addressed to Sir Ian Blair Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police
Sir Ian Blair
Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police
22 July 2005
JKCHR co-author of a letter dated 15 July 2005 addressed to Prime Minister expressing our deep concern on the London bombing of 7th July and on other issues of great community interest, in particular, the Muslim youth, forwarded a copy for your attention.
We were passing through a difficult time of grieving and soul searching that London police shot dead a member of Asian Community, most probably a Muslim, today at a close range and under circumstances where an arrest could have been made or under circumstances when the man had tripped and was fully overpowered by the police officers holding him down.
It is understandable that the rules of engagement in this case have been one of the worst scenario – and police action has unfolded the first leaf of its shoot at sight policy or shoot to kill policy. We are even more concerned to hear the account of an eye witness Mark Whitby who had been sitting on the Northern Line subway train at Stockwell station. According to this account the man had been pursued by plainclothes police officers who fired five shots at close range.
“I was sitting on the train,” Mark Whitby said. “I heard a lot of noise, people saying, ‘Get out, get down.’ I saw an Asian guy. He ran onto the train, he was hotly pursued by three plainclothes officers. One of them was wielding a black handgun. He half-tripped. They pushed him to the floor and basically unloaded five shots into him.”
As the man stumbled onto the train, Whitby told the BBC, “I looked at his face, he looked sort of left and right, but he basically looked like a cornered rabbit, a cornered fox.
“He looked absolutely petrified and then he sort of tripped, but they were hotly pursuing him,” he said. The police officers “couldn’t have been any more than two or three feet behind him at this time and he half-tripped and was half pushed to the floor and the policeman nearest to me had the black automatic pistol in his left hand.” “He held it down to the guy and unloaded five shots into him,” Whitby said.
It is also reported that man’s heavy clothing may have persuaded police officers that he was carrying a suicide bomb. A presumption which would in no way add up to sustain the justification of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy – where the subject is a member of a minority community, that too from a Muslim community.
Without prejudice to a resolve to make our cities safer and make all members of the various communities equally partners to guard our streets, one should not miss out on the core psychology which has gripped the Muslim community. Our letter of July 15 details the fears and concerns.
It is important to point out that people of the Indian sub-continent trace the history of British shoot to kill policy back to Jalianwala Bagh massacre of April 13, 1919 . It remains one of the most inhuman acts of the British rulers in India .
General Dwyer ordered his armed police force to fire indiscriminately at innocent empty handed people leaving hundreds of people dead, including women and children. We have graduated ever since in civilisation and good conscience.
We do not intend to draw any parallels between 13 April 1919 and 22nd July 2005 . Both situations are set in different time zones and different political content and a social climate. However, the engagement of British men and women in conflict zones, in particular those inhabited by Muslims, and the daily loss of life, including men, women and children and their use of weapon at home unfortunately against Muslims again, makes the borders of a rational assessment, unbelievably undistinguishable.
On an aggregate the media and other reporting until late evening today add up to a situation where the pursuit of a man onto a subway train and then shooting him at close range in full view of other passengers has caused a grave unrest in the Asian community as a whole but more so in the Muslim community in particular.
Although we have a full faith in the integrity of our police force and expect them to hold up to a higher burden of a ‘duty to fairness’, yet we have our reservations in regards to a common human instinct when individuals fail their institutions and communities and succumb to a perversion of mind and spirit.
We fully appreciate that the civil society in London has a right to enjoy a normal and wholesome life in their homes and on the streets of London . Each one of us has to contribute in vigilance and in substance to make our habitat peaceful and liveable. Police has an important role to engineer a socially responsible mind.
Unfortunately the use of a weapon today to take the life of a member of community from an Asian origin and more so if it happens to be a Muslim, when other options were duly available, does not encourage us to say that we live in a multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious London where a police man does not carry a gun and a member of a society does not need an identity card.
Asian and Muslim community is not homogeneous. There are various variables and generation gape and gender issues make the environment much more distrustful. Reaching the community through short listed community, political and religious leaders may not complete the circle of wisdom in regard to representation and composite input.
In this regard and in view of my article ‘A Mistake to Name Bombers as Muslim Bombers’ published in Daily Nation London on 19 July 2005 and our letter of 15 July 2005 we wish to set up a meeting with you at your most earliest possible.
An input from non-commercial civil society institutions should be more impacting and it overrides a number of prejudices. Meanwhile we sincerely hope and pray that shoot to kill policy would not override restraint and caution and the ultimate weapon of social conscience to keep London safe.
I look forward to your most early consideration and response.
Dr. Syed Nazir Gilani