Brazilians protest assassination, demand arrests

Friends and family of Jean Charles de Menezes, the young Brazilian shot dead July 22 by British police acting under a shoot-to-kill policy, marched in protest Monday in Menezes’ hometown of Gonzaga in central Brazil.

Hundreds of demonstrators demanded the arrest of the British police marksman who killed Menezes after undercover police chased him into the London subway, the UK Guardian said.

Responding with outrage to inquest reports showing Menezes had been shot eight times at close range, Gonzaga’s mayor, Julio de Souza, called the killing “an assassination.”

Referring to a statement by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the mayor said, “It’s easy for Blair to apologize, but it doesn’t mean very much. What happened to English justice and England, a place where police patrol unarmed?”

Dozens of Brazilians also protested Sunday outside police headquarters in London. At Menezes’ apartment, his cousin, Alex Pereira, said, “I believe my cousin’s death was the result of police incompetence.”

Menezes had lived in Britain for three years, working as an electrician, in hopes of returning to Brazil and starting a cattle ranch.

Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim met with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw July 25 to follow up on the Brazilian government’s call for an inquiry and the Menezes family’s threat to sue the British police.

The Brazilian government said in a July 23 statement that it “was shocked and perplexed” by the killing, and said Menezes was “apparently the victim of a deeply regrettable mistake.” The statement reiterated Brazil’s commitment to eradicating terrorism “in accordance with international law, including human rights legislation,” and called for “an explanation from the British authorities regarding the circumstances that led to this tragedy.”

Top British police official Ian Blair said the “shoot-to-kill-to-protect” policy in place throughout the country would not change, though he acknowledged Menezes’ death was a “tragedy,” the British newspaper Morning Star reported. In an editorial, the paper pointed out that the young Brazilian was “given no hearing, no trial and no chance” before he was brutally killed in what the paper called an execution. “Mr. de Menezes has paid the ultimate price for a lawless and irresponsible policy which should never have been implemented and must be withdrawn immediately,” the paper said.

Statements that the police “did what they thought was necessary to protect the public” or that police are in an “impossible situation” miss the point that Menezes was “a member of the public, no more, no less,” Morning Star said.

Ian Blair said undercover police conducting surveillance of a south London apartment block in the wake of the July 7 terrorist attack and the July 21 failed bombings were suspicious of the bulky coat Menezes wore on a July morning. However, Brazilians noted that the young man would have found the climate chilly. They also said he had lived for a while in a part of Sao Paolo where gun crime was common. The police have not said whether they identified themselves to Menezes or explained why he wasn’t surrounded and challenged during the two-mile trip from the apartment complex to the subway station where he was shot.

Muslim leaders reacted sharply to the killing. The Morning Star quoted Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, as saying, “While we accept that the police are under tremendous pressure to apprehend the criminals who are attempting to cause carnage on the streets of London, it’s absolutely vital that the utmost care is taken to ensure that innocent people are not killed due to overzealousness.”

“I would like a revision of policy,” said Muslim Association of Britain spokesman Azzam Tamimi. “I think this shoot to-kill policy is very dangerous.”