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Remembering Mark Duggan: The battle for justice continues

By Trevon Muhammad | Last updated: Jan 30, 2014 - 5:52:46 PM

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People attend a vigil in memory of Mark Duggan outside Tottenham Police Station, in Tottenham, north London, Jan. 11. The vigil was staged in protest against what his family branded a “perverse” inquest finding that Mr. Duggan, 29, was lawfully killed by police.

LONDON (FinalCall.com) - “Who are the murderers? Police are the murderers!” frustrated protestors chanted at a recent vigil remembering Mark Duggan. The demonstration was held after a court ruling that Mr. Duggan was “lawfully killed,” despite being unarmed when shot dead by police in Tottenham in 2011.

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Mark Duggan
Over 300 people braved the cold to support Mr. Duggan’s family outside Tottenham Police station and protest a decision many see as the latest in a long line of injustices against Blacks in the United Kingdom.

During the inquest, the officer who killed Mr. Duggan, known only as V53, told the court the 29-year-old had a gun when confronted by police and described seeing the barrel, trigger guard and handle of the gun in a “freeze-frame moment.”

None of Mr. Duggan’s DNA was found on the gun he allegedly had, or on the sock covering the weapon found over a fence 20 feet from the shooting. None of the officers present witnessed Mr. Duggan throwing the gun and the jury ruled he was unarmed when he was killed.

The only known public witness described the shooting as an “execution.”

The witness, who remains anonymous, testified Mr. Duggan was holding a mobile phone, not a gun, with his hands above his head in surrender when V53, who has recently been cleared to return to duty, opened fire. “His hands were practically up towards his face and he was not threatening. He did not look threatening and the police officer just shot him,” the witness told the BBC in January.

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Supported by friends and families whose loved ones had also died in police custody, Mr. Duggan’s aunt, Carol, said her family would challenge the verdict and reminded protesters that many have died in similarly suspicious circumstances. Over 1,400 people have died in police custody across England and Wales since 1990 but it has been 45 years since an officer was successfully prosecuted for a death in police custody.

Marsha Riggs, the sister of Sean Riggs, who died in Brixton police station in 2008 after being heavily restrained by officers and left topless, handcuffed and unresponsive in a caged area, spoke at the vigil. Police officers must be made accountable for their actions, she said.

“Until officers are put into prison for wrongdoing and murdering our loved ones, nothing will change.” said Ms. Riggs.

In December, a police investigation into the Riggs death was re-opened but Ms. Riggs said her family had to fight for release of critical evidence and encouraged Mr. Duggan’s family to continue to fight for justice.

While the “lawful killing” verdict prompted widespread anger and shock, some  police and media sources have appeared to justify the shooting by declaring Mr. Duggan was one of Europe’s most feared and violent criminals, an allegation his family strongly deny.

Claudia Webb, a founding member of Operation Trident, the police unit which was investigating Mr. Duggan admitted she had never heard his name mentioned in any official meeting.

Recently, a widely publicized picture of Mr. Duggan, which many say has been used by media sources to portray him as a hardened criminal, was discovered to have been altered.

Unknown to the majority of the public, the photo of a grim faced Mr. Duggan was taken at his daughter’s funeral. A heart shaped stone he held in his hands was cropped out of the picture.

Speaking at a public meeting held at the Houses of Parliament, Ms. Webb said Mr. Duggan’s death was the result of police failings and “institutional racism.”

“Black men often receive unprofessional and violent treatment at the hands of the police, we are disproportionately injured on arrest, disproportionately tazered and we disproportionately die in custody,” she said. “There appears to be a temptation to view Black men as super criminals when it comes to policing and the criminal justice system.”

In addition to being as much as 28 times more likely than White citizens to be stopped and searched, Black people in Britain are also more likely to be convicted and receive longer sentences for the same crimes as Whites, according to studies.

An analysis of 1 million court records conducted by The Guardian in 2011, found that Black people were 44 percent more likely than White offenders to be imprisoned for driving offenses, 38 percent more likely to be sentenced to prison for public disorder or possession of a weapon and 27 percent more likely to be jailed for drug possession.

Last year an official government report revealed Black people received sentences an average of 7 months longer than Caucasian offenders for similar offenses.

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Wider Issues Barrister Matthew Ryder QC says Black people are often seen as dangerous throughout society.

Respected lawyer Matthew Ryder QC said the lawful killing verdict was reached as a result of the jury finding the police had an “honest but mistaken” belief Mr. Duggan was a deadly threat.

However this widely held threat perception is a “daily reality” for Black people in British society, Mr. Ryder said. “The debate must go further than the law, it goes beyond stop and search and police conduct it goes right to the heart of how people are perceived not just by the police but by everybody,” he said.

In response to Mark Duggan’s shooting and the inquiry, the London Metropolitan Police force has announced all armed officers will soon be required to wear cameras in an attempt to “build trust” according the force’s commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.

However, some have called for all police officers to be required to wear cameras, which suggests police-community relations may be more damaged than thought.

The Black community, in particular, needs to unite to prevent further injustices, said Minkah Adolfo, a veteran community activist and member of the United Friends and Families Campaign, which advocates for those who die in police custody and their loved ones.

“We’ve been here so many times before and we’ve got to recognize that we won’t be taken seriously until we come together as an organized mighty force and demand justice,” he said.

In the coming weeks, The Final Call will be hosting “Community Question Time” in North London to offer a platform for discussion of deaths in custody and planning a way forward. The event will take place on Friday 31st January from 7 p.m. at the Park View Learning Centre, West Green Road, N15 3QR. For more information please visit http://www.noi.org.uk or call 07809888120.

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