Yesterday, the three-month inquest into the shooting of Mark Duggan came to an end. The conclusion, by eight jury members to two, was that the killing by a London Met firearms officer – the killing that sparked the 2011 riots – was lawful, even though Duggan was unarmed when it happened.
A lot of people were shocked at the decision, and not just because police shootings are relatively infrequent on British streets. Understandably, those most affected were Duggan's family and friends, with his brother reportedly shouting, "Fuck them," at the jury as they left the Royal Courts of Justice, and another supporter telling the assembled hacks, "A black life ain't worth nothing. Print that."
Outside the court, the family’s lawyer said, "As you can see, the family is in a state of shock… they can’t believe that this is the outcome. No gun is in hand and yet he was shot – murdered." Duggan's brother, Shaun Hall, said, "We came for justice today – we don't feel that we're leaving with justice." His aunt Carole said, “For as long as it takes, God give my family strength. We are going to fight until we have no breath in our body, for justice for Mark, for his children and for all of those other deaths in custody that have had nothing. We are not giving up." Arm raised in the air, she led a chant of, "No justice, no peace."
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley made a statement on behalf of the police while angry protesters drowned him out with cries of "Murderer!" and, "Police killed Mark Duggan!" What he was trying to say was, “No officer sets out at the start of the day to run an operation that results in someone dying… but the task our officers face in making split-second decisions while confronting armed criminals means that there is a risk – a very small risk – that this will happen." Just to reiterate, Duggan was not armed when he was shot. He had a gun on him when police first arrived, but the jury concluded he had thrown it away before he was surrounded.
That said, they also concluded that the unarmed man was enough of a risk that shooting him twice in the chest could be justified as "reasonable force". The police said that their officer had an "honest and reasonable belief" that Duggan still had a gun. The only member of the public to witness the killing insisted that he didn't even look threatening.
Duggan getting shot triggered the riots, but it didn't cause them. In the areas hit hardest in August of 2011, a lot of people really, really hated the police. Of course, a lot of people also really, really loved getting free stuff and setting things on fire but Duggan's story is part of a wider narrative about the relationship between the police and a number of the communities that they are supposed to protect.
Last night, I headed to Tottenham – where a vigil was being held – to ask people what they thought of the jury's decision.
Upon arrival, the atmosphere was a weird mix of sorrow, anger and professionalism. There were possibly more members of the press in attendance than vigil-goers, and a lot of people present were reluctant to say anything to anyone holding a camera or a dictaphone. A couple of people I spoke to seemed to view the media as backing the police, given the repeated mentions of Duggan's alleged criminality (it has been reported that he was a prominent figure in the Tottenham ManDem gang – something his family denies).
"The media, as soon as it came out, they was demonising Mark… talking about his street culture and all of this foolishness that is irrelevant to the fact that he was pulled out of a car, had his hands up and was executed," as one guy I spoke to put it.
This woman told us, "I just think they’re murderers. It’s a load of shit. It’s a load of shit. They know what they’re doing. It's all a set-up," before turning away.
Kurtis here was a bit more talkative. He described the jury as a "shambles". "At the end of the day, I’m a very good friend of Mark, when I was younger. When I got the verdict, I was upset, emotional, angry, all in one. They said it in court: he was unarmed when he got shot stone cold dead – executed," he said, echoing the words of Duggan's family outside the court. "This is about them murdering our boy for nothing. There was already a barrier between us and them – they’ve just made it even worse."
I asked him what he thought of the police. "They’re a gang," he replied. "This verdict, when you look at it between the lines, has given them a licence to kill. They’re here to enforce the law, but they’re not enforcing it in the right way, so they need to get rid of the police and create another body. [A body] that’s different from the police, that actually enforces the law for human rights and for real people – not just people who have money and are in a certain class."
This guy didn’t want to be named, but he said, "We might be asking certain elements [about] how they might feel and how they might react. It opens more questions than it answers. The finality of this decision doesn’t leave the situation closed." He continued: "I’m not even speaking as a person of colour, I’m speaking as a human being – you get a sense that something is not right here."
Then the guy in the scarf interrupted him, shouting, "How is it lawful? How is it fucking lawful? They’ve been getting away with it for fucking years. Years. It’s all centred on young black people," doing a good job of repeating his point with a little more volume.
The anonymous man's slightly cryptic question of how "certain elements might react" seemed pertinent, so I asked Jabu Maseko – a local 20-year-old recruitment consultant – whether she thought the verdict could cause another bout of rioting. "I hope not. Of course, there’s potential," she said. "We’ve been oppressed all the way up to 2014, and violence may come with that. It’s one of the human reactions."
On the pavement outside the police station, a couple of officers had the thankless task of providing the police’s point of view, so I asked one whether there was any hope of rebuilding a relationship with the local community.
"When you say rebuild, I think we’re building relationships anyway," he said. "One thing communities were really bothered about was the amount of people that we were stopping and searching, so we’ve listened to that. We’re now stopping and searching less people, which means that we’re doing it in a way that’s more effective."
I asked Raspect Fyabinghi here what he made of the police’s efforts to marginally hold off hassling young people in the streets, and he was unimpressed.
"Never allow the police to delude you into believing that they have changed their tactics," he said. "We, as black people, have been fighting and politically organising against the unlawful stop and searches. We have had to bring certain facts to the table, like when you stop and search us for drugs… in rich white society, cocaine is a normal drug, whereas these youth, the most you’re going to catch on them is a little bag of ‘erbs. So now that pressure is on the police, they’ve had to back up, but they’re giving the illusion that this back up is based on their own decision, their own tender heart, their own care and love. No."
As people began to slope off home, a few guys from the local area were hassling a police officer, filming him on their phones as they asked him what he made of the verdict. He offered them the press officer’s phone number, which seemed like a strange thing to give a group of non-journalists. "If I got shot on the streets, would that be OK? Would that be ‘lawful’?" they asked.
"I’m here for your safety," replied the officer.
It didn’t look like any of them were too convinced.
This article was updated at 1.10PM on Thursday, the 9th of January to reflect the inquest's verdict.
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