Workers Hammer No. 201

Winter 2007-2008


De Menezes execution:

"War on terror" means shoot-to-kill

Defend Aamer Anwar!

More than two years since the brutal killing of Jean Charles de Menezes by police on a crowded train, the state is not even pretending that the cops responsible for killing him are likely to be prosecuted. A report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission published in November 2007 made 16 recommendations about “improving” police procedures, while a jury trial found the Metropolitan Police guilty of risking the “health and safety” of the public — and of Jean Charles de Menezes. The message from the state and the Labour government is clear: if you are deemed a “terrorist” suspect the police can shoot you dead and get away with it.

A year ago the Crown Prosecution Service ruled that no police officers were to be charged with murder or manslaughter, but the office of the Metropolitan Police would be charged with a violation of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Alex Pereira, Jean Charles’s cousin expressed the family’s outrage saying: “They shot at someone 11 times and said it was a mistake” adding “they knew they were assassinating someone” (quoted in Socialist Worker, 22 July 2006). Not surprisingly, the court case was not primarily about the “health and safety” of de Menezes, but about the capacity of the police to supposedly “protect” the public against terrorism suspects. As the Guardian’s Vikram Dodd explained:

“The crown’s case was that because SO19 [the firearms unit] had taken so long, the public had been put at unnecessary risk. If De Menezes had been a suicide bomber, the delay meant he had been able to ride two buses and get on a tube train.”

—Guardian, 1 November 2007

During the trial, police lawyer Ronald Thwaites tried to blame the victim for his own death, outrageously claiming that de Menezes “might have failed to comply with officers because he thought he had drugs in his pocket” or “because he had forged a stamp in his passport” (Guardian Unlimited, 1 November 2007). As Harriet Wistrich, the family’s solicitor, said: “The police defence team descended to the gutter, seeking to shift the blame onto the innocent victim for their own wrongdoing” (Socialist Worker, 10 November 2007). Whilst all eight cops who were involved in the killing claimed a warning was given, all seventeen passengers in the carriage remembered hearing none! Thwaites repeated the claim that the killing of de Menezes was “a terrible accident”, and obscenely reasserted that “it is not the fault of the police” (BBC News online, 26 October 2007).

The cold-blooded killing of de Menezes took place in the wake of the criminal bombing of the London transport system on 7 July and the 21 July 2005 bombing scare, when public fear was at its height. The London transport bombings were horrific indiscriminate attacks on civilians. As we have noted, those who carried them out share the same mindset as the imperialists, equating the population as a whole with the ruling class; the bombs were pointedly aimed not at the British imperialist rulers but at the multiethnic working people of London. Tony Blair’s government shamelessly used the climate of fear that accompanied this to enact further “anti-terrorism” legislation. This is what Blair had in mind when he intoned on 5 August 2005 that “the rules of the game are changing”.

The government and the police seized the chance to force the public to accept “shoot-to-kill” in Britain. This has long been the form of British capitalist “justice” meted out to Catholics in Northern Ireland. The Metropolitan Police’s policy of “shoot-to-kill” has been endorsed all along the line by London mayor Ken Livingstone, in the face of growing public outrage at the police lies and calls even from the Tories for the resignation of Metropolitan Police Chief Sir Ian Blair. Contrary to the myth that the police were simply responding to exceptional circumstances presented by the threat of “suicide bombers”, the British capitalist rulers have never hesitated to deploy the full force of the state to crush dissent as well as class struggle. Innocent Irish people such as the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six were framed up and incarcerated for decades as part of the 1970s witch hunt against “IRA terrorism”, while an army of cops was sent to the coalfields to smash the 1984-85 miners strike.

In response to public outrage over the killing of de Menezes there have been calls from liberals and reformists to curb police powers. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) said that “at the very least all the senior [sic] police officers involved in the shooting should be sacked and prosecuted” and “the Metropolitan Police Authority should be disbanded” (Socialist Worker, 10 November 2007). While anyone with a shred of decency would wish to see the cops responsible for this heinous crime rot in jail, this has nothing in common with the SWP’s fundamentally reformist demand which means that the police should kick out the “bad apples” and be made accountable to the public. This promotes illusions in the democratic nature of the capitalist state. The police — alongside the courts and the prison system — are the core of the state which by definition is an instrument for maintaining the property and profits of the ruling class through the suppression of the working class and oppressed. For Marxists, the capitalist state must be shattered in the course of socialist revolution.

For class unity of the multiethnic working class

In today’s climate, to be a Muslim is to be a suspect. Recently a 23-year-old Muslim woman working at Heathrow Airport, Samina Malik, who dubbed herself the “lyrical terrorist” and wrote poems in praise of jihad, was convicted under the government’s “anti-terrorism” legislation for “possessing records likely to be used for terrorism” (Guardian Unlimited, 8 November 2007). Malik possessed electronic copies of publicly available military manuals but had not attempted to carry out any actions whatsoever. In Scotland, Mohammed Atif Siddique was similarly convicted for a “thought crime” because of material found on his computer. Even more ominously, his lawyer Aamer Anwar, a prominent defender of civil liberties in Scotland, faces charges of contempt of court for a statement he read out on 17 September 2007, the day his client was convicted. It began: “Today Mohammed Atif Siddique was found guilty of doing what millions of young people do every day, looking for answers on the internet.” The statement went on: “It is farcical that part of the evidence against Atif was that he grew a beard, had documents in Arabic which he could not even read and downloaded material from a legitimate Israeli website” (Press Release, 17 September 2007). We demand: Defend Aamer Anwar! Hands off Samina Malik! Free Mohammed Atif Siddique! Down with the racist war on terror!

Labour’s war on terror has fuelled anti-Muslim racism. While aimed primarily at Muslims, the “war on terror” is just the thin end of the wedge: the attacks on civil liberties ultimately target the whole of the working class. At the same time as the police killed de Menezes — a Brazilian immigrant on his way to work on the Tube — they held a gun to the head of the train driver, an RMT union member. This should have been met with a determined protest by the powerful RMT as part of a fight against the racist “war on terror” and for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. But this requires a political struggle against the trade union bureaucracy whose political perspective rests on accepting the inviolability of the bourgeois state.

Britain’s Muslims are among the poorest section of the working class, but Muslims are not just victims. They are an integral component of the working class, which has the social power to defend minorities and immigrants against attacks. Such power was brought to bear with tremendous impact in the August 2005 strike that paralysed Heathrow Airport, when British Airways ground crews struck in protest against the sacking of catering workers, who were mainly Sikh women. The racially-integrated workforce at British Airways recognised that their own interests and those of the Asian catering workers were the same, demonstrating the power of class solidarity to transcend ethnic divisions.

The working class has the potential power to overthrow the system of capitalism. The key task is to forge a multiethnic revolutionary workers party that will be steeled in the struggle against racism, chauvinism and every manifestation of oppression, in the fight to overthrow capitalist rule. Jean Charles de Menezes, and countless others will be avenged when the international proletariat sweeps away the machinery of capitalist state repression once and for all by victorious socialist revolution.