Help me out here folks, I’m floundering in a sea of ethics. I know that some of you are policemen yourselves, some are expert legal brains, some of you have in depth knowledge of religious tracts – there are many thousands of you who read this blog every day, I really hope that you will make today the day you put fingers to keyboards and come up with some answers for me, for I’m damned if I can figure it out.
‘It’ being the moral conundrum surrounding Mark Saunders death at the hands of the police. More specifically ‘it’ being the wider picture surrounding Mark Saunders death.
I can join up small pieces of the picture; I can see why a policeman should be allowed to shoot at a man who points a gun at him and may be about to shoot at him – there is no justification for asking a man to go to work and that work involve smiling sweetly whilst someone shoots at him – I do have sympathy for the position of the individual policeman.
I can see that it is ‘morally abhorrent’ for a society to employ the death penalty. To uphold the death penalty is to morally agree that it can be right to take another person’s life. I am not sure that I agree with that position, for it seems to me that having removed the death penalty you have removed the fear of carrying guns and so increased the number of times that a policeman might face a man carrying a gun.
I can perfectly understand that it might be legal to take a life under the circumstances in which Mark Saunders lost his life – law is man made, and if a law is passed saying it is legal to string annoying small children upside down on a hillside for the buzzards to take care of, then it is legal – it doesn’t make it morally right though. It is the moral maze that I am lost in.
Mark Saunders was waving a gun around, indisputably. Down in the road there were 51 armed officers ready to return fire. Why? If you put 51 officers in his line of sight, all carrying guns, then the chances are he is going to point his gun back at one of them. We are told that the ‘moral argument’ that lies behind their right to shoot at him is that he might have harmed the one he was pointing the gun at. Or the one next to him, or the one next to him. We cannot be sure that he would have done, for he was no sharp shooter. Beneath him stood 59 highly trained men who are tested and exercised on a regular basis to ensure that they could be trusted to shoot straight. They had over 100 firearms issued to them. Yet 7 of them fired off 11 rounds and only five rounds found their target. The moral argument appears to rest on the fact that one man, wildly drunk, high on cocaine, without the benefit of the Met’s extensive training, could be trusted to hit one of them. Admittedly he had more targets than they did.
Which brings me back to the question of why did he have more targets than they did?
Why were those men in his line of fire? We are told that the danger was he might have hit an innocent passer by – fine, shut the street. We are told that he might have committed suicide – fine, let him, it’s legal. We are told that he might have left his apartment – indeed he might, surely tear gas fired through the window would have dealt with that possibility?
I cannot join the dots between the idea that it is wrong to take a life after due process, after forensic evidence, after extensive argument, after the involvement of ‘a jury of your peers’, who do not have guns pointing at them, and yet there is – allegedly – a moral argument to be made in favour of placing 51 tempting targets waving guns a mere 13 metres away from a deranged man with a gun and as soon as he points his gun back at them – taking his life ‘just in case’.
I attach no blame to the individual police officers. It is the management of the scene that I take issue with – and that is not just a matter of blaming individual senior officers, but of taking account of society’s change in morals that have led to them working under their current instructions.
It is as illogical as the argument that it is morally indefensible for a loving Mother who has cared for and reared a severely disabled child for 20, 30 years, deciding calmly that he should suffer no longer whereas it is perfectly OK for a High Court Judge to decide on the basis of legal arguments that another identical child should be starved and dehydrated for days on end in order that he should not live any longer.
It is as illogical as the argument that says it is morally defensible for a civil servant to decide that Old Mother Hubbard should no longer receive the drugs which keep her alive, but should her husband withhold them from her, he would be charged with murder.
Is it just that the State, the Crown, is an insatiable beast – we used to hand them the odd pathetic individual and so ‘OK, you can hang this one, we’ve thought long and hard about it, and decided he can go’, and that devoid of their diet they now feel the need to think up new ways to satisfy their blood lust by shooting us, aborting us, starving and dehydrating us, at will?
Somebody please explain the logic behind all this – or if no logic, then the morality, which is not necessarily the same thing…