It’s Wrong

A man lies dead this week because the police shot him through the head when – foolishly – he attempted to flee while in their custody as a crime suspect. Few may have particular sympathy for him, since on the evidence collected before the Hadiatmoko Sanction was applied and foreclosed on further inquiries he was apparently one of the ringleaders of a gang that has been violently robbing villas and petrol stations.

Last week, in an editorial headed Out of Order, we raised the deep – and deeply disturbing – issues highlighted by Bali Police chief Hadiatmoko’s shoot-on-sight order in response to the growing wave of violent crime. Effective police work is one among several sensible options available to Hadiatmoko if he wishes – as he surely does – to curb crime. But on the streets, better police work does not include shooting people dead. Better Hadiatmoko should regard such an event as a failure than a success.

Every man’s death diminishes us. That is a moral and ethical precept that may be foreign to many, as apparently it is to Hadiatmoko, whose shoot-on-sight order was applied to M Syahri, alias Bedog, a 34-year-old man from Lombok, last weekend. But it is nonetheless a fundamental element of civilised society. There is a vast gulf between killing in self-defence – or to protect someone else who is under immediate deadly threat – and turning policing into a real-death Dirty Harry movie script.

We accept, as a society – this point is general, global – that police need to be armed for self-protection. It would be morally wrong to send police out to work in a violent environment without providing them with adequate protection. But we don’t need vigilantes – anywhere, but especially in the police – because they are a danger to us all.

In a previous encounter with arrest, Syahri tried to flee and was shot in the leg by pursuing police. That was legitimate: it achieved a public benefit in stopping a thief from escaping lawful custody. This time however the shot was fatal. Clearly that was a deliberate act. Equally clearly, it was wrong.

We do not criticise the policeman who fired the fatal shot. The Indonesian police are not a constabulary of sworn peace officers on the valuable British model, where everyone is a “constable,” a person with independent statutory duties – and rights – that require judgment and can legitimately override orders. The Indonesian tradition and practice is different. Police here are commanded, in a more or less military way, and an order is an order.

So what is wrong in this instance is the order, not the act. Hadiatmoko should reflect on that. Better a chief constable than a general, if you are a policeman.

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