A British Jury Just Gave A Ruling That Threatens To Reignite Racial Tensions

Mark Duggan FamilyAPPam Duggan, center, mother of Mark Duggan who was shot by police in north London in 2011, cries outside the Royal Courts of Justice following the verdict from the inquest into her son’s death Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014.

On Thursday, August 4, 2011, 29-year-old Mark Duggan of Tottenham, London, had the taxi he was travelling in pulled over by police. After he left the car, he was shot twice by members of the Metropolitan Police’s Specialist Firearms Command. He died at the scene.

Almost every other fact about the case has been shrouded in controversy.

Police officers say Duggan, who was black, was a member of a notorious North London gang. His family denies it. Authorities implied that Duggan, apparently on his way to avenge his cousin, had shot at police officers, but were later forced to admit that he hadn’t. (A bullet that hit a police radio turned out to be an officer’s).

Police said Duggan had a handgun in his waistband, but immediately after the shooting they reportedly couldn’t find the gun at all. (The family later suggested that a gun found 20 feet away from the scene had been planted). Some witnesses even said Duggan had been shot while pinned to the floor by police.

On the Saturday after the shooting, Duggan’s family went to Tottenham police station to demand answers. Others joined them. The protest, by all accounts, began peacefully, but at some point it grew violent. Tottenham became the epicentre for riots that spread throughout the country between August 6 and 11. Thousands of people were arrested, and the Financial Times later estimated that 48,000 shops, restaurants, pubs and clubs suffering financial losses during the chaos. A total of five people died.

On Wednesday an inquest ruled that Duggan’s death had been lawful, even though he did not have a gun in his hands at the time he was shot. The jury ruled, by a majority, that Duggan had probably thrown the gun from the car when he realised he was being trailed.

Duggan’s family and their supporters reacted with shock and anger. To get a little sense of the scene at the court today, watch this video of Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley trying to give a statement after the decision:

The confusion over his shooting marks one of the low points in London race relations since the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and the subsequently botched police investigation. More broadly, the subsequent riots (where many of the perpetrators were white) showed how broad the mistrust of the establishment was in the U.K., and, worse yet, the sheer nihilism of the British “underclass.”

It’d probably be unfair to say the jurors in the inquest were wrong without having first sitting through all the evidence they saw: perhaps there was something truly ironclad in there (though two of the 10 jurors disagreed). All of the jurors did, however, agree that the police operation was flawed. Additionally, an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into the shooting has been reopened.

Will these factors placate the Duggan family and their supporters? It seems very unlikely.

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