The riots across London and other English cities have obviously involved a lot of opportunist theft and violence many actions that can’t be justified in any way, like the burning of public housing and three men run over and killed by a hit and run driver in Manchester – and far from it all being children out of control, there are plenty of looters in their 20s and some parents sending their children to loot shops according to eyewitnesses.
The shooting of Mark Duggan doesn’t seem to have been the only spark that started the first riots, in the Tottenham area of London, though. Reports by eyewitnesses quoted on the Guardian website say that after Duggan was shot and killed by armed police, Tottenham community leaders and Duggan’s partner, family, friends and neighbours, among others, came on to the street to demand to know exactly what had happened. Hours later, with no answers provided, a 16 year old girl approached a line of riot police saying “We need answers, talk to us” and throwing a leaflet and possibly a stone at them. Fifteen riot police then jumped on her with shields and batons and began to beat her, triggering a riot (1).
Various eye-witnesses all agree that the initial gathering in the street was peaceful. Some claim some of the group were armed and carrying petrol, ready for looting and burning, though others deny this (2).
The media has quoted Metropolitan police spokespeople as saying Duggan was a “well-known” “major player” (i.e senior gangster) who was armed with a gun at the time he was shot (3).
This might be true. Or it might not. Metropolitan police spokespeople have said many things that turned out to be completely untrue about people they’ve shot the wrong people dead in the past, most notably Jean Charles De Menezes, the Brazilian electrician shot as a suspected suicide bomber in in an operation involving unbelievable levels of incompetence, carelessness and stupidity from people trusted with the powers of life and death over others.
Met spokespeople claimed De Menezes ‘jumped the ticket barrier’ on entering an underground station (CCTV footage and eye-witnesses disproved this), claimed he was wearing a bulky jacket with wires coming out of it (again proven false) and that police had called in medics by helicopter to try to revive him after the shooting (which seems pretty unlikely since they’d shot him 8 times in the head).
Similar lies by police came in the case of Ian Tomlinson, a newsagent walking home, who was ‘kettled’ along with (mostly peaceful) G20 protesters after a handful of protesters smashed a bank window. Police then set a dog on him and one officer hit him with a baton and shoved him twice, resulting in his death. They then invented stories about protesters pelting them with bottles as they tried to save the life of Tomlinson, who had supposedly had a heart attack due to the protesters’ actions. They went on to employ a coroner known to be dishonest to deal with the post-mortem. (In this case the policeman involved was eventually fired).
This does not prove they are lying about Duggan having had a gun, but it means the word of the police can’t be automatically trusted and we have to wait for a full investigation to find out the facts.
Initial investigations by the Independent Police Complaints Commission have found that the police’s original claim that Duggan was shot after firing on armed police officers is wrong. IPCC investigators found the bullet lodged in one officer’s radio, which Duggan had supposedly fired, was a police issue one, not the kind of ammunition in the gun they claim Duggan had (4). This suggests that the police fired first, the police were the only ones who fired ; and at least one police officer lied about this, though it’s possible other police genuinely believed Duggan had fired the shot that hit the radio.
We can’t be certain whether either side is telling the truth or the whole truth here of course, about the shooting or the beating, but given the extremely poor record on honesty of Metropolitan Police spokespeople, anyone taking claims as fact without waiting for an inquiry will be relying on a source that has proven less than reliable in the past.
(1) = Guardian.co.uk 07 Aug 2011 ‘Tottenham riots: a peaceful protest, then suddenly all hell broke loose’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/07/tottenham-riots-peaceful-protest
(2) = See (1) above
(3) = Telegraph 08 Aug 2011 ‘London riots: Dead man Mark Duggan was a known gangster who lived by the gun’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8687403/London-riots-Dead-man-Mark-Duggan-was-a-known-gangster-who-lived-by-the-gun.html
(4) = Guardian.co.uk 09 Aug 2011 ‘Mark Duggan did not shoot at police, says IPCC’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/09/mark-duggan-police-ipcc