Aftermath of the bombings in London

Tony Blair’s Law — “The Murderables”

The coffin of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes is carried by relatives and friends

The coffin of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes is carried by relatives and friends from the church to the cemetery July 29 in Gonzaga, Brazil. (Photo: Antonio Scorza / AFP-Getty Images)

The British policemen who murdered the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes by firing seven rounds into his head, have full backing: they were carrying out orders. On the heels of the attacks in Egypt, the order to eliminate suspects constitutes one more step toward the increasing destruction of civility and multiculturalism in Europe.

The summer is blood-stained and everything seems to indicate that we are moving toward the adoption of European “patriot acts” which, like those in the United States following Sept. 11, 2001, favor security at the expense of fundamental individual rights.

Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old Brazilian from the state of Minas Gerais, was the first to pay with his life for the new climate. On the morning of Friday, July 22, he was waiting for a subway to take him, as it would every day, to his job as an electrician in London, when police agents, an “elite unit,” according to Scotland Yard, trained their weapons on him.

Menezes made a series of mistakes that Friday. He left a borough that, on account of its being humble, and counting among its denizens Middle Easterners, is considered suspect. And he bundled up more than usual for a July day (in the middle of summer) in London.

He did not know they were following him, but upon seeing himself cornered by civilians not identifying themselves as policemen, he panicked and tried to escape. Everything is relative: perhaps a Brazilian in London has more right to be chilly than a Scotsman, but the fatal mistakes weren’t those. The fatal mistakes were to be young, and to have southern, Asiatic or Middle Eastern traits — in sum: a suspect face.

Jean Charles was unaware that the penalty for being that age, wearing those clothes and that face in today’s democratic Great Britain is death.

Mark Whitby, a journalist who was present at the London subway that morning, gave chilling witness to what transpired. According to what he said, when he felt cornered, Jean Charles screamed — “he looked like a cornered rabbit,” said Whitby — shortly before receiving several bullets to the face.

The autopsy revealed that seven rounds were fired, and another that struck him in the shoulder. Menezes was not carrying any explosive.

Shoot to Kill

With the Brazilian’s murder, we witness the return of army special forces regiments, de facto death squads that during the civil war in Northern Ireland committed hundreds of assassinations. The official order, given already after Sept. 11, is “shoot to kill.” [According to a report in The Guardian, Aug. 4, the unit tailing de Menezes was modeled on an undercover unit that operated in Northern Ireland in the 1970’s, guilty of several extrajudicial executions.* —Editors’ note] It is not known whether Menezes is the first mortal victim of this policy until now not publicly acknowledged, but that this is indeed the first resounding mistake on the part of British police is undeniable.

For a couple of days, the case drew international attention, but it soon was progressively contained and justified within the framework of the war on terror. At first, the psychosis on account of the attacks of July 7 and the failed attacks of July 21 — a day before the immigrant’s murder — had made it so the police’s performance received unanimous praise. This was also the case, and surprisingly so, on the part of the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, dubbed “Ken the Red,” perhaps because he is the only political leader in the country still recognizable as being part of the Left — besides George Galloway of the Respect Party.

Scotland Yard immediately tried to justify its error. It maintained, for example, that Menezes tried to flee because his resident visa had expired, which was denied by Menezes’ family as well as other sources.

When the Brazilian’s absolute innocence became evident, Prime Minister Tony Blair did not advance any excuse. He expressed his “condolences,” but reaffirmed his approval of the police’s actions and only offered an investigation and little more to Ambassador Celso Amorim of Brazil.

Metropolitan Police Chief Ian Blair, maintained, for his part, that “the only way to deal with this is to shoot for the head” and prophesied that “more innocent people may die, but the shoot to kill policy is strictly necessary.” Shortly before leaving on vacation to lend an appearance of normality to a convulsed city, Foreign Minister Jack Straw and Interior Minister Charles Clark declared themselves to be of the same opinion.


The murder of the Brazilian national marks an important step toward the reduction of constitutional guarantees in Europe; a step made with the approval — or apprehension — of the great majority of a public reasonably frightened by a terrorist attack that has transformed London, as yesterday’s Madrid, and perhaps tomorrow’s Rome, or who knows what other city, into a suburb of Baghdad.

The Police Are No Longer Believable

According to the British daily The Independent, and other information sources, the London police’s version of Menezes’ murder is highly doubtful.

In particular, it was not true that Menezes had fled on seeing the officers, or that he jumped the turnstile at Stockwell Tube station where the homicide took place. It was also untrue that Menezes wore a particularly thick coat. All the justifications advanced by the police for the extrajudicial execution of the Brazilian national fall apart, on account of their contradiction of the facts.

Christopher Wells, one of the eyewitnesses to the homicide, has now retracted his initial statement that he saw Menezes vault over the ticket barriers. Most notably, Wells maintains that it had not been Menezes — who had a weekly pass, and had a valid visa, contrary to what Scotland Yard has said — who jumped the turnstile, but one of his pursuers who would seconds later liquidate him.

According to the Metropolitan Police, in any case, and notwithstanding these last revelations, the order to “shoot to kill” will remain in force.

All European countries have taken restrictive measures, from the suspension of the free movement of citizens (France and Holland have repudiated the Treaty of Schengen) to mandatory DNA identification of all “suspects.” [The Treaty of Schengen put an end to border controls in much of the European Union. —Editors’ note] The placing of surveillance cameras — thousands of them — on every street corner, has become a veritable obsession. In Italy, the racists of the Northern League have proposed a bill in the parliament that would require the installation of webcams in mosques. All over Europe, proposals — in practice difficult to implement — are being studied to extend indefinitely the power of police organizations to control e-mails and telephone communications.

A cousin of Jean Charles de Menezes [Maria do Socorro] told the BBC in London, “if you are going to have a war on terror, you have got to use brains to fight it not just brute force.” As already happens in the United States, the stage is being set for the curtailment of rights and freedoms. The public’s safety is the totem behind which thousands of votes are at stake. But as the London attacks have shown, the enemy is part of European society, he was born and raised in the continent and acts on the continent. He is not an external enemy whose elimination, whose expulsion, the right wing can demand, erecting a wall that walls off Fortress Europe. They are European citizens who feel, and are made to feel as though they are a foreign body. According to a survey published in London, two thirds of British Muslim youth are thinking of leaving the country where they were born and in which they hold a passport. And this is because they feel they have been made “objectively suspect” and therefore “murderable.”

*SeeNew Special Forces Unit Tailed Brazilian,” Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian (liberal), London, England, Aug. 4.

Gennaro Carotenuto is a contributor to the Uruguayan weekly Brecha and a visiting professor at the University of the Republic in Uruguay. He is a member of the Italian Order of Journalists, and a professor of history at the University of Macerata in Italy.

Originally published July 29 and 31. Translated from the Spanish and the Italian by Flávio Américo dos Reis.