and sits down, and is then shot in the head 7 times by police who had absolutely no confirmation as to who the man was? It doesn't make sense. You can't tell me that the police had no reason to suspect this man was a terrorist, and that they merely picked him out by the color of his skin. The man must have been running away, wearing suspicious clothing, or must have in some other way acted suspect if the police found it necessary to use their handguns.

I'm not saying that the loss of this man's life isnt tragic - it is. I'm also not trying to say that the police are blameless. However, it does seem like we're not getting the facts straight, and I'm hesitant to believe a lot of the information I'm hearing from the media.


You are correct. I will never know. But are we ok with the police doing it in those (if not all) situations might be a better question for us to ponder.

Naive? No. I think that might be the one question that most all police forces are asking themselves right now. As the alternative is too horrible, I think the answer might be one that leads to more accidental killings. It's a terrible catch 22 for all involved.

Scott: "But are we ok with the police doing it in those (if not all) situations might be a better question for us to ponder."

I guess it all comes down to which color is in the majority - or minority, eh? :-)

When you look at the situation, the Police can't win, damned if they do, damned if they don't. If this guy was a suicide bomber, we'd be complaining why didn't they shoot him.

Hindsight is also a dangerous thing, we have all the time in the world to ponder what we'd do in this situation, the police had a matter of split seconds.

Like others have said, accountability is important, but let's not be so quick to place blame til we really get the whole story.

What IS IMPORTANT is we find out WHY and HOW this happend so we don't have a repeat.

This is the original Independent Television News story
I'm not sure it is fair to say that the "journalists are doing little digging on the story". There is currently an investigation going on at the Independent Police Complaints Commission into who leaked these documents to ITN. There are other details emerging such as the fact that there is no station video footage because the police had removed the disks before the shooting (they were investigating the previous bomb attacks). There is also a lot of digging going on around a letter by Sir Ian Blair which meant that the IPCC (which handles shooting investigations) was not allowed quick access to the facts. I

The story received breif US cable coverage yesterday, but it has since been fully eclipsed by the serial killer and Gaza stories. Eminem in rehab is getting more coverage.

"The news automatically becomes the real world for the TV user and is not a substitute for reality, but is itself an immediate reality." -Marshall McLuhan

Almost as good as the Japanese justice system. Gotta love getting 15 years in jail for choosing the wrong friends...

FYI - We've seen fairly wide coverage of the leaked investigation report (identical in many ways to what's reported in the Scottsman but with lots more detail) on ABC Asia Pacific and CNN Asia.

IIRC, the original story of the shooting was related by a bystander to most of the major news media. I am not generally a believer in conspiracy theory, but I wonder if the bystander was in fact an undercover policeman.

===The journalists are apparently doing little digging on the story and are still just reporting the official story===

*snort* What a surprise

I remember I read an interview with a member of the "Armed Response" unit in London who said when asked if all officers should be armed that "There are some colleagues I wouldn't even trust with a billy club.

That being said, and probably true, I do have to wonder if the fact officers in the UK do not pull their weapons as often had something to do with the shooting. In the US, which is by no means immune to accidental and "in the heat of the moment" police shootings, there is a lot of training, some of it effective, that deals with "shoot, don't shoot" type situations. I suspect if you look at the number of times a US police officer pulls his weapon vs. the number of times he shoots, you'll find a very low ratio.

I don't know the accidental police killing numbers for the US vs the UK and other countries. I wonder if they even keep those numbers anywhere.

@ Andrew

During weapons training for any branch of the US military and within any US police department, the following is always submitted as the golden rule:

"Never point your weapon at anything you aren't willing to destroy."

And yet...

LAPD Under Fire After Innocent Child Killed in Shootout

Very interesting exchange.
A couple of thoughts:
1. It may be pointless to assess the actions of the actual policemen themselves as individual actors in this. I have read in a few places (wish I could find a source now) that there is more or less a policy or officially sanctioned tactic in Britain of incapacitating potential suicide bombers by basically destroying their brains with guns. Basically the idea is to incapacitate as quickly as possible to prevent the suicide bomber from detonating as the police move in. My point is just that if these articles are true the issue here is not about the actions of a few police but a broader policy. My understanding is that the policy predates the recent bombings. I'm not saying whether I am for or against the policy (and, for what it is worth, there are aspects of both sides of the argument that give me real pause**), but that this may be a broader sanctioned (even mandated) tactic.
2. To post 6 (by No One): The most common caliber for police semi-auto pistols is 9mm (slightly below 38 caliber, which most police haven't used since double action revolvers were phased out). Most likely this is what the police were carrying.* I have a lot of range experience with 9mm Glocks (models 17 and 19) and Berettas (92FS). 7 shots to the head is not by any means impossible. I am often surprised by how hard it is to predict how many shots a given type of target requires before it comes apart. For instance, on ranges I have unloaded a 15 shot magazine on a melon roughly the size of a human head and amazingly it still retained some of its form. In other cases it exploded on the first shot. I have had similar experiences with sanbags, cinderblocks, wood, etc.
** It gets really hard to see an alternative when presented with a suicide bomber. On the other hand, this turns traditional arrest on its head and brings in all kinds of questions about due process and what is justifiable homicide. It also bothers me because it in some sense tactically blurs the line between cops and soldiers.
*Some police units (eg certain Israeli security units, to the best of my recollection LAPD SWAT) do carry a .45 cal gun, usually some variant on the basic 1911-type Colt design. In this case 7 shots to the head is still doable, though admittedly getting harder.

By the way, to Mike B. (post 24) I have several friends who are police in the US and a close friend who was in the Israeli army and they have both stated something along the lines of what you wrote. My friend the ex-Israeli soldier said that they were basically told you that you can never adopt the attitude that you will just use your weapon to wound. They say that you don't use your weapon unless you are fully prepared to shoot to kill, and then use whatever level of force is necessary up to that point. Excessive force is then simply defined as force in excess of whatever was necessary to achieve the objective that you were serving by drawing your weapon. Whether that objective was legitimate is a distinct issue. He told me his is pretty sure the situation is much the same in the US military and American and Israeli police units (he has interacted in various contexts with all three).

@ Peter (26)

I suppose the only reasons why you might overide the logic of "Never point your weapon at..." is if there is a viable threat or if you act out of fear. Cops are scared these days. Even the Sherriff of Mayberry worries about terrorists and violent criminals.

In California, cops are often busted and ousted for steroid use. That tells me that they are willing to use illegal means to stack the deck against opponents by obtaining a muscular physique. That's probably done out of fear. Cops are being asked to bear greater responsibilities.

Again, from what I have heard over the years from my friends who are police you are absolutely right: I have heard them complaint bitterly about a prison system that allows (even encourages) convicts to lift weights for hours and hours every day. I have been told about guys who came out of jail with necks thicker than their heads, whose wrists were too big to fit cuffs. They are very worried about close combat with guys like that. As one friend once put it: "strong is strong but shit these guys are monsters. Where in the hell am I supposed to find hours in the day to match their workouts? I have a job after all."

@ Peter (28)

Thank you for your replies. Yeah, I never understood why inmates are allowed to work out so much. 3 hours a day for months/years on end, and you'll be able to crush almost any cop, even if you have a relatively small frame. Scary.

1 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: False positive - Part II.

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Funniest thing I've read today is Joi Ito commenting on news he read in The Scotsman and asking:Also, does anyone know the reputation of to start?... Read More