I did my job right

“I knew I did my job right” was the justification that Darren Wilson gave for shooting Michael Brown. From Officer Wilson’s account of what happened in Ferguson the incident was not straightforward. There is no point in pretending that it was a clear cut case of a policeman shooting an unarmed man, although in this case the policeman did shoot an unarmed man. There is no point in the British press pretending that America’s gun laws facilitated this crime which would not happen in Britain. With our strict gun controls a few years ago police did shoot from very close range five hollow point bullets into the head of John Charles de Menezes, a man innocent of any crime.

In the de Menezes case no police officer faced any charges; they too were doing their job right.

The defence of only doing one’s job is frequently used, by journalists intruding into matters they have no right to know, by police when killing innocent people, by Prime Ministers when declaring illegal wars. It provides these people, I suppose, with a degree of comfort that they were authorised to behave in the way that they have behaved and that authorisation came from their employer – the newspaper or television station, the head of the police or the democratic decision of the nation.

“I was only following orders” was the defence beloved of the war criminals tried at Nuremberg. “I did my job right” is the defence of a police officer who regards his job as being to follow procedures designed to protect and serve the public instead of protecting and serving the public. If the consequences of following procedures is that someone dies unnecessarily, then so be it..


Odd Things -Two Different Deaths by Police with Two Different Outcomes

Some years ago a man of Brazilian origin was thought to be a terrorist and was deliberately shot dead many times in the head at close range by the police at Stockwell underground station. The Police Service was prosecuted found guilty and was fined for a breach of Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. At the trial the jury found that no policeman bore any personal culpability.

A couple of years later a man on his way home was caught in a place where there was rioting. A policeman, presumably thinking that the man was a rioter, knocked him with a truncheon once on the leg and pushed him over, without any intention to kill the man. The man got up, walked away but a few minutes later died from internal bleeding from his liver, which was badly damaged by cirrhosis. The policeman was prosecuted, acquitted, but subsequently dismissed from the police force for gross misconduct in striking the man with his truncheon and pushing him to the ground.

I suppose the lesson is there is a distinction between shooting an unarmed man in the head many times at close range and giving a man a smack on the legs and pushing him on the ground. Both men die, one death is much more foreseeable than the other, but for those policemen who caused the deaths the two outcomes are very different.