Mark Duggan killing: Four years later and still no justice

Richard Sudan
Richard Sudan is a London-based writer, political activist, and performance poet. His writing has been published in many prominent publications, including the Independent, the Guardian, Huffington Post and Washington Spectator. He has been a guest speaker at events for different organizations ranging from the University of East London to the People's Assembly covering various topics. His opinion is that the mainstream media has a duty to challenge power, rather than to serve power. Richard has taught writing poetry for performance at Brunel University.
Carole Duggan (top R) gestures during a vigil for her nephew Mark Duggan, outside Tottenham Police Station in Tottenham, north London January 11, 2014. © Neil Hall
On August 4, 2011, Mark Duggan was killed in Tottenham by the police. Four years on, the Duggan family are still seeking justice for Mark. But the officers involved were cleared of ‘any wrongdoing’ and it was eventually ruled that Mark’s murder was ‘lawful.’

While we see the ramifications of unbridled police violence all over the world, we are reminded that for many communities here at home in the United Kingdom, the treatment they face is little different from that which have seen of late in the United States.

The case of Mark Duggan stands amid a backdrop of many other tragic cases whereby young black men are killed by those who are supposed to protect them. Just as with the many hundreds of other cases which have seen citizens die in police custody, with no officer being brought to justice, Mark Duggan’s case is a chilling reminder of just how little progress has been made and how far there still is to go. The criminal justice system has failed to jail any officer, despite the fact Mark Duggan was unarmed and shot dead execution style.

Many anomalies and questions marks still surround the case, and the official line peddled by the police and the media in the immediate aftermath of Mark’s murder was shown to be a fallacy. There were also significant political implications with this case too.

Not only did the facts that emerged after Mark’s killing contradict the official police and media line, but the failure of the police to even communicate with Duggan’s family and inform them of his death led to protests outside Tottenham police station. These protests and the fact that police reportedly beat a teenage girl during the demonstrations are viewed by many to have been the initial sparks for the unrest which followed. The riots in North London quickly spread throughout the country.

Police relations with communities in Tottenham have historically been riddled with examples of police brutalising residents.

Supporters make a banner before a vigil for Mark Duggan outside Tottenham Police Station in Tottenham, north London January 11, 2014. © Suzanne Plunkett

As a result of these tensions building up over many years, and because the police have failed to root out their own problems from within, the potential for this tension to explode has always existed on a knife edge just below the surface needing only a jolt to rear its head.

Duggan’s murder in 2011 provided such a catalyst.

But the media coverage at the time of the protests successfully diverted attention away from the criminal actions of the police, poverty, and racial tension and instead demonised the community, specifically young people.

One other knock-on effect from the English riots was that attention was diverted away from the MPs expenses scandal, which was breaking at the time, and onto young people who took part in the rioting from poorer communities. It’s worth noting too, that while these young people were being put through a kangaroo court system, paraded in the media, punishing them for taking part in the riots characterising the behaviour as ‘pure criminality’ (removing the factors underpinning the riots), at the same time politicians were being barely punished for looting the taxpayers pocket. This has left many people reeling from a bitter sense of injustice and double standards.

The tragedy of Mark Duggan’s killing is a reminder to all those who were living in London of how entrenched and normalised and accepted such injustice has become.

Mark Duggan’s case was significant because of the circumstances surrounding his killing, and because the actions of the police before and after highlighted the deep institutional failings of the police and so-called justice system. It was these failings which led to the riots.

Duggan’s killing was ruled as ‘lawful’. Officers involved were cleared of ‘any wrongdoing’ despite the fact they shot dead an unarmed black man in an area of London where racial tensions between the community and police were already fragile, with not much needed for things to erupt.

If you are young and black in the UK, you are still more likely to be stopped and searched than if you are white, despite the fact that black people are no more likely to commit crime than anyone else.

Poverty, a lack of access to further education, and low employment prospects have not just remained firmly rooted in some of the UK’s poorest areas - with government policy and austerity becoming further entrenched since 2011- these problems have undoubtedly worsened.

Food banks are now becoming more and more widespread and the gap between the richest and the poorest has widened too.

No one is denying individual responsibility for any crime, including looting or rioting. But surely all of the factors which lead to such a disaster like the London riots must be looked at. And surely the same level of personal responsibility we are all supposed to adhere to applies to the police too?

Surely yes, but the current state of play suggests that this ideal, is far from becoming a reality.

Family members of Mark Duggan release doves during a vigil for him outside Tottenham Police Station in Tottenham, north London January 11, 2014. © Neil Hall

Many were quick to focus on anything which might justify the actions of the police and shift accountability for his death from their own actions to the actions of Mark Duggan.

He was smeared in the press before any trial had even taken place following his killing. ‘Journalists’ like Richard Littlejohn from the Daily Mail pretty much suggested that Mark Duggan deserved to be killed based on the media’s common portrayal of him. In one sensational claim it was suggested that Duggan was among“Europe's most violent criminals”.

The only reason why entirely racist claims like these are allowed to be seen as the norm in the mainstream media, at least, is because they have become wholly acceptable.

In much of the media, and within the criminal justice system, the assumption is usually made that the police, by virtue of the fact that they are the police, are whiter than white, and innocent, and that anyone they come into contact with must somehow therefore automatically be guilty and have done something wrong.

Mark Duggan’s family and countless other families are still seeking justice for loved ones who have died in police custody.

Today we remember Mark Duggan and remember too just how quickly a sequence of events can spiral out of control. One could perhaps argue that if the police had handled the aftermath of Duggan’s death better (ignoring for a moment the fact it was they who killed him) the riots could have been avoided.

The crimes of the police to date have barely been acknowledged, and until they are we are not even in a position to suggest many solutions. Hope for the future rests with a more informed public, equipped with knowledge and a willingness to hold those accountable who do wrong no matter who they are, including the police. If we are organised we can pressure those who have the power to implement change among powerful institutions from the top down. It won’t happen just from marches and wishful thinking. It’s not in the nature of power to relinquish it without a fight.

Power concedes nothing without demand, and without justice there can be no peace-nor should there be.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.