Friday, July 29, 2005

The letter to the editor I should have written

I wonder if the editors of The Dallas Morning News read their editorials out loud before printing them.

Your argument that Menezes’ death was caused by the terrorists instead of the police officers who pulled the trigger could not be more wrong. If Nuremberg has taught us anything, it is that each individual is responsible for the crimes he or she commits even if those crimes are part of official policy. Merely “following orders” will not absolve you from your wrongdoings. If we were to accept your “logic,” then Janet Reno would have to answer for the bombing of the Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma City!

There is obviously a severe flaw in the training of police officers if not one of them could distinguish between a Brazilian man on his way to work and a jihadist strapped with explosives. Just because you’re scared shitless does not mean it will ever be acceptable to murder an innocent person. Furthermore, if you’re scared shitless and are just going to shoot every dark-skinned person walking down the street, find a new line of work.

In the few months I worked as a part-time clerk at UT’s International Office (which served one of the largest international student populations in the US), I became fairly adept at identifying nationalities just by physical characteristics. One of my proudest moments was when I could distinguish between the Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis. Is insisting that an armed police officer have one ounce of the intelligence of a part-time clerk asking too much?

What makes matters worse and even less acceptable is the official slander of Menezes after his murder. It was immediately announced that he was indeed under investigation for the subway bombings in London. When it was discovered that that simply was not true, we got the speculative justification that he was probably in the UK illegally, and that’s why he ran. His visa was still valid when the seventh bullet entered his head.

The murder of Jean Charles de Menezes is more than just a personal tragedy, it is a crime perpetrated by the state that ultimately distracts the people from the state’s true crime: not protecting its citizens from terrorists in the first place.


  1. Your analysis/critique makes me want to cry for its beauty, clarity, and reasonableness. Perhaps I want to cry for the utter horror of the reality that inspires such critique.

  2. Perhaps the police were guilty of a lack of intelligence when they executed Menezes. How does this happen in London--one of the most international cities in the world--where police are routinely in contact with dark-skinned, and/or not native English speaking Londoners? Perhaps I'm wrong--but I think this is mainly about fear. In her recent "This I Believe" essay for NPR, Azar Nifisi spoke of the importance of empathy--a vital element that can create links between disparate and flawed human beings. Huckleberry Finn believed, based upon what he'd been taught growing up, that he would possibly burn in hell for not surrendering his runaway slave companion Jim to authorities, but he decided burning would be worth it. Ignorance, hatred and fear are all too real--but is a dearth of empathy truly the source? Isn't this what ultimately allows someone to strap on a bomb and walk onto a crowded subway intent on killing other people? What allowed citizens of Dachau to pretend they didn't know what was going on at the camp just outside of town? What allowed London police to empty seven bullets into a man at point-blank range? What allowed men to tie James Byrd to a truck and drag him to death? What allowed men to tie Matthew Shepherd to a fence post and beat him to death? Why a "prolife" zealot murdered obstretician/gynecologist Dr. Barnett Slepian?

    I'm sorry for the overly lengthy reponse to your post today, Frankie, but your essay opened a floodgate for me tonight, so to speak. I don't know what I've been grieving for more lately--the acts of terrorism themselves--or reponses to them such as you referenced from the DMN.