Getting away with murder


The Mark Duggan verdict was both shocking and predictable. Shocking, because it is a verdict that so clearly ignores not only evidence but blatant inconsistencies in evidence. Predictable, because we are now accustomed to seeing the Met getting away with murder.

As Stafford Scott‘s piece in the Guardian today makes clear, the police case explanation for what happened was an obvious fabrication that lacked even minimal coherence. It’s a classic example of kettle logic, in which the police’s obvious cover-up actually undermined the rationale for shooting Duggan. Either Mark Duggan was holding a gun when he died – as officer V53 claimed at the inquest – or he threw the gun away. If the former, how could the gun end up 7M away from him (and without any trace of his fingerprints or DNA on it)? If the latter, then how could Mark Duggan have been thought to have pose sufficient threat that he had to be shot dead? At best, the operation was a monumental blunder – compounded by a cover-up which was at least as inept. So how do we explain the jury’s perverse decision?

Partly, we have to look to the legal framework itself. As Christian Werthschulte observed in a Facebook comment last night, when we read the official verdict, we see that ‘the jury is somehow made to ask themselves if they had felt threatened if they’d been in the shoes of the police officer in order to conclude if the killing was lawful or not. Inevitably this will lead to a “Oh, I would’ve been scared, too!”-reaction.’ This is both absurd and terrifying, given the amount of sub-machine guns that Met officers carry around London. If the question posed to juries in such cases is going to be ‘might you, an ordinary member of the public, have been scared’, then it’s hard to see what would ever constitute an unlawful killing.

Then we have to look at the broader reality management operation that swings into place in these contingencies. If the plebgate story revealed anything, it was the brazen and slapdash nature of Met fabrications, which they can get away with because they can usually count on the supine support of Tories and the right wing press. In the Duggan case, we saw the Met’s standard tactic of leading with a totally false story which is later repudiated but only after the tone has been set. Then there is the demonisation of the victim, which Stafford Scott describes:

immediately after the shooting the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission began to brief the media with inaccurate and misleading information that ensured that Duggan was demonised, even before his body had turned cold. The headlines declared him a gangster who was on a mission to avenge the killing of his cousin, Kelvin Easton. However, during the inquest no evidence was offered in support of this claim. It was further alleged that he was a large-scale drugs dealer, but yet again not a shred of evidence was provided to substantiate these allegations. But that did not matter, the mud had been slung and it clearly stuck as it was designed to. Even now most people still do not realise that he was only ever convicted for two relatively minor offences – one count of cannabis possession, and one count of receiving stolen goods.

The description of Mark Duggan as a ‘gangster’ then reliably triggers a whole set of racist associations, which we can quickly grasp when we compare the way in which white criminals such as the Krays (‘they only killed their own and they loved their muvvas’), or Ronnie Biggs (involved in a violent crime, but treated as a cuddly rogue) are mythologised. We might also pause to note that Raoul Moat was able to kill people over the course of a number of days before ‘shooting himself’.

All of this then prepares the way, not only for the jury to see Mark Duggan in the worse possible light, but for those hearing of the verdict to agree with the jury’s exculpation of the police marksman. I saw any number of comments last night to the effect of ‘well, he had a gun, what was he going to do with it?’ Again, this is terrifying: apparently, it was OK to kill Mark Duggan because of what he might have done. The era of pre-crime is truly upon us.

Then, of course, there is the massive overload of ambient propaganda in favour of the police. The police don’t themselves have to generate this themselves; it is freely provided by the right wing media, but also by a popular culture which overwhelmingly depicts the police as either heroic or ‘ordinary but flawed people, doing a tough job’.

All of this must have produced some sort of cognitive dissonance in the jury. All the evidence pointed to Duggan not being armed when he was shot – as the jury itself conceded. Furthermore, the blatant cover-up with the gun should have fatally undermined the Met’s story. But no (so the ‘reasoning’ must have gone) – the police cannot be guilty, a priori, therefore they are not.

Now the verdict has to be protected, and the next stage of reality management comes into effect. What we’re now seeing at the moment is the trooping out of right wing politicians and commentators calling on Mark Duggan’s family to ‘respect the law’. As with the families of the Hillsborough victims, the family will now be smeared as crazed with grief, hysterical, their desire to set right a terrible injustice will be pathologised and attributed to an inability to move on. If the reality management system is allowed to do its work unobstructed, we can expect the truth to dribble out in twenty or thirty years time, as it did with Hillsborough, or, more recently, with the Miners’ Strike. By then, the man who pulled the trigger and those who aided and abetted in the cover-up will be either pensioned off or dead. Either way, they will be beyond the reach of any justice.

I write this not as some ACAB-anarchist, but as someone well aware of the mundane realities of much police work, which increasingly involves attempting to manage the disintegration of civil society brought about by neoliberalism. Yet surely it is by now clear that the Met is a systematically corrupt force. It is equally clear that the IPCC is a joke, and that courts cannot be relied upon to deliver the right verdicts.

Systemic problems require systemic solutions. While Mark Duggan’s family must be supported in their quest for justice, this should not allowed to be seen as an isolated incident. Somehow, the whole system – the Met, the media, the judiciary – which produced this perverse verdict needs to be brought to account, and ultimately replaced.

The significance of Hackgate was that it started to bring these systemic complicities – this ‘dark network comprising private investigators, the criminal underworld, tabloid newspapers, multinational media conglomerates, the police, politicians, the banks, and the bodies supposed to regulate them (who are at best impotent, at worst part of the problem)’ – into the open. The reality management system was strained then, but whether it will suffer any serious damage will be partly determined by the results of the ongoing trial of two of Murdoch’s reality managers. It’s might be that, as with Vito and Michael Corleone, there are too many layers of subordinates between Coulson and Brooks and those who committed the actual crimes for a jury to find them guilty this time. But the cracks in the old reality management system are real. It’s an open question as to how long they can keep being smoothed over.