Thursday, August 04, 2005

shoot first, ask questions later?

Riding the train home last week I spoke to a chap who was wearing tattoos, a black hoodie, Doc Marten lace-up's, and a backpack with a solar cell and wifi antenna sticking out of it. There are numerous places downtown offering free public wireless internet, and he's running a one-man wireless access point, dialed in to the Matrix, carrying on 5 or 6 IM conversations on his PDA while he's talking to me. His pyramid-studded utility belt has a cellphone, PDA, TI calculator, and a Leatherman all holstered and ready for a quick draw... more Batman than Sid Vicious. He's an engineering student, a modern techno warrior monk, someone I recognized as part of my peer group at first glance.

He's also likely to get his head shot off.

An international organization representing police chiefs has broadened its policy for the use of deadly force by telling officers to shoot suspected suicide bombers in the head.

... the guide recommends that if lethal force is needed to stop someone who fits a certain behavioral profile, the officer should "aim for the head." The intent is to kill the suspect instantly so the person could not set off a bomb if one is strapped to the person's chest, the newspaper said.

Among signs to look for listed in the police organization's behavioral profile are wearing a heavy coat in warm weather, carrying a backpack with protrusions or visible wires, nervousness, excessive sweating or an unwillingness to make eye contact, the Post said.

According to the newspaper, the new guidelines also say the threat does not have to be "imminent" - as in traditional police training - an officer just needs to have a "reasonable basis" for believing a suspect can detonate a bomb.

What is a "reasonable basis"? In our climate of fear and xenophobia, the answer is pretty clear:

"They all look a certain way," said New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind. "It's all very nice to be politically correct here, but we're talking about terrorism."

No, apparently we're talking about Arabs. Because if we were talking about terrorism, we'd realize that the 'terror' part of terrorism revolves around the victim's inability to predict what and where and when the next strike will be. If I can read in the paper the methods the cops are using to determine who is or isn't a threat, so can the terrorists. How kind of us to give them a handy shopping list of things to avoid when planning their next attack.

Quoth Lenka from farkleberries:

I understand that the reality of policing is often about statistics, stereotypes, and intuitive hunches that run counter to what we call "civil liberties," but as a practical measure "Arab profiling" would do little or nothing to make our cities safer. But - terrorism is simply an intermittent-payoff "shell game." Once the knowledge that police are surveilling for "Arabs" becomes public knowledge, terrorists will simply change their approach and their appearance. It's all about game theory, and shifting police resources to target the outwardly recognized symbolism of previous terrorist acts doesn't really address the nature of the real risk: the fluid menace of terrorism continually shifts once an attack has taken place.

Racial profiling is nothing new in the US... "driving while black" has always been a good way to get pulled over by the cops. Now "walking while Arab" might be a terminal crime, and the prosecution of that crime won't make anyone the slightest bit safer.

I think that the effectiveness of a terrorist attack is a function of how many civil liberties get taken away as a result of that attack. Fearfully abandoning the precepts that we claim to uphold just gives the terrorists more points. Terror is an infection that is spreading unchecked... now we need to fear the terrorists *and* the cops *and* anyone who deviates from the norm by any appreciable amount (if they are hostile, the danger is obvious; if they are not, you still don't want to be standing next to them when the cops start firing). I think we're doing the terrorist's work for them. How accommodating we have become.

I remember when 'police state' was a derogatory term for The Bad Guys, uncivilized foreign governments Somewhere Else who don't recognize the 'certain inalienable rights' that we enjoy here in the 'Free World'. Lately that term seems to be what we desire, all in the name of a safety that can never be achieved.

This 'aim for the head' thing is going to turn around and bite us in the ass. It's only a matter of time until terrorists decide to use the new rule to their advantage, and make their explosives detonate when the suicide-bomber's pulse or EKG readings stop... they wire themselves up with ten bucks worth of circuitry from any Radio Shack, deliver themselves to the target, make themselves obvious, and wait for the bullet. And in the meantime we make a big show of force, one step behind them all the way, lines of shoeless air travelers and cowed train riders marking the places where the terrorists are not, yet where terror still resides.