The media and political establishment have closed ranks following the death of a Brazilian man at the hands of armed police in London.
They have treated the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes as a regrettable but unavoidable incident. Sir Ian Blair, the head of London’s Metropolitan Police, said there would be no retreat from the policy of shoot to kill.
The politicians have asked “what if” Jean Charles had been a suicide bomber. But he was no suicide bomber. He was an innocent, hard working 27 year old electrician on his way to work.
The media have dealt in rumors and speculation about his background and the status of his visa, rather than demanding answers from our politicians about the killing.
Anger at the killing, and the lies that followed, spilled onto the streets of London on Monday, July 25. A group of Brazilians, some of them friends of Jean Charles, led a crowd hundreds strong through the streets to demand justice.
The impromptu demonstration began at Stockwell tube, south London, where Jean Charles was killed. A thousand people assembled at a vigil called by the Stop the War Coalition and built largely through word of mouth.
Nay, a Brazilian painter and decorator, shared a house with Jean Charles in 2003. He told Socialist Worker, “He was just a normal young guy who was happy to be in London.
“He was being followed by heavily trained police officers. Why didn’t they stop him in the street, rather than waiting for him to come into a crowded area. The police weren’t wearing uniforms – I think I would have run away from them.”
Sergio Chagas also knew Jean Charles. He said, “They didn’t give Jean a chance to say anything. It was a complete mistake to shoot to kill – it’s a stupid policy.”
Fernanda mocked the police’s claim that Jean Charles, who was wearing a jacket, looked like a suicide bomber. She told the vigil, “This was murder. Jean was killed for wearing a jacket in warm weather. An apology is not enough – we want justice.”
“If he had blonde hair and blue eyes he would not have been killed,” she added.
Many others joined the vigil from the area. Ali, who works at the bus depot in Stockwell, said, “I use this tube every day. At my depot three or four people have quit their jobs because they don’t feel safe. The government says all this is nothing to do with Iraq, but I think it is.”
His views were widely shared. As the vigil came to a close, angry Brazilians led people into the road at Stockwell and began to march towards the MI6 security services headquarters – seen as representing the British state.
They connected the death of Jean Charles with the war on Iraq, chanting: “No shoot to kill – troops out now” and “Their war – our dead”.
The police tried to block the march when it reached Vauxhall station. Protesters sat down in the road and were eventually allowed through to Vauxhall Bridge. Once there the police used force to prevent the march continuing to parliament.
Why was Jean Charles targeted?
An address in a block of flats in Tulse Hill, south London, was found in one of the rucksacks used in the failed bomb attacks on Thursday of last week.
Jean Charles happened to live at a flat in the same block. He was followed simply because he had dark skin and wore a jacket in summer.
Why was he not stopped earlier?
If police believed Jean Charles was a suicide bomber they could have stopped him at any point during his journey.
Instead he was allowed to walk through a quiet area and to board a bus to Stockwell. Police only challenged Jean Charles when he reached Stockwell tube station.
What warning was given?
Jean Charles was approached by three armed police officers. The police officers were not wearing uniform and their screamed warning could easily be misinterpreted.
Eyewitnesses say police did not shout anything that would identify them as police. By the time they put on caps marked “police” Jean Charles already had his back to them.
Where do the lies and smears come from?
Five hours after the killing, the head of London’s police, Sir Ian Blair, was still claiming that the shooting was connected to anti-terrorism investigations.
Last week the Evening Standard splashed the headline across the front page – “Gun Victim: ‘His Visa Had Just Run Out’.”
This article appeared originally in the Socialist Worker – www.socialistworker.co.uk.