London riot fears as police escape punishment over killing of Mark Duggan

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley speaks to reporters outside The Royal Courts of Justice on January 8, 2014
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley speaks to reporters outside The Royal Courts of Justice on January 8, 2014.
Credit: Getty Images

The death of Mark Duggan at the hands of police marksmen in 2011 sparked the worst civil disorder Britain has seen in modern history, causing five deaths and billions of pounds of damage. The verdict of lawful killing, delivered Wednesday, threatens to unleash a similar wave of anger.

“Nothing has changed,” says David, a black, middle-aged market trader operating in the shadow of Tottenham football stadium, on the High Road still visibly scarred by the violence. “Police have always discriminated against black people here, so there is a lot of hostility toward them.”

David lists a number of black men who died in police custody in suspicious circumstances, and claims to have harassed many times himself.

“I worry the divide is growing – the police are getting harsher and the kids are angrier.”

That anger has already been seen as mobs formed in the wake of the verdict to chant “murderers” outside police stations in Tottenham and central London. It has grown as details of the case emerge; police claims that Duggan had fired at officers were shown to be untrue. The only independent witness described an “execution”. The evidence is littered with inconsistencies in police accounts.

“People are having trouble understanding how the shooting of a man without him being in possession of a gun at the moment of impact could be legal,” says Symeon Brown, a former youth worker in the borough, who also led an investigation of the riots for the London School of Economics and The Guardian newspaper.

This has caused dangerous disillusionment, says Brown. “The verdict has led many to say that justice isn’t possible. Distrust and anger in the state was a big reason behind the riots and although riots happen under special conditions, the anger and sense of injustice that led to them in 2011 is still being felt.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has issued a call for calm, while Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has promised firearms operations will be filmed from April 2014. Additional riot control powers are being considered should the worst happen, including the use of water cannon.

The family of Mark Duggan has promised to continue their struggle for justice peacefully, and intend to sue the police. Protests are planned for the weekend.


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