A while back, I witnessed a shooting in the street, followed by a shoot-out with the military police that ended in two people being killed. At the time, I was on a balcony and I saw the whole thing from a relatively safe vantage point.
From my memory, it went something like this:
We heard two gunshots and saw a man staggering out of an establishment across the road. He fell down on the ground and a pool of blood started forming. A second man came out and starting stamping on his head and kicking his torse. The victim wasn’t moving. I shouted at the gunman, who then left the body and started walking towards the building I was in. This was when I realised he was holding a gun. One policeman and two other people rushed towards the body to try and help the man who was shot, and the shooter turned back and threatned to shoot them, they all put their hands up, one man ran away. Suddenly, out of nowhere, ten military police officers showed up on five motorbikes, with each officer on the back of the motorbike holding an AK47 (the machine gun shown in the cover photo of this essay.) The shooter ran down the street, unsuccessfully tried to highjack an SUV, and was then promtly shot by the military police.
I had never seen someone die before that night.
In reflection, I find it quite shocking that my shout was one of the last experiences of his life, within a minute he would be dying of multiple gunshots inflicted by the AK47s of the military police.
It was quite a spectacle to see how simple it is to end a person’s life. I’ve seen the military police on street corners for a few years, and they always seemed rather sleepy and quite harmless, and yet there they were, (bravely) confronting a gunman and ending his life in a matter of seconds.
It was also a reminder of how Cambodia is still a world away from home (Europe) and how personal safety is still something that I take for granted each day when all it takes is a random ricochet bullet.
A few hours after the shooting, I was at a club with my friends, and somehow it felt wrong being together with lots of other people having a good time, laughing and cheering, when only a few blocks away two people just had their existence terminated, and we didn’t even know their names.
Life is cheap, but we hardly ever realize it.
We’re just bags of skins containing flesh and organs, and we’re quite feeble in contrast to what can harm us. An incoming car, a stray bullet, a forceful punch. Also, there are 7 billion of us on earth at the time of writing, one death hardly matters – except when it does.
This event also made me think about how one day, I, along with everyone I know, will die. Will I die such a fantastic and sudden death as the two I had just witnessed, or will it be a slow affair in a hospital bed, or perhaps even from my own hand, which is actually the most likely possibility in the next twenty or so years. For men aged between 18 and 45, the leading cause of death is suicide.
This makes me realize how each day is really a gift, and we have to ensure that we remember that we won’t live forever, and so we need to take actionable steps to make sure we live the life we want to live right now, not at some point in the future.
The World Is a Crazy Place
Another thought I’ve been having is how far astray some people have been led. People only do things that they believe – at some level or other – to be right. So the shooter I saw felt it was right and correct to shoot someone in the street, and then try to hijack a car to try and escape the police.
This is not rational behaviour, and yet philosophers have claimed for thousands of years that humans are rational beings, and yet I’ve just witness strong evidence to the contrary. Of course, one observation doesn’t invalidate the entire argument, and we can also always blame drugs and alcohol for strange behaviour.
In the last few days, I’ve tried putting myself in the shooter’s shoes in those last few minutes, and thinking about how he had just killed a man, and was then threating to kill another two or three people.
It is said that humans are hedonistic creatures, that pleasure is what we seek. If that’s the case, then why this behaviour? That man simply cannot have been in a comfortable situation, holding several people at gunpoint, including a policeman, with the adrenaline rushing through his veins as he desperately tried to understand what action to take next. These are not the actions of a pleasure seeker.
I actually have no idea what caused the shooting, and so it’s impossible to understand the motivations of the shooter, but the behaviour is so far away from anything that I, and all the people that I know, would do, that it almost makes me wonder if there are more than one species of human on planet earth. Rampaging with a gun in the street is such a dangerous, irresponsible
Rampaging with a gun in the street is such a dangerous, irresponsible, and downright stupid thing to do, that it is not something I can imagine a rational person being able to do.
Is Killing Ever Justified?
Because this event happened in a third world country, I do wonder if there will be any form of official enquiry, but the question has to be asked, was it right for the police to shoot the gunman, and is killing ever justified?
I think that the answer to the first of the above questions is yes. The shooter above had already shown that he has the capability to end someone’s life, and was running down a road with a gun in his hand. It doesn’t take much foresight to predict what was going to happen, the police had very little choice in this matter.
Because I’ve answered yes to the first question, by definition I must also answer yes to the second question, but it’s very difficult to know when killing is justified, but there are obviously instances when it is, and every legal code in the world reflects this by breaking down homicide (the ending of one person’s life by another) into multiple types, some of which are pardonable and some of which are criminal offences that carry harsh sentences.
I'll leave you with this small excerpt from Cicero's On Duties:
There could be no more terrible crime than to kill someone who is not merely a fellow human being but a close friend. Yet surely someone who kills a tyrant, however close friends the two men have been, has not committed a crime.