By Brian Richardson
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After the inquest into Mark Duggan’s death, police are racist to the core

This article is over 7 years, 11 months old
The killing that sparked the 2011 summer riots has exposed the reality of policing of black, Asian and working class communities. Brian Richardson looks at the inquest and its aftermath.
Issue 388

The police and political establishment must have feared the worst when an inquest jury announced in January that they did not believe that Mark Duggan had a gun in his hand when he was fatally shot by police officers in Tottenham, North London, on 4 August 2011. Ultimately, however, they must have breathed a huge sigh of relief when the jury concluded that the killing was lawful.

Almost immediately they then went on the offensive in the same way that they had done in the days after that fateful event. The Duggan family were condemned for their understandably emotional response as the jury departed.

Carole Duggan, Mark’s aunt, was then criticised for declaring, “No Justice, No Peace” on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice. Radio 4’s Today programme presenter John Humphrys repeatedly demanded to know what she meant by that phrase and David Cameron lectured the family on the need for peace, calm and acceptance of the outcome.

These responses are indicative of the fact that, for the state, this inquest mattered more than most. It was the killing of Mark Duggan that sparked the riots that erupted in towns and cities across England that summer.

A lawful killing verdict should therefore have paved the way for a renewal of the claim that what followed was unjustified criminality “pure and simple”.

It was hardly a coincidence therefore that the very next day London mayor Boris Johnson and the Metropolitan Police were canvassing for the use of water cannon to quell future protests.

As night began to fall, however, various figures were striking a less confident tone. In contrast to the original refusal to account for the lies told when the shooting happened, the Metropolitan Police were quick to announce a willingness to meet with the family and “community leaders”.

Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe subsequently announced the appointment of a “senior officer” to improve “community engagement”.

It is not surprising that a charm offensive was launched so swiftly. Within hours of the inquest conclusion, many people were expressing serious misgivings about the outcome. For one thing, they struggled to see how it can be lawful to shoot somebody who is unarmed.

It is also worth considering why when the police intelligence was so specific that they supposedly knew exactly where Duggan was travelling to and for what purpose they did not intercept him at the address where he is said to have collected the weapon. Had they done so then, presumably, they could have arrested both him and the man who supplied it and taken the gun off the streets.

I was present at the inquest when the police were asked about this and whether any lessons could be learned from the operation. Their answers were complacent and far from convincing. I was also present when Duggan’s mother Pam gave evidence.

She did not seek to portray her son as an angel in whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt. Instead her demand was simple and heartfelt: she wanted to know why her son was shot down in the street instead of arrested and subjected to due process.


Since then it transpires that the police were advised some six years before by the Independent Police Complaints Commission to review the controversial “hard stop” procedure that was deployed that afternoon.

The tactic is intended to “shock and awe” a suspect into submission by boxing their vehicle in and then rushing at them with words and weapons. Duggan was supposed to remain frozen in his seat. Instead he got out of the car and, as a consequence, his fate was sealed within seconds.

As a way of addressing the concerns that have been raised, there is talk of officers wearing cameras on their uniforms to record these encounters and that they should not be allowed to sit together and compile their statements collectively.

Many people, particularly in black communities, will have listened to these pronouncements with weary resignation if not rising anger. We have heard it all before and have little faith that it will lead to positive and lasting change.

Coincidentally, this month marks the fifteenth anniversary of the publication of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report. That inquiry was initiated in response to the flawed investigation into the racist murder of the 18-year-old black student in Eltham, south east London, in 1993. The conclusion of the inquiry chair, Sir William Macpherson, that the police were “institutionally racist” was a damning indictment.


In its aftermath we were promised that there would be a “step change” in society’s attitude to race relations, and thoroughgoing reform of the police and other public bodies. Specifically, we were told that there would be changes in stop and search procedures and that greater efforts would be made to recruit, retain and promote people from black and Asian communities.

On the tenth anniversary of that report no less a figure than Trevor Phillips, then chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the very body responsible for monitoring progress, happily pronounced in a Daily Mail interview that “it is no longer valid to call the police institutionally racist”.

This was despite the fact that a report the EHRC had just published admitted that the racial disproportionality of stop and search remained “stubbornly high”.

There was a huge increase in the number of stops and searches in the period that Phillips was referring to, from less than 750,000 in 2001-02 to almost 1.3 million in 2010-11. This was in part due to the enactment of badly drafted emergency legislation introduced to support the “war on terror”.

Under one of these anti-terror laws, less than 1 percent of stops led to an arrest. Meanwhile the number of stops under Section One of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) that led to an arrest actually declined from 12 percent in 2007-08 to 10 percent in 2011-12.

Research by Release, a national centre of expertise on drugs, shows that half of the stops under PACE are for drugs. One such stop occurs somewhere in England and Wales every 58 seconds.

Drug use is clearly widespread but this surely tells us more about the alienation that so many people experience than it does about criminality. In any event, not all arrests lead to a charge let alone a conviction, so it is apparent that stop and search is a blunt instrument that does little to solve crime.

By comparison, with their ineffectiveness in detecting crime, the capacity of stops and searches to stir up resentment among those who are targeted is incalculable. It is little wonder that black and Asian people react with such anger and suspicion towards the police.

The Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) own research concludes that those who “self -define” as black are six times more likely to be stopped and searched under Section One of PACE than their white peers.

Under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 they were an eye-watering 27 times more likely to be stopped and searched.

Given his confidence in the police, the August 2011 riots must have come as a great shock to Phillips and also to the likes of Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee. Vaz was first elected to parliament in 1987 alongside three other candidates from the Labour Party Black Section – Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and Diane Abbott – in what was seen as a great breakthrough for black communities.

Grant had been the leader of Haringey council, which includes Tottenham, when riots had erupted in 1985 following the death of a black woman, Cynthia Jarrett, at the hands of the police. His response was to suggest that the police “got a bloody good hiding”.

When he died prematurely in 2000 he was replaced by David Lammy in a move that was intended to ensure that the seat remained in black hands. Lammy’s vocal support for the police after the 2011 riots and refusal to support the Duggan family vigil after the inquest last month spoke volumes about him and the decline of a political project based upon electing “black faces to high places”.

The riots came as no surprise to those of us who actually live in these communities and who witness on a daily basis the way that black, Asian and white working class youth are treated by the police.

It is clear from these encounters that stop and search is not about solving crime and the racial disproportionality in its use does not occur simply because a minority of officers fail to “stop and think”, as Phillips would have us believe.

Nor is it because of the presence of a few bad apples in an otherwise healthy and fragrant barrel, as former mayor Ken Livingstone, of all people, suggested in the wake of the Duggan inquest. That is another tired old adage that we first heard way back in 1981 when Lord Scarman investigated the Brixton riots of that year.

The truth is that stop and search is deployed primarily to keep working class people in their place. It exposes the true role of the police as a key arm of the state. Their primary function is to maintain the “law and order” of an unequal society based upon exploitation and relies upon racism and wider oppression to divide working people.


From the very outset the legislation establishing the Metropolitan Police empowered constables to apprehend: “all loose, idle and disorderly Persons whom he shall find disturbing the public Peace, or whom he shall have just Cause to suspect of any evil Designs, and all Persons whom he shall find between sunset and the Hour of Eight in the Forenoon lying in any Highway, Yard, or other Place, or loitering therein, and not giving a satisfactory Account of themselves…”

In other words, suspicion, hostility and an authority to harass and bully were built into the office of constable from the beginning. It is hardly surprising therefore that they attract the most reactionary people into their ranks and inculcate a canteen culture of racism, sexism and homophobia.

Moreover, our rulers know the truth about stop and search. The Home Office conducted a consultation in 2012 which exposed its inefficiency in terms of crime reduction and the toxicity of its impact on community relations.

As I write there is a stand off between home secretary Theresa May, who wants to curb the number of stop and searches carried out by the police, and David Cameron, who opposes this, which has more to do with their respective political ambitions than a belief in the tactic as a means of solving crime.

Far from being simply wanton criminality, the first wave of riots in August 2011 were blowback, a direct reaction to this oppressive policing and the wider criminalisation of these communities.

The MoJ paper reports that black and Asian people are more likely to be victims of crime yet more likely to be arrested and charged. They are convicted for indictable offences more often and receive tougher sentences.

The black former parliamentary candidate Shaun Bailey, a man who supposedly gives the Tories some street cred, was quick to contend that few of the rioters had ever even heard of Duggan. It sounds clever but completely misses the point. It is not necessary to know somebody personally to empathise with them.

Police harassment is such a constant feature of the lives of black, Asian and white working class young people that Duggan’s death proved to be a tipping point.

Actual deaths in custody may not be an everyday experience, but the 5,998 the government admits have died in state custody between 2000 and 2010 amount to more than one a week – a fact that resonates with black communities.


I suspect few of the people who took to the streets of Haringey or Hackney in August 2011 called the police “plebs” and neither apparently did former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell. Like them, however, he now knows a thing or two about the honesty and integrity of the police. Since then leading Tories, including former shadow home secretary David Davis and even Cameron himself, have taken turns to criticise the police.

Nor are these latter-day misgivings confined to politicians. Even the unfailingly loyal London Evening Standard felt compelled to remind “senior officers” of the need to, “Keep the Met honest”, after the force was ordered to pay 20,000 pounds compensation last month to two students for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, assault and malicious prosecution.

The victim of the “Plebgate” saga may have raised a few eyebrows, but the behaviour of the police came as no surprise to those of us used to defending working class people in the criminal courts.

It came as no surprise to victims of injustice such as the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, and it came as no surprise to the families of the 95 Liverpool football fans who died at Hillsborough football stadium in 1989.

It is 25 years since then and 30 years since the start of the year-long Great Miners’ Strike. Thatcher demonised the miners as “the enemy within” and deployed the police in their thousands to attack and criminalise people who were fighting to save their jobs and communities.

Without legal aid many of these miscarriages would not have been exposed. There is a very urgent and immediate need to defend the legal aid system from swingeing cuts. It was part of the post-war reformist settlement, introduced in 1949, and affords working class people a modicum of access to justice which is being slashed by the Conservative-Liberal coalition government.

These examples show that it is both possible and necessary to fight and that small victories can be won. Ultimately, however, the police, courts and parliament cannot be transformed by the presence of a few more black faces or reformed to serve the interests of working class people. Real justice and lasting equality will require workers’ organisation, struggle and revolutionary transformation.

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