Mark Duggan, the man shot by police and whose death sparked the August 2011 riots, was lawfully killed according to the inquest jury. But they also found that he did not have a gun in his hand when he was shot.
These two, seemingly contradictory, conclusions have sparked outrage as people understandably struggle to comprehend how someone can be lawfully killed despite posing, at that moment, no danger to life. The answer seems to lie in the technicalities of what constitutes “unlawful killing”. The Guardian has helpfully put the jury’s full text online, and we can see the guidelines about unlawful killing:
Any person is entitled to use reasonable force to defend himself or another from injury, attack or threat of attack. If V53 [the officer who fired the fatal shots] may have been defending himself or one of his colleagues then go on to consider two matters: 1) Did V53 honestly believe or may he honestly have believed, even if that belief is mistaken, that at the time he fired the fatal shot, that he needed to use force to defend himself or another… 2) Was the force used – the fatal shot – reasonable in all the circumstances? Obviously if someone is under attack from someone he genuinely believes is violent and armed – then that person cannot be expected to weigh up precisely the amount of force needed to prevent that attack. But if he goes over top and acts out of proportion to the threat then he would not be using reasonable force and his action would be unlawful.
V53 has consistently said that he was “100% sure” Mark Duggan was carrying a gun. Eight members of the jury clearly believed him enough to conclude on lawful killing; two came to an open conclusion. Yet eight members of the same jury also concluded that they were sure Mark Duggan did not have a gun in his hand when he was shot (with a further one thinking it more likely than not) – a gun, believed to have been collected earlier that day from Kevin Hutchinson-Foster, was found in a grassy area some 6 metres away. (The BBC has a timeline of events.) So the jurors do not believe Mark Duggan had a gun, but also believe V53’s evidence that he saw a gun.
The critical word in all this seems to be ‘believe’. V53 believed he and his colleagues were in danger. There are echoes here of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes – armed officers were sent in pursuit of someone they’d been told was dangerous and in possession of a deadly weapon. Did V53 see what he was expecting to see?
The Metropolitan police’s problem here – and, therefore, London’s problem – is that so many people just don’t believe them. After the jury gave their conclusion, someone in court shouted “a black man’s life is worth nothing”. With tensions over stop and search, continuing doubts whether the police has dealt with its institutional racism problem and, frankly, the Met’s history of victim smearing and accusations of cover ups, relations between the police and parts of the community are perilously low. No wonder armed police will trial body cameras from April.
The jury may have delivered what they felt was the right verdict in law (and there’s another conversation to be had about juries favouring the authorities in cases like these, and the potential for racist bias in the courtroom), but this doesn’t feel like justice. If the Met doesn’t find a way to convince Londoners it’s on their side, and not simply its own, those feelings could have serious consequences.
Photo by David Holt from the Londonist Flickr pool