As the verdict from the inquest into the killing of Mark Duggan began to emerge it was an all too familiar pattern for those of us In Ireland following these events.
People in Ireland could relate to and empathise with the feelings, frustrations and emotions of the Duggan family and their community. They felt their pain and families here likely relived their own personal and very similar experiences of injustice in those moments when the Duggan family spoke outside the court. Sadly they too had been there – they once stood in those shoes also. Families watching in living rooms that also hold mementos and pictures of loved ones taken from them in similar circumstances. It was all too familiar. It was all humanly painful.
During four decades of political conflict members of the police and British Army killed 367 people in Ireland. Like Mark Duggan the vast majority were unarmed and included scores of children and women. A shoot-to-kill policy existed in the North of Ireland and almost exclusively all of these killings were visited against one section of the community. A community vilified and denied its rights.
The usual accompanying lies were; we were fired upon and returned fire; there was a gun but others removed it from the scene; I thought there was a gun; the person made a sudden movement; they turned as though they were about to shoot; there was a hostile crowd. In countless cases these statements were found to be untrue yet there were only ever a handful of prosecutions – poorly prosecuted it must be added and where acquittal was more frequent than prosecution.
The standard practice after such killings was that the police and military would issue public statements and brief the media, often while the body was still at the scene of the shooting. Such misinformation became the initial story forming the first link in a sequence of perfunctory measures throughout the criminal justice system that when concluded equated to impunity. And that is the journey families relate to also as they watch and listen to the Duggan family.
Truth always became the first casualty. Attempts to deter witnesses and the changing of their statements occurred regularly. Harassment too of witnesses, bereaved families and those organising and campaigning for justice – even lawyers representing families were threatened. Two of our brightest and most successful lawyers were assassinated by the State using loyalists as proxies.
The parallels are striking to say the least.
I have often said that when a community is vilified and described in certain terms, subjugated in many ways, then it creates a subtext where the rights of that community and its people are then also somehow dismissed. In this context all sorts of abuses by those in authority take root and can even flourish. What would be unacceptable police behavior in other mainstream white middle-class areas appears acceptable in Black, Asian, Muslim and other ethic communities in Britain. Even more disturbing is that when these abuses occur the accountability and due process necessary in curbing such activity is found wanting. And this merely exacerbates the entire situation. It adds insult to injury.
Many questions remain unanswered concerning the shooting of Mark Duggan. And even if Mark Duggan was armed the penalty for possession of a firearm is not summary execution.
We were a community vilified, marginalised economically, politically vetted, censored, and criminalised of which there remains a legacy yet to be resolved. Campaigns for truth and justice here remain and have with the passage of time grown stronger in recent years.
But like the community Mark Duggan came from we were a proud and determined people despite what was visited against us – we persevered with great pride and dignity and our resolve kept us going.
Recently we watched as the relatives and survivors of the Kenyan Mau Mau sought justice against State abuses. We took comfort from that as we continue to struggle for justice. There is hope. Truth will out if people speak out.
The case of Mark Duggan must not be seen in isolation to other such abuses by police in Britain for to do so would lend to a continuing culture of abuse by those in authority. We noted that the Duggan family rightly referenced other such deaths including those who died in police custody. Organise, campaign, build, and show solidarity – together you are stronger and more effective. Importantly your efforts can help prevent other families suffering a similar fate and that’s the best legacy in memory of Mark Duggan.
Our thoughts, support and solidarity are with you.