As I write this, it's not hyperbolic to describe London as a city in flames. Last night, Hackney, Lewisham and Peckham were burning. Further out, fire engines were fighting colossal arson attacks in Enfield and Croydon. A man has also been shot dead in Croydon. Gangs of angry youths have taken to the streets, and they're outmaneuvering a woefully overstretched police force to carve pockets of explosive violence across the capital.
Yesterday I went to Broadwater Farm Estate to speak with people who knew Mark Duggan. At this point, nobody is saying that what's been going on for the last few days has anything to do with the police shooting him last Thursday. His friends and the people that knew him told me they had gone home after the daytime protest and had nothing to do with the riots that emerged later in the evening.
Duggan's friends continue to protest his innocence, and many of them have reached a boiling point with the police who they claim have racially profiled their community for years.
“It’s straight harassment and we’re fed up with it, man!" a guy who went by the name Super D explained. "Then they come and kill an innocent youth who was born here on the Farm. The policeman who got shot in the radio was shot with a police issued bullet. There was no shoot out with no police. Just because man’s got a gun it doesn’t make him a killer. He could have had it for protection."
Since 1998, 333 people have died while being detained by police and yet no officers have ever been convicted. Another friend of Duggan’s said that he saw a police van drive through Broadwater Farm Estate less than an hour after the killing.
“6.15PM was when he died, and by about 6.35PM an armed police van came through and when they passed they were laughing at us.”
People in the community received a message that the police were following Duggan in a green van on their BlackBerry handsets around 6PM. When one man tried to message him back about seven minutes later there was no response.
So why haven’t the officers responsible for shooting and killing Duggan been brought to book? Their actions have caused one community to cry out and a young, simmering underclass to cause a national ruckus. It is still uncertain if Duggan even fired a shot. The National Ballistics Intelligence Service observed that the evidence from bullet fragments were from police-issue ammunition rounds.
“Mark never fired a shot,” Super D insisted. “Why didn’t they just give him five years like they’d give anyone else caught carrying a gun?”
He and some others suggested that Broadwater Farm was due for retaliation for the killing of PC Keith Blakelock in 1985, when the officer was hacked to death with a machete and no one got arrested. One of the older folks suggested that retaliation was always coming to the Farm, but they didn’t know when.
Another friend of Duggan's called John White was very upset over the riots that took off later that night.
“Everyone went to Mark’s mum's house during the vandalism. No one wanted anything to do with it. You’re not saying anything to the police, you’re just robbing and looting shops. It’s disgusting, and what they’re doing in all these other areas is using his name to say why they’re doing it and it’s wrong.”
When I asked him about the burning of the Foot Locker in Brixton his frustrations took hold.
“If you have a problem you should take it to your local authority. Brixton was just jumping on the bandwagon. And at the end of the day, the bandwagon they jumped on makes it look bad for his family, because his family is talking about the loving man he was. All this outside stuff is tearing his mum up when she looks in the 'papers in the morning and sees what they’re saying about her son. Yet no one is coming forward and saying anything, saying that’s not how it goes.”
From all accounts at Broadwater Farm, Duggan was a good man who was gunned down by corrupt police. Of course they would say that. But if the police are eventually found guilty, they should be pursued with the same thirst for justice that Home Secretary Theresa May exhibited on Monday night.
“Those responsible for this violence and looting will be made to face the consequences of their actions.”
Does this mean the police will be arrested and put on trial? And what of the taxi driver, where the hell is he in all of this? People around the world may have just seen a riot on TV, but the hype surrounding the juvenile destruction of all these London neighbourhoods should not overshadow the fact that Mark Duggan was not treated with any human rights when he was gunned down. He leaves six children according to those I spoke with on the Farm. He was “a loving English dad and a regular with them,” as one man said.
“If what happened on Saturday night didn’t happen, would we have gotten a ballistic report saying that it was a police issued bullet?" wondered John White. "That’s what you’ve got to wonder; why does a lion have to roar to be heard certain times?”