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..