Twenty-six years ago, a police officer was hacked to death during a riot in North London; this weekend, the same streets erupted in flames as once again the police lost control.
At around 6.15pm last Thursday, officers from the Metropolitan Police, including armed officers from the specialist CO19 unit, stopped a minicab in Ferry Lane, Tottenham, North London. In what was obviously an intelligence led operation, they had intended to arrest the passenger, 29 year old Mark Duggan. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating – yes, that really is its name. Until this investigation has been completed, we will not know exactly what happened nor the background to it, but it appears that Mark Duggan drew a gun and fired at the arresting officers, hitting one of them; it appears too that this shot could have been fatal because it hit the officer’s radio. He was taken to hospital but fortunately was not seriously hurt, and was discharged. Mark Duggan was not so fortunate, because he was shot dead at the scene.
As stated, the facts are not yet all in, but a man who draws a gun on armed police as they are about to make an arrest deserves little if any sympathy. Britain does not have the same gun culture as the United States, and in spite of a handful of well publicised shootings like the terrible Hungerford and Dunblane Massacres, the streets of Britain were, or used to be, relatively safe to walk, at least as far as guns were concerned. Although the police had always had access to guns, up until the 1960s and later we still had an unarmed police force. Sadly all that changed, largely due to terrorism, first the IRA and now the so-called Islamist threat. Sadly and perhaps shamefully we now see police officers patrolling our airports and even on occasion the major railway termini armed with automatic weapons. As well as terrorism, there is also a gun culture. This is not so much criminals who routinely carry guns, but mainly young men who carry guns and knives because they are part of a gang, because it is cool, or in case they get “dissed”.
These gangs and the people who carry these guns are largely black, a fact that up until recently was hardly ever mentioned for fear of that mindnumbing mantra racism, a mantra that intensified with the murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993, which also led to unfair and at times ludicrous criticisms of the Metropolitan Police due to their failure to pin the blame for this murder on the Acourt brothers and their gang.
Then something happened, black politicians and self-styled community leaders began to realise there were other reasons besides racist policing for particularly young black men ending up in gaol, and especially in the morgue. Black politicians and others began to cooperate with rather than confront the police, and Operation Trident was born. According to the AUTUMN 2000 issue of the LINK, Trident was set up in 1998 to tackle specifically black on black shootings, and there had been fifteen deaths to date that year (ie in 2000 alone). A unit that originally comprised a ten strong intelligence gathering team had expanded to no less than 160 officers.
Although that cooperation has increased over the years, there is still a lot of work to be done, as evinced by the reaction to the death of Smiley Culture earlier this year. It is clear though that the old excuses no longer wash. Some young blacks may have been unemployed, or even unemployable, but they could still afford to drive around in cars, and they still had the money to buy automatic weapons, as in the horrific January 2003 shooting of 18 year old Charlene Ellis and 17 year old Letisha Shakespeare outside a Birmingham hair salon. One of the four gangstas convicted of their murders was Charlene’s half brother.
The arrogance of some of these young thugs and punks knows no bounds; Ishmael McLean and his fellow rappers even recorded a song that boasted about killing snitches, and sent it to witnesses to a gun murder, but although omertà is still very much alive, the romantic image of the gangsta has taken a considerable beating with the constant exposure of the horrific and senseless crimes this lifestyle leads to.
Although the current outbreak of violence is an opportunistic reaction to the shooting of Mark Duggan, it has sinister echoes of an earlier riot, one that left a legacy of hatred and bitterness on both sides. On October 5, 1985, four police officers entered the home of Mrs Cynthia Jarrett, an overweight black woman and the mother of Floyd Jarrett, who had been arrested in a routine police stop. Unfortunately, Mrs Jarrett suffered a heart attack and literally dropped dead; although there was a suggestion she had been pushed by a detective, apparently during a scuffle with family members, this was not a case of police brutality.
Even so, her death was used as the pretext for the riot which followed on the Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham where the Jarrett family lived. Hundreds of mainly but not exclusively black youths attacked the police, and the following night, PC Keith Blakelock was hacked to death. He was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal posthumously. A local black councillor, Bernie Grant, caused outrage when he said the police had received “a bloody good hiding”. He went on to serve as Labour Member of Parliament for Tottenham until his death in April 2000, and was succeeded by another black MP, David Lammy, who would never dream of saying such a thing.
Tragic though was the death of PC Blakelock, what the police did next was totally inexcusable. Three men were arrested and charged with his murder, Winston Silcott, Mark Braithwaite and Engin Raghip. Silcott and Braithwaite were black; Raghip – who was apparently none too bright – was not. Silcott appears to have been arrested because at the time of the riot he was on bail for murder; he would later be convicted of the murder of Anthony Smith. By the time he stood trial for the murder of Keith Blakelock, he had been convicted of that murder, a conviction that was rightly upheld on appeal.
Unlike the United States, Britain has strong and meaningful contempt of court laws, so rather than being demonised like Casey Anthony, the Tottenham Three including Silcott received a fair trial, and all mention of his conviction for the murder of Anthony Smith was quashed under the Contempt Of Court Act, 1981. All three were convicted and gaoled for life. Unfortunately, although the trial was fair, the police investigation had not been, Silcott in particular was “verballed up”; at that time, police interrogations of suspects were not recorded. Later, an ESDA test would prove that his unsigned confession had been made up out of the whole cloth, and he and his two co-defendants had their convictions quashed. As ever, the police were above the law, and two senior officers who were tried for fitting Silcott up were found not guilty. He was paroled in October 2003, and appears to have stayed out of trouble since. What was especially odious about the police framing him for the murder of Keith Blakelock is that they must have realised he was innocent. Silcott is extremely tall; such a distinctive individual would have been easily identifiable on the hundreds of surveillance photographs that were taken during the riot, yet he was nowhere to be seen.
After the Broadwater Farm riot, the estate was literally transformed, and there was a new spirit of optimism in the area; all that now appears to have been dashed, or perhaps one should say it has gone up in smoke. The local MP, the aforementioned David Lammy condemned the rioters, “many of whom are not from Tottenham and had come from afar into this community intent on causing violence” adding "What happened here raised huge questions and we need answers, but the response to that is not to loot, to rob.”
At this moment in time there appear to be no fatalities, but as local shops have gone up in flames, it will be some time before this can be confirmed either way. Regardless of any shortcomings of the police in the past, this is a shocking and totally unwarranted response to a tragic death, a death that on the face it is the fault of only one man, the victim Mark Duggan, and of course the gangsta culture in which he appears to have been immersed.
Regarding the last paragraph, the reader is referred to the IPCC press release of August 9, 2011; although it appears that Mark Duggan did not actually fire at the police, he was definitely carrying a firearm. In due course the IPCC will publish a full report.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com