Monday, 6 August 2012
Mark Duggan: the lessons the police haven't learned
Last week I attended the funeral of Bruno Hall. It is a year since his son, Mark Duggan (pictured), was shot and killed by police officers on the streets of Tottenham. Bruno was given his send-off in the same church as Mark, and buried in the same plot. For the hundreds of mourners, it felt like we were reliving the trauma and emotion of Mark's death all over again.
Bruno passed away not knowing why his son had been killed. One of the last things he said to me was that he had more unanswered questions than he had on the day of Mark's death. Much has been written about Mark's killing and the subsequent disorder that spread across the country. However, it would appear that very little has been learnt about its root causes, especially by those in positions of power.
The riots that took place in Tottenham did not happen because of the shooting of Mark Duggan: if this was the case the rioting would have started on 4 August, the day he was slain. The rioting was sparked by the inadequate response to demonstrators who had gathered outside Tottenham police station two days later to voice their unhappiness over the treatment of Mark's parents. This is important and must be acknowledged if we are to avoid future outbreaks of social unrest.
The Metropolitan Police Service has clearly not learned this. It was forced to apologise publicly to Mark's parents, after failing in its legal requirement to inform them of their son's death. But it still doesn't understand that had it performed its basic duties, demonstrators need never have gone to the police station. And if we hadn't attended there would have been no rioting that evening. It is that simple. Yet, even after having apologised, the Met still compiled a report, Four Days in August, that sought to lay the blame for the riots on those who led the peaceful protest. Clearly they should be focusing on improving the way they respond to such incidents – or, better still, trying to ensure such incidents do not arise in the first place.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission's investigation into the operation that led to Mark's death is another great concern to the family. The IPCC meets regularly with family members in what they call "update meetings", but actually tell them very little.
The whole issue of disclosure of information, or the lack of it, has become a significant feature of this investigation, with the inquest coroner having to demand that the IPCC hands over all its evidence for him to examine. But it's hard to know what this evidence amounts to, as the officers involved in the shooting still refuse to give statements or to be questioned directly by the IPCC. There is also the suggestion that the laws that keep secret any telephone-tapping activity by the security services may be enacted in this case – meaning that an open inquest, where all the evidence is presented to a coroner and a jury, might never take place. It's as though a veil of secrecy has been thrown over the entire investigation. This clearly undermines the confidence that the family, and many within the community, have in the IPPC's ability to conduct a thorough, transparent and robust investigation.
It is ironic then that, in the time the IPCC has taken to tell us so little, there have been three separate "independent" reviews, published with much fanfare, that are already gathering dust. The Tottenham Community Panel's review, Taking Tottenham Forward, was led by Haringey councillors and their friends. While well-meaning in its focus on the regeneration of the high road, its buzz words and jargon mean little as the report has few measurable targets or milestones. How will the local authority, Haringey, develop training, jobs or opportunities for those who live in its depressed estates that are the breeding grounds for the potential demonstrators and rioters of the future? Added to this is the recent unwarranted involvement of the police, whose interference and intrusive style of policing led to the last-minute cancelling of an event to commemorate Bruno's life and passing. Incidents like this mean there will always be the potential for conflict between those with power and the powerless.
Despite all of the investigations and reviews of the last 12 months, there is a real sense within some sections of the community of not having been involved or listened to by anyone in authority. Things such as this only serve to exacerbate the local people's long-felt and deep sense of marginalisation and injustice. We should have learnt that these are the ingredients for a "perfect storm", which can break out any time.
Written by Stafford Scott and first published in The Guardian