Sky Marshal Shooting in Miami
I have heretofore refrained from writing about the Miami false-alarm terrorist incident. For those of you who have spent the last few days in an isolation chamber, sky marshals shot and killed a mentally ill man they believed to be a terrorist. The shooting happened on the ground, in the jetway. The man claimed he had a bomb and wouldn't stop when ordered to by sky marshals. At least, that's the story.
I've read the reports, the claims of the sky marshals and the counterclaims of some witnesses. Whatever happened -- and it's possible that we'll never know -- it does seem that this incident isn't the same as the British shooting of a Brazilian man on July 22.
I do want to make two points, though.
One, any time you have an officer making split-second life and death decisions, you're going to have mistakes. I hesitate to second-guess the sky marshals on the ground; they were in a very difficult position. But the way to minimize mistakes is through training. I strongly recommend that anyone interested in this sort of thing read Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell.
Two, I'm not convinced the sky marshals' threat model matches reality. Mentally ill people are far more common than terrorists. People who claim to have a bomb and don't are far more common than people who actually do. The real question we should be asking here is: what should the appropriate response be to this low-probability threat?
EDITED TO ADD (12/11): Good Salon article on the topic.
Posted on December 9, 2005 at 1:28 PM • 177 Comments