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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

A police officer shoots a man in the head. The response cannot be ‘nothing’

A Greek police officer drew his weapon and shot a man in the head as he ran away from him. We must respond not by turning a blind eye, as the Greek media have so far unforgivably done, but also demanding better from our police force and the government which controls it.

A man is in critical condition in Alexandroupolis hospital after a Greek police officer shot him in the head.

The man had been driving a car containing seven people entirely unreasonably referred to by the Greek Police in their description of events as ‘illegal immigrants’ (it is not illegal to enter a country in order to apply for asylum, or in order to reach another country in which you apply for asylum) early (4.30am) on Wednesday (3 May 2023).

The Greek police claim he ‘disobeyed a stop sign’ and then ‘sped off, making dangerous manoeuvres’ in an area of Rodopi, close to Mesti, quite close to Greece’s border with Türkiye.

The man then stopped the car and he and the seven passengers attempted to escape by foot across a field.

At this point, a police officer drew a gun and shot the car driver in the head.


We must first of all note that by far the most shocking point about this situation is that a man has been shot in the head for disobeying a stop sign and running into a field.

And we must ask why this happened.

Why would a police officer – or any other person – respond to someone running away from them by drawing their weapon and shooting them in the head? (of course, this incident serves as yet another reminder of why we must not routinely arm police officers)

It is not just that such an act cannot be ‘justified’ but that it is so shockingly violent and so absolutely out of proportion with what was happening that we must conclude that something else, something unacceptable, was happening here, in this officer’s mind.

And we fear it is this: the current Greek government has run two related and mutually reinforcing messages almost throughout its period in government, and in one case since at the very latest its period in opposition from 2015 onwards.

They are that people arriving into Greece from the East are dangerous: to Greek lifestyles, Greek livelihoods and Greek lives, and that the police force can and will be used not just to ensure safety, but to act violently if necessary to target and remove anyone and anything which ‘threatens’ that safety.

We cannot say for certain that this officer shot a man running away from him because he was a person entering Greece from the east – he could perhaps have done it because he is a violent and mentally-unstable person who should never have been allowed to wear a uniform, let alone carry a weapon – but we can say that his actions are entirely in keeping with these Nea Dimokratia narratives: ‘this person is dangerous, and it is my job to save Greece from danger using whatever means I may’.

It is time we started doing better. All of us, as one, must counter Nea Dimokratia’s outright lie about new arrivals to Greece, and all of us must demand that the Greek police operate differently, within the law, rather than ditching legal and measured behaviour whenever it suits it.

And it must also be pointed out here that not one national Greek newspaper or broadcaster has even mentioned, once, that two days ago a Greek police officer drew a gun and fired live ammunition on a person who was unarmed, posed no threat whatsoever to the officer – or any other – was, indeed, actively running away from the officer and his colleagues, and shot him in the head.

It is hard to say for certain precisely why this is.

But one word does scream at us across the sheer indifference – indeed active ignorance – with which this crime (and it is of course a crime: we should note here that the Greek police have publicly-reported this, and arrested the officer who shot the man) has been met is racism.

Because there is absolutely no way in the world that had Greek police shot a Greek person in the head while they were running away from them – or indeed in absolutely any other situation – the media would simply not even have bothered to report it.

And it is equally difficult to imagine that had the Greek police shot a Western tourist – a citizen of the US, UK, Germany or Italy – or even a Western criminal (and there is zero evidence that the man shot was a criminal of any description), in the head, the Greek news services would have given the incident no words, or no broadcast time.

Yet this is what has happened here.

At present, we have little detail about the man or the other people in the car. We do not know where they were from, where they were going, why any of them travelled. We do not know what they were fleeing, what they hoped to find where they arrived, let alone their names, ages or family details.

This makes it extremely hard to write anything sensible and human about this.

What we know – what the Greek police and no other national ‘publisher’ has told us – is that the police wrongly consider the seven people who were not driving and were not shot by a Greek police officer to be ‘illegal immigrants’: it is not illegal to enter a country to apply for asylum, or reach another in which one will apply for asylum, and that the Greek police consider and have named the man their officer shot in the head a ‘trafficker’.

There is no evidence he is a trafficker.

Traffickers take people across borders either under duress or using deception to get those people to travel ‘with’ them. There is no evidence this was what was happening here, and statistically (even according to the Greek government hundreds of thousands of people attempt to enter Greece via the Evros border each year) it is extraordinarily-unlikely that it was.

It is not impossible that this man is a people-trafficker – though even if he were that would not justify a police officer shooting him in the head – but it is extremely unlikely, and as there is no evidence that he is (and at the time of the shooting no possibility of having seen any such evidence), the Greek police cannot claim to be being honest when describing him as one.

Which leads us to the other claim the Greek Police make about him, that he was a ‘smuggler’. There is nothing necessarily contradictory about the two claims being made about the same person: one would smuggle people if one were a trafficker.

But even if we were to avoid the obvious point that ‘people smugglers’ taking refugees across borders are not strictly ‘smugglers’ because the people they ‘smuggle’ by definition present themselves and enter the legal system at the earliest available opportunity on arrival, we would still have to mention another vital fact:

Almost everyone who is arrested at the Greek sea and land borders as a ‘people smuggler’ is in fact themselves a person seeking safety, who just so happened to be told by a person who sold places in a mode of transport, or was forced by circumstance, to take control of the vehicle they were inside.

That is, the Greek police regularly describes as ‘smugglers’ the people seeking asylum who happened to be driving or steering a vehicle containing other people seeking safety.

The labels the police have applied here, in other words, are so likely to be completely untrue that we should dismiss them.

In any case, the reality is, a member of the Greek police shot a person in the head who was running away from him.

That person is now in critical condition in hospital.

Bearing this in mind, we have to ask, as we do so often: why are we criminalising people who are acting entirely legally by seeking safe places to live, learn and work?

Why are we sending armed police to ‘monitor’ points at which they enter? (we could also ask in Greece why police officers on non-firearms related work allowed to carry guns at all?)

Why are we allowing a narrative to be told to Greece’s police officers and the wider general public that people seeking safe places to live learn and work are ‘dangerous’?

And why are we allowing our government to tell police, and allowing police to believe, that they can do whatever they like to ‘defend’ us, no matter how violent, immoral and illegal?

How many times must these incidents happen before we finally stop not just arming police, with hardware and ideas, but also lying that people seeking safety are criminals who must be stopped, and a danger to us all?

How many more people must be seriously injured and killed?


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