Breaking News: Filipino Ex-Cop “Acting Stupidly”? Not So Fast
August 23, 2010 in Breaking News
Please Read: When I began writing this story, there was a report that the gunman claimed that two hostages had been shot, but there was no confirmation from the police, or information on the severity of the injuries. I wrote this after making a decision that I wouldn’t post it if any hostage was killed. When I hit the publish button, the police were reporting that the gunman had been killed, but had not mentioned any hostage deaths. I incorrectly surmised that the omission meant that all of the hostages were alive. When I checked back after an hour or so, the report that I read said that one hostage was in critical condition. Had I known that eight hostages were dead, as is currently being reported, I wouldn’t have posted this rather cavalier article. I am leaving this up to provide context and so that this disclaimer can also be read by anyone who read my article. This incident is no longer a humorous topic and I apologize if I have offended anyone.
Manila, Philippines — According to the news website IBNLive, a dismissed police officer, armed with an M16 assault rifle, boarded a bus and took twenty-two hostages. The gunman, who was fired two years ago, is requesting his job back. In a show of good faith, Rodolfo Mendoza, the ex-cop, released nine hostages, which is exactly how one should negotiate when attempting to regain their employment. Fifteen hostages remain on the bus, where gunshots have been fired. There have been no reports of injuries so far, despite the fact that the Mendoza claims to have shot two of the hostages.
As a police officer, I have a concern that non-law enforcement individuals may be tempted to leap to an erroneous conclusion based on limited information. One can’t help but draw comparisons between the strong-negotiation stance taken by this former Senior Inspector and Sgt. James Crowley’s actions in what has become known as “The Cambridge Police Incident,” which occurred around this time last year. In that case, a group of police officers, who were also armed, took Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. into custody (which is analogous to taking a hostage). As with the current situation, there was a rush to judgment by the media and politicians to “second guess” the actions of law enforcement.
While Americans are generally “anti-hostage” there are a few things we should keep in mind. To begin with, Filipino culture is quite different than American culture. As certain customs and mores that we take for granted may not be appropriate in the Philippine Islands, the reverse of that is also true. Until we learn a little more about appropriate behavior in that region of the world, we shouldn’t assume that Mr. Mendoza’s actions crossed some sort of social boundary. In Stockholm, Sweden, for instance, it is customary for hostages and captors to embrace after a siege. The bottom line is that it’s a big world and while in some ways we’re all the same, in a lot of ways we’re very different.
Secondly, law enforcement officers are trained to handle these situations. Former Senior Inspector Mendoza is a veteran police officer with decades of weapons training. While the average civilian may never fire an assault rifle in his or her life, Mendoza may have handled an M16 as often as once a day, depending upon assignment. Furthermore, although most individuals don’t care for weapons pointed in their direction, nearly all would prefer to be held at gunpoint by an expert if they had no other choice. So, the level of experience can be important for a lot of reasons.
The third thing that we should keep in mind is that we don’t really know why Mr. Mendoza was fired. Metro Manila Police Commander Director Leocadio Santiago claims that Mendoza was sacked after being accused of various crimes. From Santiago’s statement we can extrapolate that Mendoza was fired without any real due process. If he was improperly dismissed, the Metro Manila Police may have to answer for this incident as well. The fact that the police are actively negotiating with Mendoza doesn’t necessarily indicate that they harbor some guilt over Mendoza’s dismissal, but it is also the behavior that one might expect if they did feel that Mendoza had been wronged.
If the Cambridge Police incident was indeed a teachable moment, then we will all have learned to wait until all the information is in before we form an opinion. Maybe this time we won’t have beers together because we have to; we’ll do it because we want to.