Lethal force

Police must find a proportionate and intelligent response to phenomena such as biker gangs

The death of a 19-year-old who fell to a police bullet in central Delhi while at a gathering of stunt bikers draws attention to a frightening disproportionateness of police response. At the same time, it also shows them up to be unequal to a phenomenon that is acquiring a new menace. Social media allows large groups of bikers to assemble quickly, in which young men who know each other only online get to meet. But no matter how large and threatening the groups of bikers may appear to be, the use of armed violence should have been avoided. The state has a monopoly on legal violence and that casts on it the responsibility to reserve its use to the rarest of rare cases.

By all accounts, multiple options were available to the police in the incident near India Gate. First, they could have called in more police cars. They could have sealed off the zone and rounded up the bikers as they tried to exit. Unless there was a clear threat of violence to bystanders or property, they could have done nothing except photograph the bikers and their number plates, and made arrests in the clear light of the next day. The reason offered, that they fired at the tires of a bike to disable it, stretches credulity. This was not Black Rain. This was just a gang of young men in central Delhi.

The police response stands in disquieting contrast to the courts' attempts to come to grips with biker gangs. Trial courts in Delhi, for instance, have handed down sentences of social service rather than incarceration or fines, in order to let young men find their place in society rather than the harsh world behind bars. In a civilised system, rebels without a cause should be dealt with intelligently, not with lethal force.

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