Thursday, 8 September 2011

Deaths in Police Custody: Stereotyping the victim - article from the Institute of Race Relations

Mark Duggan

IRR News examines the recent killing of Mark Duggan by armed Met police officers in the context of similar deaths.

The IRR has monitored blackdeaths in custody since the 1970s as young black men tend to die at the hands of police and prison officers in disproportionate numbers. Our monitoring is also in response to the historic concerns of BME communities, and the African-Caribbean community in particular, who have argued that, ever since the 1960s, they have been subjected to a different kind of policing where disproportionate force and discriminatory criminal procedures are used.

Stereotyping the victim

On examining deaths that have occurred over the years involving members of the African-Caribbean community in particular, it becomes clear that, in the immediate aftermath of death, information is placed in the public domain, citing unnamed police sources, which casts doubt on the character of the deceased, tending to frame him as a violent and dangerous black criminal. This information is released long before any investigation, post-mortem or inquest has been carried out. The victim is said to be a habitual drug user, a drug dealer, someone with a violent past etc, all of which not only pre-judges the victim but also provides vindication for police action such as a stop, a search or use of force or particular restraint techniques. In this way, the media and the police create a particular framework for dealing with incidents involving the police and the African-Caribbean community, one in which extreme force against black criminality is seen as a necessary evil.

By the end of the week following Mark Duggan's death, the campaign about him was in full swing. We were told by unnamed police sources that the police officer involved had 'an honest-held belief that he was in imminent danger of him and his colleagues being shot'. Mark Duggan had already been labelled a 'gangster' or 'suspected gangster' and the Daily Telegraph and the Sun, amongst others, had published stories that he was linked to 'Manchester gangsters'.[13] The Daily Mail went even further claiming that 'Duggan was a "crack dealer" linked to a string of feared gangs'.[14] We were served up the threat of guns, gangsters and drugs, the perfect combination for the Met police to absolve themselves of culpabilty for the death.

 What can Mark Duggan's family expect?

In reality very little is known about the circumstances surrounding Mark Duggan's death. And in all likelihood very little will be made public until the various official procedures following the death have been completed.
There will be an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which may submit its findings to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS will then decide if the police officers involved should face prosecution. This is highly unlikely, as there has only been one successful prosecution of police officers for their involvement in the death of a black person - and that was in 1971.[15] And then, depending on their findings, the IPCC could also recommend that the officers involved should be disciplined but again this is very unlikely and would not amount to much. And then many years down the line an inquest will probably be held. I say probably here, as Mark Duggan's family might well have to take legal action to ensure one is held. Six years after his death, the family of Azelle Rodney, who was also shot dead by the Met police, is still waiting for a full inquest into his death. (See below for further details on the death of Azelle Rodney.) Instead, the family have had to settle for an inquiry conducted by a judge, because the police's surveillance evidence had to be kept secret!
Unfortunately, the reality for the families of those who die in custody is bleak. They have to fight long and hard for any semblance of justice. The sustained campaigns fought by the families of Christopher Alder, Joy Gardner, Mikey Powell, Habib Ullah, Sean Rigg and Brian Douglas (to name but a few) is a testament to the tenacity which is needed.

By Harmit Athwal


Kingsley Burrell and Demetre Fraser