Reflections on the killing of Mark Duggan by London's Metropolitan police which triggered nationwide rioting, three years on.
Several months ago I and many others sat in the Royal Courts of Justice to hear the jury return what we hoped would be a just verdict for the inquest into the death of Mark Duggan. When the verdict of 'lawful killing' was returned, the devastation it wreaked on all, but most especially the Duggan family and their loved ones, was starkly visible. As his brother Shaun Hall would later say it was as if Mark had been killed all over again. Monday 4th August was the third anniversary of the killing of Mark Duggan but each year and every time the same state apparatuses that took his life fail to be held accountable it is relived and must so be revisited.
On Monday evening the family and their supporters held a vigil on Ferry Lane where the armed officer known to us only as V53 opened fire on Duggan. This memorial came in a year of unbelievable struggle undertaken by his family to see justice done, yet after so much hope and energy was poured into the inquest a singularly crushing conclusion continues to hang over all of us: in this country an unarmed person can be shot dead and not only does their killer face no consequence but is allowed to continue anonymously patrolling the streets with a gun and the power to kill again.
Senior judges and the Chief Coroner are expected to decide whether the inquest verdict can be quashed in October. This comes after Pamela Duggan and the rest of the family launched a judicial review to question the inquest coroner’s directions to the jury. Beyond the points of law the simple question that lies at the heart of their case is how can a jury both find that someone was unarmed and yet that the officer who shot him was justified in doing so by the belief that they saw a gun. It comes down to what Stafford Scott described at the time as the common sense ‘perverse and contradictory’ nature of the verdict. So it remains that the other question we must ask more broadly is why a family filled with heartache must be the ones to pursue and force these very simple and clear concerns to be addressed.
Policing has a problem: deaths at its hands. And it has dealt with this problem with arrogance again and again. This year alone there have been twelve of these deaths and in 2011 Duggan’s was one of them. The list of the names of the dead is a lengthy one - like Mark Duggan’s name some of these are familiar to many people whilst others are known to a relatively small group of campaigners that concern themselves with these important fights for justice. No doubt many more names are only known to bereaved families who must fight the often long and painful campaigns on their own.
Perhaps some hope can be gained from last week’s news that the CPS have decided to charge the officer that shot dead Azelle Rodney in 2005 with murder. This kind of charge is essentially unique and so the decision is hugely important, but we must remember that prosecutions like this pursue individuals and not wider police practice. Azelle Rodney, like Mark Duggan, was a victim of the ‘hard stop’ tactic utilized by armed police officers. In January the Met admitted to having not reviewed the use of the tactic despite its consequences and the IPCC’s advice too. In February at a Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) roadshow event in Lambeth, Met Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, who was prevented by the angry crowd from reading a statement outside the Duggan verdict, was asked by brothers Husani and Asante Williams, themselves victims of the hard stop tactic, what was being done to prevent future experiences like theirs and the deaths that the tactic had caused. He refused to respond.
If justice is to be won for Mark Duggan and his family and all those others who have been or could easily become victims of police brutality and killing it is vital that we all support campaigns like Justice for Mark Duggan. Families that are forced to take on the state on their own are left with very little space for grief – let us take up their grief collectively and publicly to bring these state sanctioned unrepentant killings to an end.