Following the Mark Duggan inquest verdict we need to launch a civil rights movement right here in Hackney.
Mark Duggan was unarmed when he was shot dead. He was posing no realistic threat to the armed officers who were tasked with arresting him. Immediately after his death the press printing lies about how Mark Duggan had ‘opened fire’ and shot an officer ‘in the side of the chest’. This was simply untrue, and clearly designed to create a public perception that the police acted in self-defence. The police failed to properly seal the area, and evidence was tampered with. None of the above is 'rhetoric', it is cold fact. Those of us who have been around a long time were not surprised that the inqu est verdict appeared to legitimise the killing of Mark Duggan. Over the years we have seen too many deaths in police custody, and never seen police officers held to account as a result.
We remember in particular Michael Ferreira, Vandana Patel, Oluwashiji Lapite, Sarah Thomas, Kwame Sasu Wiredu, and Colin Roach, all of whom either died in Stoke Newington Police station, or after ‘contact’ with officers from that police station. We also remember Harry Stanley who, returning home with a table leg which had been repaired for him by his brother, was shot in the head and killed by an armed response unit.
The killing of Mark Duggan was a shocking and disturbing incident. The verdict of the inquest, and the police statements subsequently imply that it was perfectly legitimate for trigger happy officers to shoot to kill.
We contrast the killing of Mark Duggan with the professional response of armed officers outside the Woolwich barracks after the killing of Lee Rigby. In that incident, police faced with being attacked by two armed individuals who had just killed, acted in a professional manner, shooting to incapacitate and then arresting the suspects. In that case the suspects were charging at the police, in Mark Duggan’s case he was reported to be running from the police. If we need armed police, we need them to behave professionally. If Mark Duggan was a criminal, the responsibility for the police was to bring him before a court, not dispatch him to the mortuary.
The verdict in the Mark Duggan inquest raises wider issues about institutional racism in our society.
Why did the Daily mail print lies about a dead black man (was it because they instinctively do?). Why are black boys so often systematically failed by our schools system? Why are unemployment rates so much higher for ethnic minority communities? Why are black youth more likely to be imprisoned when in similar circumstances white youth receive non-custodial sentences? Why is stop and search so often accompanied by unlawful racial profiling?
We pay taxes to fund the police service. Their role is to protect us (lets repeat that: their role is to protect us), but in our community too often it appears as if the police view the community with suspicion at best, and at worst as ‘the enemy’. The horror of this killing and its endorsement by the inquest verdict feels like a metaphor for a society in which black people’s lives are simply worth less than those of their white neighbours.
Our community must respond and it is the responsibility of the elders to ensure that they give leadership to the young. There is massive pent up anger in our community. Without leadership, we fear that there will be a repeat of the riots of 2011, riots which harmed small businesses in our community, put lives at risk, and resulted in hundreds of young people, some with no previous records, sent to prison. Rioting is not the way forward.
Martin Luther King, while condemning riots also cautioned: ‘There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a large segment of people in that society who feel that they have no stake in it; who feel that that have nothing to lose. People who have stake in their society, protect that society, but when they don't have it, they unconsciously want to destroy it’.
As a community, we need to come together and devise a plan of action that reverses the current trend which sees too many of our young reaching the conclusion that they have no stake in society. This will inevitably involve struggle, with the police (to enforce a change in police attitudes to our community) with government policy (which has condemned a million young people to unemployment), with those employers who operate in our community, but fail to provide opportunities to our community.
As a community, we need to find ways to hold those in authority to account, so that they work with us to actively dismantle the barriers that exclude our youth from their rightful place in society. In short we need a civil rights movement right here in Hackney. It will not be easy, but we cannot allow the current situation to deteriorate any further.
If not us then who? If not now then when?
Please join us at the Trinity Centre tonight (Friday 10th January 7pm)