Politics | Mark Duggan, State Violence and the Long History of British Propaganda

Yesterday's verdict in the Mark Duggan case has sent shockwaves of anger and disbelief in communities across the UK. Ceasefire's Adam Elliott-Cooper argues the case epitomises the enduring nature of systematic and institutional injustices at the heart of the British political establishment.

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 0:00 - 7 Comments

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“The time is now ripe for HM Government to think how the Africans should be governed, and we are not fed up with British laws at all… But we really pray for well instructed Government officials who understand the Queen’s Government Laws”– Petition from the detainees of Embakasi Camp, Kenya, 1957

The above passage is from a petition letter sent by a group of Mau Mau detainees who were among thousands held in concentration camps by British colonial authorities in which torture and killing were routine. While the petitioners awaited their fate in the camps, the British colonial authorities spread propaganda warning British citizens against the dangerous Africans intent on murdering innocent British settler colonialists.

Reading it today, the Mau Mau members’ petition to Britain’s Commissioner of Prisons – and their earnest appeal to British law in the hope it could be enforced and thus bring the deaths camps to an end – looks patently absurd and naive in the extreme. And yet, after yesterday’s verdict in the Mark Duggan case, over a half a century later, investing faith in the British justice system seems to be as futile an act of misplaced faith as it was for the Mau Mau petitioners.

Mark Duggan’s killing by police in 2011 was responded to immediately by the state and corporate press. Showing contempt for the deceased, they reported a shoot-out that never occurred, a gangster lifestyle they had no evidence of and – in the words of Mark’s mother – an execution which police and press argued should be accepted without question.

The perception the police have of themselves and their power came into light during the inquiry. During cross-examination, a police witness was asked what lessons had been learnt after what went wrong on the day of Mark’s death. The officer paused, looking slightly confused, then shook his head and said:

“Gone Wrong? Well, from my understanding, the — it depends on how you see that because the operation was planned as expected”duggan propoganda

The police suspected Mark Duggan of possessing a firearm, and for that they presumed guilt and assigned his punishment. Unbeknown to the public, his family or Mark himself, the decision had been made that his life should end. The police witness’s statement doesn’t merely suggest the police felt comfortable with the act of killing, it suggests they feel comfortable planning such an act, and consider that to be a legitimate plan of action.

Covering their tracks in the immediate aftermath by informing the IPCC, press and public that a shoot-out had taken place appeared to be an exercise in damage limitation, creating a false image and building on the propaganda already released in relation to Mark being a ‘known criminal’.

After the ground had been laid to present Mark as a danger to the public who should have expected to be shot by officers, the small detail of the facts were no longer of concern to the police, the public or indeed, the jury. Explaining how a gun, in a sock, neither of which had Mark’s DNA or fingerprints on them, were found 20ft away from his dead body on the other side of a fence would be difficult. None of the police witnesses, civilian witnesses or the taxi driver could explain how the gun could have got there.

Video evidence presented by a civilian witness showed, according to the coroner, a sergeant “directing officers to go and secure a gun which hadn’t yet been found”. While the sergeant claimed he had told officers to look for the gun, their statements revealed that they were told where the gun was, and that they were merely to secure it. The coroner went on to assert: “It is not a question of anybody being mistaken. It is something which is a direct contradiction here; there is that stark problem.”

Indeed, three police witness statements all contradicted each other, as they all claimed a different individual had found the gun. Sometimes they claimed they found the gun themselves. These contradictions are particularly curious, given that there is nothing stopping police witnesses from conferring with each other in order to ensure their witness statements corroborate one other.

In fact, many of the police witness statements were written by officers gathered together in a room, with another police officer supervising them – a practice which would be unheard of in a case which involved members of the general public, and indeed laughable if those members of the public were black men from a council estate in Tottenham.

The recent case of Azelle Rodney is testimony to the usefulness of propaganda. The public inquiry into the police shooting of Azelle took place in 2013, with far less media coverage. The Azelle Rodney inquiry, sought to:

“scrutinise whether the force used was strictly proportionate to the aim of protecting persons against unlawful violence – i.e. was no more than absolutely necessary.; and whether the operation was planned and controlled so as to minimise, to the greatest extent possible, recourse to lethal force”

Although a firearm was found in the vehicle in which Azelle was a passenger (with far closer proximity than Duggan’s), based on the evidence, there was no doubt that Azelle was not holding a gun when he was killed by police. Much like the Duggan case, there was also no DNA evidence that Azelle had handled the firearm. Without the media fanfare creating a moral panic around shoot-outs, gangsters and “one of the 48 most dangerous men in Europe”, the public inquiry left only with its aims, and the evidence presented. They concluded that the killing of Azelle Rodney was indeed unlawful.

The Duggan inquest, too, decided Mark did not have a gun in his hand when he was shot, but, in what the director of Inquest, Deborah Coles, described as “both perverse and incomprehensible”, they still found the killing to be lawful. Further to this, despite no witness testimony, and no DNA evidence, they concluded that Duggan must have had the gun, and thrown it into the bushes where it was found, without the taxi driver, general public, or the police in pursuit of him, ever noticing.

For the jury to contradict the evidence to such a huge extent makes the effect of propaganda the most probable influence upon their decision-making. As the Duggan family and their supporters left the court, the same media outlets that slandered Mark’s name with labels such as ‘gangster’, feigned sympathy in the hope for an exclusive interview.

The Duggan case is yet another example of state control, and its ability to create the illusion of a fair and just system of laws. While the media scare the public with stories of gangs, scroungers or terrorists, on average a person has been dying in police custody, or following police contact, almost every week since 1991. It will come as no surprise that no officer has received a criminal conviction for any of these deaths.

1899-29499Viewed  today, the written appeals made by the Mau Mau members in Kenya can clearly be seen to have been ineffectual and pointless. We now know from the historical record that the British state was wholly complicit in what was taking place in Kenya, actively producing propaganda and fueling misinformation to sustain public support. But the Mau Mau’s petition was just one component of a multitude of different manifestations of resistance, which led to eventual British withdrawal.

The manipulation of the justice system operating in conjunction with a far-reaching propaganda machine is part of a historical continuity which protects state violence from being held accountable today. The Duggan case highlights the enduring nature of systematic and institutional injustices at the heart of the British political establishment.

The Duggan family are firm in asserting that they, too, will fight for justice until the final breath. They are not alone in that struggle, with other families and members of the community organising on multiple fronts to challenge state violence wherever it rears its gruesome head. While countering the slanderous propaganda remains a priority, our communities and organisations must learn from this setback, and build upon the resilience and momentum which this prolonged campaign has generated.

RIP Mark Duggan

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Adam Elliott-Cooper

Adam Elliott-Cooper, a writer and activist, is Associate Editor of Ceasefire and a doctoral researcher at the University of Oxford. His column on race politics appears twice a month. He tweets at @adamec87.

7 Comments

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Eugene Egan
Jan 10, 2014 18:23

They used the same tactics in Northern Ireland with their Shoot To Kill policy. Whenever there was a state-sponsored killing, the first thing was to inform the media with their fabrications in order to demonise the victims and justify such killing. Northern Ireland was used as a training ground by the British in order to use and refine their tactics against marginalised communities in London and elsewhere in their own country.

John
Jan 10, 2014 20:04

What a load of rubbish and as for the shoot to kill in Ireland that’s a load of crap too but hey if your going to support a bunch of child killing terrorists I guess a gang member from London isn’t much different

disgruntled white worker
Jan 10, 2014 22:16

Thanks to the Met for saving the taxpayer so much dole money: shame they didn;’t shoot him before he produced six little niggers to mug rape burgle and drug deal in the next generation

Sarah
Jan 10, 2014 23:51

Thanks for this article. It was thought provoking and also gave further insight into how the police system works. As the Clash sang, ‘Murder is a crime unless it’s done by a police man’.

As for disgruntled white worker, the majority of people who mug, rape, burgle and drug deal in the UK are white men. Got that?

It is also white men who have made zero working hours pay normal, cut the NHS, created an education system that doesn’t work, who have raised the poverty levels across the country, who have not invested into areas that don’t have employment etc… It is also white police officers who stole dead babies ids to create an id for themselves to go undercover.

You got a problem look at yourself and all the other white men who you turn an eye away from and the violence they are doing right now.

Mark Duggan murdered by police | Double Karma
Jan 11, 2014 19:26

Sofia Mason
Jan 13, 2014 2:13

Thank you for providing a counter-narrative to police misinformation and right-wing propaganda.Thanks also for highlighting the facts of the case, whilst presenting valuable historical and political context.

I’m reminded of that Malcolm X quote about the papers making people hate the oppressed and love their oppressors, and his one about the media having the power to make an innocent man “guilty.”

I’m not sure how, as British citizens, we can claim to have any sort of “democratic” society if the police are freely able to extra-judicially execute unarmed civilians.

Sam W
Jan 14, 2014 18:54

Bang on the money Adam. Also Sofia, on your Malcolm X point see the second comment. Although that might be a bit more that that.

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