A Letter To America

Dear United States Of America,

I am a huge fan. I really am. You have much that I admire. You value democracy and the right of the individual. You try and help as best you can although sometimes I do question your priorities.

You have a bit of a curiosity, a kind of an understanding about the rest of the world even though sometimes I have to mark you down on your knowledge of geography.

You embrace freedom but I have to say lately you’ve been embracing it a little too enthusiastically for my liking. I mean what’s with your freedom to bear arms? From where I sit, it looks like a freedom to kill each other. And you’ve been doing that with monotonous regularity. May I remind you, 13 killed and many more wounded in your latest shooting massacre. What’s more you have a propensity to choose schools, elementary and high, to demonstrate this freedom.

Can’t quite get my head around that one. These are just innocent children.

Your President is pretty mad with you. I just saw him on TV looking and sounding grim. He called these massacres ‘routine’ and demanded that your Congress pass stricter gun laws. Then he made a really good point. He said the United States was the only advanced country on the planet that sees these mass shootings every few months. Wow.

But there was also a note of resignation in his voice. Almost like deep down he knows stricter gun laws are never going to happen. Congress won’t do anything and innocent people will keep getting killed.

He said why can’t you be like Australia which got me pretty excited and surprised. He said Australia had a simple solution to gun deaths after they experienced similar massacres. Reduce access to guns. And guess what? It actually worked.

But every time somebody suggests tougher gun laws in the United States your gun lobby comes out and blames everyone including the victims. Everyone, apart from the person, who actually pulled the trigger. They were crazy but hey everyone still has the right to own a gun. Right? Sorry but you are on your own with that one.

I think you need to understand that any freedom must be accompanied by social responsibility. That’s why we have speed limits and make car passengers wear seat belts and have laws banning smoking in public places. Those kinds of laws should also apply to the right to bear arms.

I know I’m probably wasting my time telling you this. You’ve never taken any notice in the past. But seriously this has to stop.

You Americans, on the whole, are an easy going, friendly bunch. I want as many of you to live long and happy lives especially your children who have a whole life ahead of them.

But you are being stupid and pig headed and just plain wrong when it comes to guns.

Sometimes it takes your friends to pull you up. But believe me, I am doing it with the best of intentions. If you’ll pardon the pun you need to bite the bullet on gun reform.

Yours sincerely,

The Rest Of The World.

Charlie Hebdo A Game Changer…Now Their Fight Becomes Ours

I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Those are the words of French philosopher, Voltaire, spoken centuries ago but resonating all over France and the world today, and never have they been as powerful or as poignant or meant as much as they do right at this moment. Words that speak for all of us, as we mourn the deaths of 10 people at the Paris based satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, as well as the two policemen who were sent to guard them. Charlie Hebdo was at war. They knew it. But they were fighting for something all of us should be prepared to stand up for. It’s called freedom of expression. Charlie Hebdo had armed itself with pens and paper and ideas. These weapons can be powerful but they were never going to be a match for fanatics and their Kalishnikovs. These religious fanatics tried to silence Charlie Hebdo, once before in 2011, when the magazine offices were firebombed. But that only made the magazine more determined and more resolute. But unfortunately for them so were the forces out to harm and silence them. And yes, today those forces of darkness achieved a small, bloody and brutal victory but don’t be fooled into thinking they have won the war. They have not. Not by any stretch, in fact au contraire is how I would describe it. What happened in Paris in the last 24 hours has changed the game. Charlie Hebdo’s fight has now become our battle as well, or it should be, against those who want to kill us not for anything other than the way we think and the way we choose to live. The people of Paris know this. That’s why thousands took to the streets chanting or holding signs that read: Je suis Charlie, I am Charlie.

It was the deadliest terrorist attack on French soil in decades. Three attackers, all wearing balaclavas, who later fled, like the cowards they are. French media identified two of them as Parisian born Algerian brothers who grew up in the same neighbourhood where Charlie Hebdo is located. One of them had returned to France after fighting in Syria. Clearly battle hardened and ready to reek havoc. The third man is said to be an 18-year-old student. A huge anti terrorist operation is going on, as we speak, as French authorities try to find them.

French President Francois Hollande called the massacre “an act of exceptional barbarity” and “undoubtedly a terrorist attack.” Charlie Hebdo gained notoriety in February 2006 when it reprinted satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that had originally appeared in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, causing fury across the Muslim world. Yes they were offensive cartoons but they meant to be. There will be those who say that the Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists, brought this on themselves by being too provocative. But I say, to hell with that idea. It’s what living in a democracy is all about. That is why wars have been fought and won and lost for our collective right to say what we think. You don’t have to agree but you must respect everyone’s right to be able to say it.

However, there are people living in our world who clearly have no respect for that right. They want to use violence to take it away and permanently silence us. As the killers went about their deadly business in Paris they screamed “we have avenged the prophet, we have killed Charlie Hebdo”, according to prosecutors. One eyewitness told French media: “I hid under my desk … they spoke French perfectly … they said they were al-Qaeda.” Another reportedly said: “Tell the media that this is al-Qaeda in Yemen.” Quite frankly I don’t care who it was. They are not welcome in Paris. They are not welcome anywhere. And that message needs to be delivered loud and clear.

The drama started in broad daylight in a quiet Paris street when the gunmen entered the weekly magazine’s offices as journalists were in an editorial meeting. They began by shooting a receptionist and then picked off eight journalists, including some of France’s best-known cartoonists, a security guard and a visitor. One staff member survived, by hiding under a table.

Chilling amateur video footage filmed after the carnage then showed them outside of the building, running toward a wounded policeman as he lay on the pavement.

One attacker was heard to say “you wanted to kill me?” before shooting the officer, execution style. Large numbers of police and ambulances rushed to the scene with shocked residents spilling into the streets. Reporters saw bullet-riddled windows and people being carried away on stretchers. Prosecutors said 11 people were also injured in the attack, with four in critical condition.

As you would expect, the attack has been condemned around the world.

US President Barack Obama led the global condemnation of what he called the “cowardly, evil” assault. British Prime Minister David Cameron called it “sickening”, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the attack was “despicable” and Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as the Arab League condemned the violence. Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s holiest sites, condemned “this cowardly terrorist attack which is incompatible with Islam”. The imam of Drancy mosque in the northern suburbs of Paris, Hassen Chalghoumi, visited the scene, calling the shooters “barbarians, they lost their soul, sold their soul to hell”. The Charlie Hebdo website went down after the attack before coming back online with the single image of the words “I am Charlie”.

Like I said earlier. There are signs already that this is a game changer. I truly hope it is. Paris will bury and mourn its dead. Parisians will show them the respect they deserve. And we will mourn with them in solidarity. But nothing changes or must change in thoughts, words or cartoons, in Paris or anywhere else. We cannot live in fear or be intimidated into silence. We must continue to do and say the things we have always said even if, and especially if, some of us don’t like it. We must draw a line in the sand and take this on, head on.

The words of Voltaire are worth more than just paying lip service. They are fighting words and words worth fighting for. And if that is what needs to happen then let all of us join the battle.

You Can’t Negotiate With Religious Extremists

Terrorism left its calling card in Sydney today. I think we all kind of knew it was coming. We just didn’t know the where?, or the when? Both of those questions were answered when a middle-aged fanatical Jihadist, walked into a busy café, in the heart of the city, around 9 in the morning. He was armed with a sawn off shotgun and proceeded to take more than 20 people hostage. What followed was a siege lasting 17 hours. It ended around 2 am, when heavily armed police stormed the café, after hearing the sound of gunshots coming from inside. Minutes later, three people were dead. The fanatical jihadist hostage taker, and two of his hostages, a man aged 34 and a woman aged 38. Australia is fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. We knew there would be consequences. The Islamic State publicly vowed revenge against innocent people to be chosen at random. But you can’t stop living your life, just because a group of religious crazies threaten you, or want to attack you for the way you choose to live. Nor should we.

Authorities know quite a bit about the Jihadist hostage taker but I don’t want to waste oxygen talking about him to any significant degree. He was Iranian and a Muslim convert. A self styled cleric who was convicted of sending poison pen letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed during the war in Afghanistan. He was also on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his wife, who was stabbed and set on fire. He persuaded his girlfriend to kill her.   The self-styled Jihadist also faced 40 sexual assault charges after complaints from seven women who attended one of his ‘spiritual healing sessions.’ The Jihadist likened himself, on his own webpage, to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, claiming the police charges against him were laid for “political reasons.” His website also carries a quote, posted earlier this month, stating: “I used to be a Rafidi, but not any more. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdulillah.” ( Praise be to Allah)

During the siege, this religious fanatic forced his hostages to hold up a black flag, with Arabic writing, against the window of the cafe and record video messages on their mobile phones, listing his demands. The videos were initially posted on YouTube but were immediately removed on the advice of police. Deep down we all knew, right from the very start of this, it was going to end badly. Of course, there will be the inevitable questions: Should this man have been released on bail? Had he been identified as a religious extremist and placed on a watch list? If not? why not? His lawyer described him as a ‘damaged goods individual.’ There will also be scrutiny of how the police handled the siege. We received many public assurances from the New South Wales Police Commissioner, the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister that the police were professionally trained to deal with this type of crisis and we should all have faith that they can bring about a peaceful resolution.

Bring about a peaceful resolution? Are you kidding me? When they said that I began to get very worried. For a start this was not a normal siege by any stretch. Most sieges are an attempt by the hostage taker to achieve some personal advantage. The Jihadist who walked into that café only had two purposes, to die killing innocent people and secondly to create maximum publicity so that when he did, everyone would remember who was responsible and, hopefully, from that time on, live in fear of it happening again. He didn’t care that he would be killed. In fact he was counting on it. You can’t negotiate with people like that. You are wasting your time to even try. But the New South Wales police did try. They didn’t comply with his demands but they tried to negotiate with him. And they waited.

Now I don’t want to sound like some armchair quarterback replaying the calls that were made with the benefit of hindsight. I understand the police had a nightmare on their hands. But I will be honest and say I think it was a serious mistake to wait for the shooting to start before they did any shooting themselves. It might sound harsh but being reactive is too late. The horse has bolted. The hostage taker is already doing what he came to do from the moment he walked into that café. We live in a different world. There are people in it who have no regard for their own life as long as they can take the lives of innocent people. The hostage taker in Sydney made it pretty clear who he represented, and what this was about, right from the start. You don’t negotiate. You wait for an opportunity or, you create an opportunity, to use lethal force against him. You certainly don’t wait until he starts killing people. It’s a harsh lesson that maybe the New South Wales police are about to learn.

Grand Juries, Too Soft On Police Who Do Wrong?

In the United States, grand juries have suddenly become de rigueur but not in anything like a good way. To put it bluntly, too many white policemen are getting away with killing black men and Grand Juries are rubber-stamping the process.

Now before anyone climbs on their accusatory high moral horse suggesting this is biased and anti police, bad luck, I’ve beaten you to it. I’m already on it and riding at full gallop.

My high moral horse says the police are yet again culpable. The grand jury got it wrong and the facts speak for themselves.

This time it’s the New York Police under the microscope. Or, to be more accurate, captured on video.

The victim was Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African American, father of six children and a grandfather of two. On July 17 this year, he allegedly committed the heinous crime of selling individual cigarettes on a street corner in Staten Island. A group of New York City police officers approached and surrounded him. Why they did this is a question that was certainly never answered by the grand jury but it’s one that really does demand some kind of explanation in my view. What made this case radically different from all the others, was that cell phone footage was recorded by an onlooker, as the drama unfolded. And because the footage was shared online, the one eyewitness became millions more.

Garner was genuinely puzzled that the police officers seemed intent on arresting him for such a trifling offence. He was a big man, but at no point did he behave aggressively towards the officers or show them any disrespect. But maybe he wasn’t assuming a submissive posture, quickly enough. In any case one of the policemen, Officer Daniel Pantaleo, placed Garner in a chokehold, compressing his windpipe.

It should be pointed out that this maneuver was outlawed by the New York Police Department 20 years ago.

Again there appeared to be no reason for the police to take such an aggressive approach to Eric Garner. It was not warranted by his alleged crime or behavior. The videotape shows Garner complaining repeatedly that he’s having trouble breathing. The police officers wrestle him to the sidewalk and Eric Garner dies. Emergency paramedics are summoned but the police officers, who were present, are clearly shown making no attempt at all to resuscitate Eric Garner.

Again let’s be clear on the facts. The coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. He suffered from asthma, and Pantaleo’s chokehold killed him. The Staten Island prosecutor presented evidence against Officer Pantaleo to a grand jury. The other officers involved in the incident were given immunity in exchange for their testimony. But the grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on any charge.

An American journalist, Eugene Robinson wrote what I consider to be an insightful piece, in the Washington Post, about the tragic death of Eric Garner. He called it a depressing episode in the reality series, No Country For Black Men. In his view, equal justice before the law in the United States is just a cruel joke.

Robinson wrote that African American men are being taught a lesson on how society values, or devalues their lives. He says the Garner case raises two very important issues: One involves what he called the excessive license given to police to do whatever they must to guarantee that the streets are safe. The second, poses the question, has the pendulum now swung too far in the law and order direction at the expense of justice, liberty and equality?

Robinson believes the Garner case is part of what he called the ‘broken windows’ theory of policing. If you want to reduce serious crime, you crack down on minor, nuisance offending like selling loose cigarettes on a street corner. He draws a parallel between the Garner case in New York and the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In both cases, Robinson says, the grand juries examined the evidence and decided there was no probable cause, a very low standard of proof, that the police officers involved did anything wrong. He asks, would the results have been the same if the victims were white?

In yet another twist in the Garner case, the only person to be indicted, who was involved in the Eric Garner killing, was the eyewitness, Ramsay Orta, who recorded the Garner incident on his mobile phone. He faced charges relating to weapons offences after a bust by an undercover policeman. Police allege Orta slipped a handgun into the waistband of a teen accomplice outside a New York hotel. Orta claims he was falsely charged in retaliation for the Garner filming. His case was also examined by a grand jury, which had no trouble at all in indicting him.

I think all of us have an obligation to be extremely careful in playing the race card. It’s easy and convenient and can be used to either confuse or silence justified criticism especially when there are two sides to every story. But in the case of Michael Brown and Eric Garner it happens to be true. Sadly, the category that defines America’s most feared and loathed citizens would appear to be young, black men. Ironically, Eric Garner didn’t even fit this profile stereotype. He was a middle-aged, overweight asthmatic man. He was engaged in an activity that warranted nothing more than being told to move along.

I hate to say it, but in my view, his capital offense, in the minds of those police officers who confronted him, was to be born black.

Was Justice Served In Pistorius Case?

Here’s a question for you. What is a life worth? In the South African justice system, if you are white, famous and rich, the answer is ten months.

That’s the likely jail time that Oscar Pistorius will serve for shooting his girlfriend dead on Valentine’s Day.

Of course the judge in the case sentenced him to five years imprisonment for culpable homicide. But nobody expects, nor do they believe, he will serve anything like that length of time.

He should.

In fact, the prosecution wanted him jailed for at least ten years.

But that didn’t happen. Let’s be realistic. That was never going to happen.

It was never going to happen from the moment the judge gave Pistorius bail after convicting him. But she had to be careful. The eyes of the world and all of South Africa were fixed on this case. The judge knew it. But equally, allowing him to serve only home detention, a ludicrous suggestion made in the pre-sentence hearing, was never going to happen either. The judge knew that as well. She said as much when delivering her decision.

A non-custodial sentence would send the wrong message to the community, the judge said. But a long prison sentence was not appropriate either because it lacked the element of mercy.

Let’s just briefly dwell on the concept of mercy.

For example, how much mercy did Pistorius show, when he repeatedly fired bullets at a cowering Reeva Steenkamp, through the wooden door of a bathroom? He claims it was a case of mistaken identity. He can claim what he likes. In the court of public opinion, no one believes him.

The judge went to great lengths to reassure everyone that Pistorius, a wealthy and influential white man would never have been able to secure preferential treatment despite the equality before the law provision in the 1996 South African post apartheid constitution. The judge said it would be a sad day for South Africa if an impression were created that there was one law for the poor and disadvantaged and one law for the rich and famous.

But no one believed the judge when she said that.

Ordinary South Africans don’t believe it. They said as much when they were asked to give their opinion on the sentencing. It shows our society hasn’t changed, one man said. If Pistorius were black, instead of white, he would never have received such a light sentence. But that’s how things are in South Africa. Another man said why are certain offenders more equal than others before the law? Then he added this telling comment about the Pistorius behavior during the trial when he cried and dry retched. He screams like a girl, cries like a baby but shoots like a soldier.

The Pistorius legal team fully expects their client will move to home detention after serving between ten and 20 months of his sentence. The prosecution has two weeks to decide if there will be an appeal.

The ruling African National Congress Women’s League, which is leading political efforts to tackle domestic violence head on, wants the State to appeal.

The Steenkamp family was shocked that Pistorius avoided a murder conviction.

Reeva’s mother, June Steenkamp says she is certain her daughter was planning to leave Pistorius the very night she was killed. She says Reeva’s bags were packed. June Steenkamp says Reeva was scared to have a sexual relationship with Pistorius because he was controlling and manipulative.

She described Pistorius as “arrogant”, “moody”, “volatile” and “combustible”, saying he was a “trigger-happy” gun lover who was “possessive” of her daughter.

June Steenkamp went on to say it was Reeva’s bad luck that she met Oscar Pistorius, because sooner or later he would have killed someone.

But the family also knows whatever happens in the future, nothing is going to bring back a much-loved daughter.

And for all the noble sentiments about equality before the law and no such thing as a separate law for the rich and influential, Pistorius is serving his sentence far away from the general prison population. He is housed in a single jail cell in the prison hospital. He is getting the kind of treatment that other disabled prisoners at the same jail can only dream about.

Some time ago I wrote of my concern asking the question: Are there two legal systems in the world we live in, one for the rich and famous and the other for everyone else? I guess I’ve answered my own question, as if it ever needed answering.

Ferguson’s Shame

There’s been a disturbing development in the case involving an 18-year-old black American shot dead by a policeman in Missouri. This case was the catalyst for days of violent protest in Ferguson, a predominantly black suburb in St Louis. It also resulted in a nationwide debate about the relationship between young black Americans and the police. Two independent witnesses have come forward to give their version of events.

CNN released cell phone footage revealing the reactions of two construction workers who were in the vicinity at the time the incident happened. It is controversial and damning of the police. The footage shows the young black man’s hands were raised before he was killed. It also supports other eyewitness accounts that the 18-year-old was retreating or surrendering. The video shows one of the construction workers raising his hands immediately after the shooting calling out to the police officer that the young man had his hands up. The construction worker said in an interview with CNN that the policeman, didn’t tell the young black man to lie down on the ground, he just kept shooting. The eyewitness heard one gunshot and then another about 30 seconds later. When he saw the young man with a fatal head wound he again called out to the police officer, his hands were in surrender and the police officer did not need to shoot.

This account of course completely contradicts the police version of events. The police version has this officer shooting the young man in self-defense. There was a struggle and the young man attacked the police officer prompting him to draw his weapon and use lethal force. But these two construction workers  were 50 feet away when the cop opened fire. That makes them eyewitnesses to what happened. They said the young black man didn’t confront the police officer. In fact he was running away from the police car. The officer was chasing him and the young man raised his hands in the air. The two construction workers were not locals. They were employed by a business from Jefferson County south of Missouri. The lawyer representing the family of the young man who was shot said these two eyewitnesses came forward of their own account. He also said he thought this new video was a deal breaker in the case. It wasn’t the fact that these construction workers were white and were from out of town. It was a deal breaker because it showed their reactions immediately after what they had just witnessed. It was the best evidence you could have other than a video of the actual shooting.

The St Louis County Prosecutor is saying very little about this new development as you might expect. These two construction workers were among a number of witnesses interviewed by the authorities and they were just part of the ongoing investigation. To put all of this in context, a local Grand Jury is considering all of the evidence being gathered for potential criminal charges against the police officer responsible for shooting the young man. The general consensus amongst the local legal fraternity is that the video will be admissible evidence in any future court case against the police officer.

But the criminal investigation into the shooting is not the only inquiry happening in Ferguson. The White House has begun a Federal investigation into whether the Ferguson police systematically violated the civil rights of people living in the city. Make that black people living in the city. The Department of Justice is also working with the St Louis County force, which was heavily criticized for its militarized response and over reaction to the protests that followed the shooting. In other words the Justice Department thinks the county force needs to reform the way it handles demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience.  Some of the law enforcement statistics strongly suggest there is a real problem with how black people are treated by police in Ferguson. According to figures published by the Missouri Attorney General, the ratio of black motorists stopped by police compared to white motorists is seven to one. Police are 12 times more likely to conduct a search of a black motorist’s car than a white motorist.

What is even more alarming is that 13 percent of Ferguson’s police officers have faced allegations of using excessive force in discharging their duties. This compares extremely unfavorably to the national average, which is half of one percent. One thing is certain. We have not heard the end of this.

Let’s Get Rid Of The R Word

This might not be a shock to many. But it is to me. The United States has an R problem. More specifically, the police have an R problem. I’m talking about Racism. An extremely ugly word that has no place in civilized, educated societies. It clearly is a problem. How big a problem is anyone’s guess but just recently there have been some examples that should make us all feel ashamed.

I’ll come to Ferguson, Missouri but lets begin in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A local cop has quit after he was busted sending text messages to colleagues urging them to “pull a Ferguson and take them out.” He was referring to young Black Americans. That was only the beginning. He also described African-Americans as “monkeys” and told how he “enjoyed arresting them with their sagging pants.”

This policeman patrolled a predominantly Black southern University. You can only begin to imagine the kind of treatment he would have handed out to the students he encountered. This cop has resigned and is now being investigated. He may face criminal charges. One of the local police chiefs in Baton Rouge did say  it was “gut wrenching” to believe that someone possessed that much hate in them especially a police officer who is in the community enforcing the law everyday. He might have added especially a police officer packing lethal force. The Police Chief said the revelation made him sick to his stomach. Bravo.

But unfortunately this has not been, nor will it ever be, an isolated occurrence. There is something rotten to the core in the US of A. In Jonesboro, Arkansas an investigation is continuing after a 21-year-old African-American allegedly shot himself in the head while handcuffed in the back of a police car. He was arrested after police discovered a $10 bag of marijuana in his pocket during a routine traffic stop. A post-mortem is expected to provide more details about the shooting. I don’t want to pre-judge anything. But I would point out that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to shoot yourself in the head when your hands are cuffed behind your back.

Here is what it has come down to in Ferguson Missouri. Police are now wearing body cameras, which include a recording device in an attempt to calm community anger after an 18-year-old man was shot dead by police. This incident sparked a wave of street protests and the predominantly white police in Ferguson, were widely criticized for being heavy-handed and using unnecessary force in dealing with protestors. Two companies donated the body cameras and now patrolling police are wearing them. There is a hope that the cameras will make police more accountable, and allow for greater transparency. It will mean that judges and juries can see video footage and make a deliberation on what happened during an incident that resulted in a complaint against police or in a fatal police shooting.

What makes me sad and despairing is that all of this has become necessary. But the police must act swiftly and decisively to nip this racism thing in the bud. That means either through education or threat of prosecution, dismissal or all three combined. Public confidence is at stake. We can’t function properly as a society if our cops are making judgment calls based on nothing more than a person’s skin type. Quite frankly it isn’t a world any of us wants to live in.

Making History

As the United States comes to grips with yet another young Black man shot dead by police and the inevitable civil unrest that follows, spare a thought for Iceland.

Yes Iceland. You know that Nordic country full of active volcanoes that sits at the top of the world.

This week Iceland made history. Its police force shot a man dead. In America where gun culture and the right to bear arms is as entrenched as apple pie this is everyday stuff. But not in Iceland. Police shooting anyone dead in Iceland simply does not happen. In fact this is the first time it has happened since 1944 when the country became independent.

The police in Iceland usually don’t carry guns. Violent crime in Iceland is almost non-existent. You might think that Iceland is anti-gun, but it isn’t. It ranks 15th in world in terms of per capital gun ownership. It’s just that they recognize that guns are dangerous, should be handled with care and are not to be used to randomly shoot people just because you happened to have a disagreement.

As you’d expect the news has the country reeling. The news editor at the Icelandic broadcasting service reported that the nation was in shock. This does not happen in our country, he said. So what did happen to trigger this unprecedented Icelandic police response?

Well it seems that a 59-year-old man, said to be suffering from mental problems, began behaving in a threatening manner at the building where he lives. Police were called but when they arrived he began shooting at them. Police exchanged fire and in the ensuing gun battle the man was killed. Like I said. Unprecedented. In Iceland.

Icelanders are worried because this has got the whole country debating the issue. They are also worried that this incident might change the country forever. And not in a good way. As one commentator said guns are part of the Icelandic culture. They are used for hunting as a sport but they don’t want to see their police force being forced to carry firearms, which are seen as dangerous and threatening.

The Icelandic police force says the officers involved in the incident will undergo grief counseling. And in a concept that will be pretty alien to most Americans the police have already apologized to the family of the man who died. Mind you not because they did the wrong thing but because it was the respectful thing to do. And also because the police were genuinely sorry they took a life. Could you see that happening in the United States?

There are still a number of outstanding questions that the Icelandic police are yet to answer such as why they didn’t try to negotiate with the man before entering the building. But most Icelanders are wondering where this is all going to lead.

This is a country where you can enter Parliament and the only request they make is to turn off your cellphone, so that you don’t disturb the politicians while they’re talking. Armed guards DON’T follow the Prime Minister or the country’s President. Icelanders don’t want that to change. But they might just find they have no choice.