The rioting in Tottenham and elsewhere should surprise nobody. On Thursday the Metropolitan police shot dead a young black man, 29-year old father of four Mark Duggan, in circumstances which have still not yet been explained. The police involved were from an Operation Trident unit, which investigates gun crime ‘in the black community.’ They pursued Mark, who was a passenger in a cab, stopped the cab in Ferry Lane and shot him on the spot.
The police were reported in the press as saying they were shot at first, and that a police officer was injured, therefore giving the impression they shot Mark in self-defence. An eyewitness, however, says he was already restrained on the ground when the shots were fired. In any event, whatever the police officer’s injuries were, he was released from hospital the next day, the police saying that the bullet was deflected by his police radio. However, by Sunday the initial ballistics test appeared to be showing this was a police issue bullet, and therefore could not have been fired by Mark.
Meantime, the right-wing gutter press was already in top gear, heavily promoting the police’s version of events. The Daily Mail talked about “the ‘gangsta’ gunman...a known offender from London’s notorious Broadwater Farm estate” who “opened fire on the officers.” The Express referred to “armed gangster Mark Duggan” and Leo McKinstry, the Express’s ‘hang-em-&-flog-em” columnist foamed “only a blinkered Left winger, fuelled by the dogma of Marxism...could pretend that looting...represent heroic blows against a racist establishment” and bemoaning a society “where someone such as Mark Duggan can be treated as a hero, his death prompting a hysterical reaction...” If it is found that Mark did not fire a shot, will these racist rags print apologies to the families? I doubt it.
Is was the same when the unarmed and innocent John Charles de Menezes was systematically executed by anti-terrorism police, again with multiple shots to the head. The police let it be known that he was a terrorist, and the yellow press shouted that from the rooftops. Slowly the truth came out, bit by bit, like pulling teeth. The media, far from looking for the facts, enthusiastically fulfilled their role as propaganda machine for the authorities.
I was listening to Diane Abbott this Monday morning, and although she was pretty appalling, moaning that the police didn’t do enough to stop the rioting, what also emerged from what she said was that nobody from the Metropolitan police had made any attempt to contact Mark’s family or indeed any other member of the local community. After the entirely peaceful protest march, Mark’s family and their supporters waited outside Tottenham police station from 5pm until 9pm without anybody from the police saying a word to them, except, presumably, “move along.”