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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 July, 2005, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Blog reaction may vary
The Magazine's review of blogs
By Alan Connor

No to bombings, and no to the deaths of innocent electricians.

That's about the extent of any kind of consensus among bloggers following the death of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Other than that, last week's tragedy touches on the most divisive issues of the moment, and the debate on the blogs has come in extremely fast, and frequently furious. Race, civil liberties, terrorism and safety are all under discussion, and, as Tim Worstall understates it, "your reaction may vary."

And as Dick O'Brien points out, there was animated discussion even before it became apparent that the victim wasn't connected to the London attacks. The Bystander, who blogs as an anonymous Justice Of The Peace, is despairing:

    "What does strike me is that the gloating that took place after the event in the press ('One Down Three to Go') and on the Internet, where it was as intemperate as we must expect from this most uninhibited medium, now looks particularly foolish and disgusting."

Policy or police?

The main issue is one which has become familiar ever since 11 September, 2001: the balance between public safety and individual freedom.

Perry de Havilland at Samizdata puts one side in a post called The right policy, the wrong person; Alun at Blogdial is an example of the other take:

    "It could have been you. It could be you next. But, hey, like ID-card apologists everywhere say... ...if you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to worry about."

But most writers are not as decided as these: writing from America, where this conversation is familiar, Mark Maynard writes "I'm struggling with this", and goes on to offer one example of many equivocal and horrified responses.

What actually happened?

Simultaneously, almost every aspect of the incident is being picked over and challenged. In fact, the "part-time policeman" writing at The Special Constable's Blog raises the possibility that those who fired the shots may not even have been policemen.

The most frequently asked questions, though, are about the motivation of the police in mistakenly identifying Menezes as a target, and of Menezes himself in running.

Some people think that they would have run; others do not.

It's a reasonable matter to ponder, but as a comment at a London Underground blog has it: "Hindsight is wonderful; it's just a pity that we don't have it at the crucial moment."

Likewise, it's been impossible to avoid speculation about what the policemen themselves were thinking, and whether it was justified.

Many bloggers have been wondering about the operation as a whole, starting from the moment when Menezes left his flat: Mayor Of London asks: "Why was he not challenged before he got onto a bus, if they thought he was a suicide bomber?"; Jarndyce at Fair Vote Watch asks: "Was filling him with lead from close range wise, under those circumstances?" and Mike at Londonist notes sardonically: "Now it seems that there is only one sure way to stop a suicide bomber determined to fulfill his mission: destroy his brain instantly, utterly."

Others have been using analogies to try and make sense of the dilemmas in such a situation. A Big Stick recalls his reaction to being stopped by the police, while others have linked to Soccer Dad's account of a border policeman tracking a potential bomber.

Meanwhile, police blogs have much to offer by way of personal experience -- the best example is probably a detailed post at Sparkpod:

    "There is a lag in human reactions that can lead to a fatal delay. I learned it years ago, and I'll teach you the lesson I learned a long time ago the same way I learned it."

More succinctly, Another Constable writes:

    "My honest belief is that the force used against the unfortunate Brazilian man in London was indeed proportionate and justified in the situation. It doesn't mean I have to like it though."

There has not been a great deal of reaction as yet from the Brazilian blogosphere, one exception being a post by Alex de Carvalho on "fundamental attribution errors"; de Carvalho is one of several bloggers who have found Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink useful in trying to understand the incident.

But, of course, it may never be properly understood. The conversation is crucial, but the issues are mind-boggling. One final post, from Blood And Treasure, tries to convey a sense of scale:

    "A terrorist technique is pioneered in the Lebanon, mass produced in Sri Lanka and refined in Afghanistan and Iraq before coming to London. In response, the British police take counter-terrorist techniques from Israel which fail - in part and perhaps - because of the victim's experiences of life in Brazil."

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