'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, December 08, 2005


On July 22, 2005, Jean Charles de Menezes was shot numerous times and killed by police as he entered a train at the Stockwell tube station in South London. Officers followed him from a residence believed to be associated with terrorist activity into the station. Metropolitan police commissioner Ian Blair conducted a press conference afterwards, and said that Menezes had "acted suspiciously" and fled from officers when challenged. Subsequent evidence, including videotape, contradicted his statement, as well as the claim that Menezes had been wearing a bulky coat, indicative of the possibility that he was a suicide bomber. Blair also denied independent investigators access to the scene of the shooting, maintaining that it would impair an ongoing terror investigation. An inquiry into Blair and officers involved in the shooting is ongoing, with a recently announced effort into the dissemination of this false information by Blair.

Fast forward to Miami: yesterday, air marshals shot and killed an agitated man, Rigoberto Alpizar, after he boarded a flight, claimed to have a bomb in his pack and then, upon being confronted by marshals, ran down the aisle and left the plane. A bomb squad thereafter blew up the pack, which spread clothing across the tarmac. Of course, the White House quickly commented that the marshals appeared to have acted appropriately, and the New York Times, that essential newspaper of record, published a story that, typically, highlighted statements from official sources, and strongly implied that the account of the marshals involved in the incident was correct.

Good ol' Art Sulzberger, doing his good deed for the day, getting his paper out of the blocks fast to help shape public opinion in support of the government, especially when violent action is involved. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times conveniently entitled its story "Man Dies in Airline Threat", again heavily relying upon accounts from official sources, apparently dispensing with the effort to require eyewitness corroboration as superfluous, consistent with frequent uncritical acceptance of the claims of military publicists in Iraq.

But is this what really happened? Is is it possible that this is Menezes and the Stockwell tube station revisited, with law enforcement putting out false information to conceal misconduct? For example, is Dave Adams, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service, the Ian Blair of South Florida? Like Blair, he quickly appeared to inform the media that Alpizar had run up and down the aisle of the plane yelling, "I have a bomb in my bag".

Such impertinent questions come to mind, because the normally sonambulent American media is discovering disturbing information that casts serious doubt on the marshals' account of the incident. As CNN has reported today:

Investigators are trying to piece together the final moments before the shooting as questions are rising about whether Alpizar made a bomb threat.

The marshals say Alpizar announced he was carrying a bomb before being killed.

However, no other witness has publicly concurred with that account. Only one passenger recalled Alpizar saying, "I've got to get off. I've got to get off," CNN's Kathleen Koch reported.

Similarly, TIME has obtained an eyewitness account that also contradicts the marshals:

At least one passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 924 maintains the federal air marshals were a little too quick on the draw when they shot and killed Rigoberto Alpizar as he frantically attempted to run off the airplane shortly before take-off.

"I don't think they needed to use deadly force with the guy," says John McAlhany, a 44-year-old construction worker from Sebastian, Fla. "He was getting off the plane." McAlhany also maintains that Alpizar never mentioned having a bomb.

"I never heard the word 'bomb' on the plane," McAlhany told TIME in a telephone interview. "I never heard the word bomb until the FBI asked me did you hear the word bomb. That is ridiculous." Even the authorities didn't come out and say bomb, McAlhany says. "They asked, 'Did you hear anything about the b-word?'" he says. "That's what they called it."

When the incident began McAlhany was in seat 24C, in the middle of the plane. "[Alpizar] was in the back," McAlhany says, "a few seats from the back bathroom. He sat down." Then, McAlhany says, "I heard an argument with his wife. He was saying 'I have to get off the plane.' She said, 'Calm down.'"

Alpizar took off running down the aisle, with his wife close behind him. "She was running behind him saying, 'He's sick. He's sick. He's ill. He's got a disorder," McAlhany recalls. "I don't know if she said bipolar disorder [as one witness has alleged]. She was trying to explain to the marshals that he was ill. He just wanted to get off the plane."

Nor, according to McAlhany, were the marshals very gentle with the passengers who remained on the plane:

"I was on the phone with my brother. Somebody came down the aisle and put a shotgun to the back of my head and said put your hands on the seat in front of you. I got my cell phone karate chopped out of my hand. Then I realized it was an official."

In the ensuing events, many of the passengers began crying in fear, he recalls. "They were pointing the guns directly at us instead of pointing them to the ground," he says "One little girl was crying. There was a lady crying all the way to the hotel."

Very interesting, and suggestive of numerous possibilities that should be pursued by an inquisitive media. After all, the New York Times relied upon six, yes six (!), journalists for its uninspiring article. Perhaps, with such resources, it can find other passengers who will confirm the marshals account, and, if not, reveal what really transpired and why. It is still 'early innings' as they say. And, of course, if some journalists from across the pond want to fly over and start rooting around, especially ones from the Guardian and the Independent, ones that have done such a good job with the Menezes shooting, so much the better. For now, it's stayed tuned, as I wonder, why does it seem like only people of color die this way, and would the marshals have been more responsive to Alpizar's wife's entreaties that he suffered from a mental disorder, and had not taken his medication, if he had been white?

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