It's nearly four years since the killing of Mark Duggan – shot dead in Tottenham, North London, by an officer known as "V53" – and in some ways it feels as though we are even further from justice now than we were in August 2011. By this point, a number of state investigations have come to an end. Yesterday came the latest – the Independent Police Complaints Commission's (IPCC) investigation of the fatal shooting. Each of these successive inquiries and reviews have been unable to agree on simple facts. Last year, the inquest found that Mark Duggan was not holding a gun while he was shot; yesterday, the IPCC found that he was likely in the process of throwing away a gun while he was shot. Meanwhile the officer who killed him, V53, claims that he could see the barrel of the gun aimed towards him as he shot each of the two rounds, pausing to re-asses between each.
Whilst the facts change depending on which part of the state you ask, they are all quick to agree in unison that this was a lawful killing. The firearms officer's use of force was reasonable. The killing of Mark was just.
For the family and friends of Mark Duggan (as well as the countless number of people who have followed the case since the shooting with anger) the claim that he was killed justly is hard to stomach. Not least because the state seems to be saying that not only was killing Mark lawful, but that justice was served precisely by killing him. V53 didn't do an acceptable thing – he did the right thing. A criminal was taken out, and so any law-abiding citizen should be glad.
In opposition to the state's narrative, many are unwilling to accept this form of justice. Neither the killing nor the investigations that followed have brought the Duggan family anything approaching accountability. Pamela Duggan, Mark Duggan's mother, says that the IPCC report that took three and half years to be written was "another slap in the face" and she is right. At every stage, the state has tried to absolve itself of blame and in the process have repeated the trauma of Mark's killing over and over again.
If we have learnt anything from the eruptions in the United States, it is that black people who are killed by the police are denied "life" before and after their deaths. We are criminals plain and simple, divested of all the standard hallmarks of being a person with strengths and faults. With each killing of a black person, you see the police and media very quickly working to rewrite personal histories, colouring people as having not deserved life anyway. Who cares if they're dead now? They had no life to begin with. In an instant Michael Brown went from a son and recent high school graduate to a criminal. Similarly Mark Duggan went from being a son and father to gangster as soon as he was shot.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement has made deaths in custody a problem not just of death but also of life. Calling for state accountability has become as much about living as it is about dying. A battleground has emerged over the lives of those killed, with the state on one side, erasing and extinguishing the value of black life. On the other are campaigners forcing a re-think – not only on the part of the state, but by privileged white people the law protects.
Saying that "black lives matter" is both an imperative as well as an interesting demand for justice. The justice we need recognises institutional racism from police, educators, employers, health professionals and governments as all part and parcel of the culture that leads to epidemic levels of black deaths at the hands of the state. For many black people in the US and elsewhere, there is little opportunity to live full and flourishing lives. Justice for these campaigners, then, is about radically transforming society so that this is no longer the case.
At this point it is a naked fact that the state criminalises and brutalises people based on the colour of their skin and calls it justice.
The Institute of Race Relations published research this week on the deaths of 509 Black and Asian people who have died in all forms of state custody under suspicious circumstances in the UK. There has not been a single conviction following these deaths. With this kind of evidence it is easy to see which side criminal justice is on. At this point it is a naked fact that the state criminalises and brutalises people based on the colour of their skin and calls it justice. This same prejudice means that the state will even kill and say that, in the process of killing, justice has taken its course.
This "justice" is so blind and toothless in the face of rampant unrepentant killings that it is no justice at all. Black people have a better chance of getting real justice if we invest our hopes in social movements – movements which have already vowed to be unrelenting in their pursuit of accountability – rather than having any faith in the state institutions that are supposed to hand that accountability out.
We have started to talk about black life as a central category around which to organise ourselves, and that means that there is perhaps now a chance for accountability from below. For the first time in quite a while, there seems to be a mass anti-racist movement building, not only across the Atlantic but here in the UK too, with young black people refusing to be the next unaddressed black death.
Where there is no justice there can be no peace. Where there is black death there can be no life. We remain suspended in a battle for justice that it is now decades long at least. But at long last it seems to have moved from being a fringe issue to a question of how we live with one another in the everyday. Not only has the excessive end of policing come under scrutiny, but day-to-day policing is now under attack for its racism too. Thousands were arrested and imprisoned for taking part in the uprisings following the killing of Mark Duggan, yet his shooter, V53, is essentially lauded as a hero by the state. They celebrate that their operation took a gun off the street, glossing over the fact it also took Mark's life.
We must be clear in saying that their claims to justice hold no sway over us. It is their justice, not ours. Alongside the Duggan family we will not tire from our fight for a justice that is just to us and for a society where black life matters.
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