A huge Indian oil tanker is traveling past Italy. On board it has several naval guards from Kerala, two of whom are keeping guard on deck with automatic rifles in their hands. Just off the coast they spot a tiny Italian boat and quite naturally assume it's filled with pirates. In fact it's a couple of pescatori looking for something to grill with lemon and garlic. The Keralites proceed to shoot dead these two Italian fishermen. Later, they say it was a "mistake". The Indian government and populace rallies round them, saying anyone could have made the same mistake, and that the Italians are taking it all too personally. What happened was an "unfortunate incident which everyone regrets. Our marines never wanted this to happen, but unfortunately it took place". That should be the end of that, no? Apparently not. The Italians arrest the Malayali naval guards and absurdly insist on trying them in their own courts.
Cut to South Africa. Fashion model Reeva Steenkamp is visited regularly at her home by her suitor, athlete Oscar Pistorius. Reeva lives in a gated community and keeps a gun (or several) under her bed. Pistorius often stays over at her place and shares her bed. On one such night, she awakens and hears a noise in the bathroom. Assuming this to be a burglar, she walks over and fires several shots through a locked door. Turns out it was just Pistorius who had got up to take a leak, and now the poor guy is history. Oops, she says, I'm so sorry, it was just a mistake. She never wanted this to happen, but unfortunately etc.
For those who live on a different planet, the above two summaries are role-reversed versions of true stories. In one case Italian guards mistakenly shot Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast. In the other, athlete Pistorius mistakenly shot his girlfriend. I'm neither a lawyer nor a witness, so I can't comment on what really happened or how one has to proceed. But the fact that a defence like "they made a mistake" appears to carry any credibility at all, is only because the killers - in both cases - were white males. Apparently this allows you to say "I'm heavily armed, I shoot when I feel like, and I apologise when I kill the wrong person. Get used to me, people".
I can't imagine what would have happened if the Pistorius story really happened in reverse, the way I described it above. "Dumb blonde shoots athlete boyfriend"? And how would the world react to unprovoked firing on fishermen in designer clothing by natives from the land of lungi? One can only wonder.
Yesterday the Italian killers (I call them this because they admit to having killed) have jumped bail despite a solemn assurance to the Indian Government by the Italian Ambassador that they would return to face trial. And recently the South African killer (again, he admits to being one) has been granted bail. We'll see whether he stands trial, scheduled for June. Whichever way the legalities turn out, it seems that even today all you need is the right race, the right gender and the right guns, and you can get away with murder -- or at least attract a lot of sympathy.