Workers Hammer No. 224
Two years after Mark Duggan killing
Victims of racist cops remembered
On 2 August, almost two years to the day after the racist police killing of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) announced that it could find “no evidence to indicate criminality” on the part of the cops. The IPCC statement came in advance of an inquest into the killing that began on 16 September. The exoneration of the cops by the organisation known to black people as the “police cover-up commission” comes as no surprise. The IPCC’s constantly changing story regarding Mark Duggan’s death has had the smell of whitewash from the start.
On 4 August 2011, as part of Operation Trident — which supposedly targets “gun crime” among blacks — police stopped a minicab in which Duggan was travelling. An initial report from the IPCC that Duggan had died in a “shoot-out” with police was later revealed to be a lie. A bullet that lodged in a police radio was fired from a police weapon and was most likely a ricochet. The IPCC subsequently announced that a handgun — a converted blank-firing pistol wrapped in a sock — had been “found” around 14 feet away from Duggan’s body, on the other side of a fence. There was no trace of Duggan’s DNA or fingerprints on the weapon or the sock and no gunshot residue on his hands or waistband.
According to Stafford Scott, a Tottenham-based former advisor to the IPCC’s investigation, the minicab was removed from the scene even before the appearance of the IPCC investigators and subsequently returned. The IPCC at first proclaimed ignorance of the removal of the vehicle but later admitted sanctioning it. (Scott resigned his advisor role in disgust.) Seals placed on the door of the vehicle were found broken a day later. All 31 police officers who took part in the operation, which included eleven armed cops, have refused to answer questions orally. A written report by the cop who fired the fatal rounds was compiled three days after the killing in a room in which he sat for eight hours with the other unit members.
The killing of Mark Duggan and the cops’ abusive treatment of family members and friends seeking information on his death was the immediate spark for the riots that convulsed English cities in August 2011. The riots exposed Britain to the world as the racist, class-divided hell-hole that it is. Disenfranchised youth — black, Asian and white — in the country’s most deprived communities lashed out against police repression and against the unemployment, poverty and hopelessness that blights their lives. For minority youth the dire economic situation is compounded by racist discrimination. For the arrogant rulers of decrepit British capitalism, black and Asian minority youth are regarded as an “underclass”, deserving neither education nor training and worthy only of state repression. According to a July 2013 report by the government’s own police watchdog, black people in 2009/2010 were stopped and searched seven times more than white people. The racist “war on terror”, which is directed first and foremost against Britain’s Muslim population, has led to a massive increase of stop and search of blacks and Asians. Government figures from 2009 noted that between 2006 and 2008 searches of black people increased by 322 per cent, those of Asians by 277 per cent while for whites the increase was 185 per cent.
The name of Mark Duggan has now been added to the long list of victims of racist police killings in Britain. On 3 August, in commemoration of the second anniversary of his death, around 500 attended a meeting in Tottenham, north London, that was addressed by members of the families of Joy Gardner, Roger Sylvester, Cynthia Jarrett, as well as Mark Duggan. All four were killed by police in Tottenham and their families are still campaigning for justice. Since records began in 1970 there has only been one case — that of homeless Nigerian immigrant David Oluwale, whose body was found in a river near Leeds in 1969 — in which police officers have received a criminal sentence — and that only for assault.
Joy Gardner, a Jamaican-born immigrant was killed in 1993 in her own home by racist cops and immigration officials. Attempting to deport her, the cops used a “restraining harness” (a medieval-type device used to restrict movement), handcuffs and 13 feet of tape wound around her head. She was asphyxiated in the presence of her five-year-old son Graham when her mouth was stuffed with cotton and sealed with tape. As Myrna Simpson, Joy Gardner’s mother, said in the meeting: “Up till today they are still doing the same thing and getting away with murder”. Indeed, in October 2010, Angolan immigrant Jimmy Mubenga was killed by G4S security guards on the plane in which he was being deported. The guards put him in restraints and forced his head down to muffle his screams — a technique given the grotesque name of “carpet karaoke” by these racist thugs contracted by the government. In Britain today, anti-immigrant racism is being whipped up by both the coalition government and the Labour opposition. During the summer, Home Office vans bearing giant billboards reading “In the UK illegally? GO HOME OR FACE ARREST” prowled London boroughs, spreading fear among immigrants. Blacks, Asians and dark-skinned people were targeted for spot checks at rail and Tube stations by the police and immigration officials. The day after the Tottenham meeting, at the memorial gathering for Mark Duggan at the spot where he was killed, a speaker referred to these racist acts, saying the state “has declared war on our community”. Meanwhile Labour’s shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant sought to outdo the Tories by attacking firms such as Tesco and Next for favouring foreign-born workers. His “British jobs for British workers” speech had to be hastily rewritten when the firms in question objected.
At the Tottenham meeting Marcia Rigg spoke about her brother Sean, a vulnerable black man with mental health problems who died in Brixton after being detained by police in August 2008. Roger Sylvester, another mentally ill black man, was seized by cops outside his home in January 1999. He died of brain damage and cardiac arrest after being restrained by cops. A verdict of “unlawful killing” at the inquest into his death was overturned on appeal. Rupert Sylvester, Roger’s father, spoke at the meeting of the lengths to which the police went to destroy the reputation of the family of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence. The cops shielded the racist scum who murdered Stephen, and spied on his family as they fought to bring the killers to justice. Far from aberrant behaviour, such are the normal doings of the police, hired to maintain the racist status quo under capitalism.
Cynthia Jarrett, who suffered from a heart complaint, was killed on 5 October 1985 when police burst into her home on Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm Estate. The cops, who had arrested her son Floyd while ostensibly searching for stolen goods, pushed her to the floor and left her dying, refusing to call an ambulance. Following an angry protest against this racist atrocity, hundreds of cops swarmed over the estate, but they got what they had coming. As residents defended their community in a battle that lasted several days, 230 cops were injured, several wounded by shotgun fire, one was killed. For this, three innocent youth — Winston Silcott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite — served years in prison as the result of a police frame-up before their convictions were overturned. Now, 28 years later, the police have arrested another man — Nicky Jacobs — for the killing of the policeman who died at Broadwater Farm. Speaking at the 3 August Tottenham meeting, Winston Silcott expressed the fear that, “another innocent man is going to face the same treadmill I faced back in 1985”. In any case, the defence of Broadwater Farm against the rampaging cops was no crime. Free Nicky Jacobs now!
The police assault on Tottenham in 1985 came as part of a concerted campaign by the Thatcher government to foment a racist blood-bath in Britain’s black and Asian communities. In September, cops had staged a provocation in Birmingham’s Handsworth district, sparking an angry revolt. Weeks later, police in Brixton burst into the house of a black woman, Cherry Groce, and shot her, leaving her paralysed from the waist down. When Brixton erupted in anger the area was sealed off and placed under police occupation. Shortly afterwards, Liverpool’s Toxteth area was targeted.
It is not an accident that these racist atrocities occurred in the same year as the defeat of the heroic miners strike. For more than a year of bitter class struggle, miners and their families defended themselves against an army of police sent to occupy the coalfields. Britain’s black and Asian communities were among the most enthusiastic supporters of the strike, while many of the mainly white miners became convinced of the importance of combating racial oppression. In the wake of the revolt in Handsworth and Brixton we wrote:
“The Spartacist League has fought to tap the sense of unity between minorities and trade union militants kindled in the miners strike, as part of our perspective of building the multiracial revolutionary workers party which will be a tribune of all the oppressed. We have fought to mobilise the integrated Birmingham labour movement for defence of the Handsworth community against the cop terror. The same is needed in Brixton and elsewhere. Protest strike action by London’s heavily black and Asian tube and bus workers, for example, could make the racist bosses put a halt to their reign of terror in Brixton. But that takes a political struggle against the racist, pro-capitalist labour misleaders.”
— Workers Hammer no 73, October 1985
The defeat of the miners strike dealt a severe blow to the workers movement in this country, the effects of which are still felt today — from the destruction of tens of thousands of industrial jobs to the crippling of the unions.
Today entrenched economic hardship in working-class communities has been exacerbated by the deepest capitalist economic crisis since the 1930s. Swingeing cuts to wages and benefits, as well as measures such as the coalition government’s obscene “bedroom tax” have left millions facing a lifetime of desperate poverty. The Trussell Trust, which runs the country’s largest network of food banks, has reported a huge increase in requests for emergency meals. Youth unemployment is currently running at 21 per cent overall, and at around 50 per cent for black youth. Those youth “fortunate” enough to have any work at all are often in low-paid, insecure jobs, increasingly on “zero-hour” contracts, which mean no guaranteed income, sick pay or holiday pay.
There is an urgent need for the working class and oppressed to struggle against the relentless attacks on their livelihoods, but the question is how. The current devastating economic crisis is part of the ordinary working of the capitalist system. Under capitalism the economy is organised to make profits for the bosses, not to satisfy human need. And the unplanned, anarchic nature of capitalist production means that periods of boom, when a handful of capitalist exploiters reap enormous profits, are inevitably followed by bust, which is then paid for out of the hides of the working people. The police are part of the capitalist state which exists to guarantee the interests of the bosses against the workers and oppressed. Their role as defenders of capitalism means that the police are necessarily racist and schemes touted by liberals and reformists to make the police force more “accountable”, or to purge it of racism, are doomed to failure. There will be no end to the misery, poverty and repression that afflict broad swathes of the population, particularly minorities, short of the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist order and the establishment of rule by the workers. The Spartacist League aims to forge a multiethnic, revolutionary workers party — a Leninist-Trotskyist party — based on a programme for international socialist revolution.