Brazil: London Police Gun Down Brazilian Man in Subway Following Bombing Attacks

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, August 12, 2005 | Go to article overview

Brazil: London Police Gun Down Brazilian Man in Subway Following Bombing Attacks


Plainclothes detectives in London carried out what could be termed an extrajudicial killing against 27-year-old Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes in a subway station at Stockwell on July 22. The officers chased the young man onto the subway, pinned him to the ground, and shot him repeatedly in the head, apparently mistaking him for a bomber, after a series of attacks killed more than 50 London commuters and injured many more. The police killing resulted in high-level apologies and contacts between the governments of Brazil and the United Kingdom (UK), although the British government made repeated public mentions of Menezes' lapsed immigration status.

"Shoot-to-kill" policy kills innocent laborer

The British police defended the shooting of the innocent man on a subway car and its shoot-to-kill policy as Britain's political establishment rallied around the policies of Prime Minister Tony Blair in his "anti-terror" campaign. Sir Ian Blair, the London police commissioner, stopped short of an outright apology as he expressed "deepest regrets" and accepted "full responsibility" for the killing.

Menezes' cousin, Alex Pereira, who lives in London, said the police would "kill thousands of people" if they were not held accountable for what had happened at Stockwell. "They just kill the first person they see, that's what they did. They killed my cousin, they could kill anyone," he said.

Tony Blair said he was "desperately sorry" an innocent man had lost his life but also said the police must be supported. Blair added that they would have been criticized had the suspect turned out to be a terrorist and they failed to take action.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone described Menezes as a "victim of the terrorist attacks. Consider the choice that faced police officers at Stockwell last Friday--and be glad you did not have to take it."

On that morning, Menezes had left his apartment in Tulse Hill and boarded a bus toward Stockwell tube (subway) station to go to work, reported BBC News. He had been followed by police, who had his block under surveillance in the hunt for the group behind a set of attempted bombings on July 21 that failed to kill any Londoners.

When he was challenged by police in the subway station, he fled, reportedly leaping the ticket barrier. When he got into a train car, he tripped and fell, and then a policeman leapt on top of him and shot him to death, firing seven times into his head and once into his shoulder.

The killing revealed that there had been a secret shoot-to-kill policy in effect at Scotland Yard since 2003, according to a former head of the Metropolitan Police who spoke to The Financial Times of London. Critics say the Blair government is now seeking to further dismantle democratic apparatuses in England by setting up secret terror courts.

Police, family accounts differ

In Brazil, grief-stricken relatives demanded answers to why Menezes ran and why police shot him. Cousin Maria do Socorro Alves said she thought the police had acted "like amateurs....If you are going to have a war on terror, you have got to use brains to fight it not just brute force."

Friends of Menezes in London said he had recently returned to Brazil for eight months to be with his father, who was being treated for cancer. Fausto Soares, 26, said Menezes had been sending money to pay for the treatment and was concerned about how the family would now cope financially. The family did gain international support from human rights groups and celebrity figures like Bianca Jagger. His death drew national mourning and marches through London and Brazil.

At a July 27 appearance, relatives said Menezes was not wearing a heavy jacket that might have concealed a bomb and did not jump the ticket barrier when challenged by armed plainclothes police. Speaking at a press conference after a meeting with the Metropolitan Police, his cousin Vivien Figueiredo, 22, said that the first reports of how her cousin had come to be killed in a mistake for a suicide bomber were wrong. …

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