I don’t remember exactly where I was when the riots broke out but I do remember my immediate thoughts on hearing the news: how long, I wondered, would it take for the blame to fall on the black community. By that point, it was being widely reported that the riots were triggered in the aftermath of a peaceful march to Tottenham Police Station by family and friends of Mark Duggan, a black man who had been killed by police officers days before. The context was set.
I didn’t have long to wait. It was while tuned into LBC radio station in the morning after the riots in Tottenham, en route to my aunt’s house in Wood Green to check that all was well, that the first hints of race bias started to come through, notably from both presenters and callers. Here we are, a year on, and it seems that everyone is reflecting on what we now know about the riots, its causes and how to prevent it happening again. And among all the chatter – and there’s a good deal of it – I am struck by one thing: there is barely any mention of the fact that the Duggan family, a year after Mark’s death, are no closer to knowing the truth about what happened on the day he died.
Understandably, the talk is of the rioters and the destruction they wrought; who they are and why they chose to get involved; there is mention too of the failure of the police to respond effectively and of key politicians who were slow to return from summer holidays and when they did, were too quick to pronounce and condemn before showing any signs of wanting to understand and make sense of the events unfolding. But there is little to no talk of how shocking and scandalous it is for a family to have to endure such a lengthy wait for an account of a loved ones violent and premature death.
Mark Duggan’s family have no idea why the car he was traveling in was stopped; why he was shot, or why the police officers present at the time of his shooting have refused to be interviewed by the investigating body, the Independent Complaints Commission (IPCC).
My Aunt – the one I went to visit – passed away not long after the riots and her funeral was held on the same day as Mark Duggan’s. It was impossible for me, while grieving my own loss, not to think of the Duggans. My Aunt had reached her twilight years. She was, considering her age, in good health but like many elderly, she had suffered a fall and had quickly succumbed to complications. But as the police officers directed her small funeral cortege away from the congested streets where the long, winding cortege for Mark made its way to the church, I thought about the family and friends of Mark Duggan who were tending to their own unanswered grief. I knew why my Aunt had died. I could make sense of it. They couldn’t. And they still can’t as long as the police officers concerned withhold the vital information needed to establish just what happened on that day last summer.
I can think of nothing more cruel than not knowing how or why a loved one has died. Their grieving process stretched to break point; a year on, my thoughts are still with the family of Mark Duggan.