Police above the law
The refusal of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair to quit over the killing – or, more precisely, execution - of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station in 2005 verifies one thing above all: the capitalist state and its institutions consider themselves above the rest of society and see no reason why they should be made accountable for their actions.
While ordinary workers can get fired on a pretext, or for some minor misdemeanour like stealing some paper clips or discarded materials, the police, MPs, ministers, judges, senior civil servants, MI5 and MI6 spies and the like can and do get away with almost anything. Police can kill innocent people going about their business, cover up their actions, block inquiries, while ministers break election promises, take secret decisions to go to war and authorise the infiltration and destabilisation of legal organisations.
All these actions are sanctioned because they carry the authority of a state that is there to rule over people and maintain the status quo. That, above all, means the perpetuation of private property rights. We’re not talking about people’s houses but the legal right to form companies, employ labour, sell products and services and keep the profits. What is generally known as capitalism. Try taking over a factory or office in defence or jobs and you are doing something illegal which strikes at the heart of private property. And the state will be down like a ton of bricks to restore the owner’s “rights”.
So Blair’s refusal to quit his job is no surprise. After all, no one in the Metropolitan Police has admitted responsibility for the shooting dead of a Brazilian electrician while he sat in a Tube carriage quietly reading his paper. In this sense, the police are above the law. They have a shoot-to-kill policy (nodded through in secret by the toothless, pathetic Metropolitan Police Authority) similar to the one adopted by the British army against Republicans in the north of Ireland.
So long as they think there is a danger to themselves or the public, they can kill someone – and there’s no comeback. The case of Harry Stanley, shot dead in 1999, is typical. He left a pub in Hackney carrying a chair leg in a bag. Someone phoned the police to say he had a weapon. Police arrived and minutes later Stanley was dead. No one was prosecuted. After all, police thought he had a weapon. De Menezes, despite police disinformation in the wake of his death, did not wear bulky clothes that might have concealed a bomb, did not leap over the Tube ticket barrier, behaved calmly and was given no warning before being shot. But Blair did attemp to block an independent inquiry, during which time the police involved wrote up their notes so that they told the same story.
It can only get worse as the state introduces ID cards, a national DNA database, extends the scope of what constitutes a criminal offence, monitors phone calls and e-mails and continues stop-and-search aimed at minority communities. This kind of state is beyond reform. Struggling for a new, democratic state, in which all institutions are subordinate and accountable to popular control, is the best way to remember Jean Charles de Menezes
AWTW communications editor
9 November 2007