A roundtable with Adam Elliott-Cooper, Temi Mwale, Sina Najafi, Stafford Scott, Eyal Weizman, and Marcia Willis Stewart

This roundtable was organized for the book The Police Shooting of Mark Duggan (Cabinet Books and ICA, 2021). More information about the book is available here. Eyal Weizman’s introduction to the book is here.

In addition to the many evidentiary issues at the heart of the Duggan case, the shooting should also be understood as part of much longer political and legal histories that have formed the ways in which British policing has surveilled and controlled Black Britons in the postwar era. The following roundtable was organized in order to examine these larger contexts. The participants include scholar Adam Elliott-Cooper; activist Temi Mwale, founder of the 4Front Project; activist Stafford Scott, founder of Tottenham Rights; the Duggan family’s lead attorney Marcia Willis Stewart; and Eyal Weizman, director of Forensic Architecture. The roundtable, which took place on 9 February 2021, was moderated by Sina Najafi, co-editor of the volume.

Sina Najafi: Adam, how far back do we need to go to understand British policing today? Do we start after World War II?

Adam Elliott-Cooper: It’s useful to think about racism in British history not as something which arises in a multicultural Britain, after the Windrush generation arrives in the years following World War II and Black communities begin to be established here in the British mainland in significant numbers. It’s more useful to think about racism as something that Britain exported to the rest of the world for a number of centuries through the transatlantic slave trade and the colonization of the Americas, of Australia, of the lion’s share of the African continent, and of the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia. The capturing of that land, enslavement, the exploitation of labor, the extraction of resources—all required policing. And it wasn’t the kind of stereotypical policing that we might think about today—the British bobby who’s mainly only armed with common sense and a notebook—but a kind of policing fundamentally premised on a form of coercive violence necessary to control large colonized populations.

But the other thing that’s important is that this wasn’t simply a form of violence which used corporal and capital punishment, incarceration, forced labor, and ethnic cleansing. It was also something which was premised on racial hierarchy, on racism. Racism was, of course, really fundamental for justifying British colonialism in its slave colonies, but also, importantly, in periods of decolonization in the twentieth century as well. It’s in that postwar period that we really begin to see the British mainland police being heavily influenced by forms of colonial policing practiced in places like Kenya, British Malaya, Trinidad, Guyana, or Jamaica.

There are three areas which I think can help us understand the police killing of Duggan. The first is the identification of a suspect community. In most of Britain’s Caribbean colonies, this was often the working class and the trade unions, which the colonial police repressed; this can be seen, for instance, during strikes and protests in the Caribbean, such as the workers’ movement in Trinidad in 1938–39. In places like Kenya, it was specific ethnoracial groups like the Kikuyu; in Malaya, it was the people of Chinese heritage; and in places like Zimbabwe, which was then called Rhodesia, it was the Black majority. And it’s through the identification of a suspect community that you get the kind of stereotypes attached to that community: they have a propensity either for violence or criminality or deviancy, and therefore you need a form of collective punishment to be imposed upon this community.

British police guarding Kikuyu participants suspected of involvement in the Mau Mau uprising, Kenya, 1953.

This is really important as well, because in the colonies you don’t have this clear differentiation between the police and the military. They’re a continuum. You see militarized forms of policing across these colonies, whether it be the use of tear gas in East Asia and across the Caribbean in the 1930s and 1940s, or the use of firearms, torture, and mass imprisonment in places such as Kenya and Malaya. It’s these patterns of colonial policing that start to migrate to the British mainland in the 1960s and 1970s. And it’s in the early to mid-1980s that colonial policing really starts to come home.

I think this is partly because in 1982 Sir Kenneth Newman was brought in to head London’s Metropolitan Police. Newman had been a colonial detective in the Palestine Special Branch before 1948, and later moved to Northern Ireland, becoming Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). He was awarded his knighthood for his work in transferring power from the British Army to the RUC in the 1970s. Additionally, consultants from colonial police in Northern Ireland and Hong Kong were advising forces across England in the 1980s, following the urban uprisings in places like St. Paul’s in Bristol, Toxteth in Liverpool, Moss Side in Manchester, and Chapeltown in Leeds. It’s through these uprisings, particularly in urban Black communities, that you begin to see militarized policing being justified to repress what were considered to be the inherently violent, inherently criminal, inherently deviant Black youth that resided in those localities. It’s in Toxteth and Moss Side in 1981 that you see CS gas being used for the first time on the British mainland against citizens; before that, it had only ever been used in Britain’s colonies in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. It’s in the 1980s that you see for the first time—again in Toxteth and Moss Side—tactics such as armored vehicles being driven at crowds of people in a purported attempt to disperse them. Before that, you’d only ever seen it in Northern Ireland, and in Britain’s other colonies. It’s in the 1980s that you first begin to see baton rounds and rubber bullets being deployed, although not actually used, outside of Britain’s colonies, as in the case of Broadwater Farm in 1985. This slow militarization of British policing wasn’t something necessarily new; it was something very old to Britain, but it had simply never been used on the British mainland. It’s the racist justification for this militarization which I think can help us to also better understand the context of 2011. Because by then there had been a continual—quite gradual, but consistent—militarization of Britain’s police as more and more police were being issued firearms and deployed on missions where they were allowed to use lethal force.

It’s consistently racist ideas which are being used to justify this militarism, such as the kind of anti-Muslim racism that we have seen escalating following the bombings of 7 July 2005. But these ideas also help justify operations such as Trident, which was founded in the late 1990s explicitly to target so-called Black-on-Black crime in urban areas of England and Wales. (Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own policing policies.) It’s this latent justification of violence and militarized policing that sets the real context for the killing of Mark Duggan and the rebellions which followed.

Najafi: What are some of the important clashes and acts of resistance in the history of how these racist police policies were imposed on Black communities in Britain?

Elliott-Cooper: I think there are probably three or four fundamental moments. If we’re talking about the postwar period, I think one of the first and best known is in the late summer of 1958 in Notting Hill. It’s in that year that a number of white vigilante groups attacked the homes and businesses of Black people living in that part of working-class west London. The attacks took place over a series of days, and you really see this come to a climax in May 1959 with the racist killing of a young man called Kelso Cochrane.

Crowds lined along Ladbroke Grove for the funeral of Kelso Cochrane, Notting Hill, London, 6 June 1959. Cochrane had been murdered by a group of white youths in the early hours of 17 May.

You saw there the complicity of the police and the state, either through the way they played down the fact that these were racially motivated attacks; or by ignoring the fact that these attacks were happening at all; or, more commonly, by claiming that this form of racism is an aberration, that it’s something which runs against the norms of British culture, politics, and history, and that racist attacks are a stain on an otherwise pure and fair polity.

It’s in 1959 that you see the beginning of real, organized resistance against this kind of racism, because activists such as Claudia Jones from Trinidad, who was a prominent member of the Communist Party, and a number of others, including Amy Ashwood Garvey, begin organizing around this particular killing. It’s in this particular moment that such people begin to articulate, in quite coherent ways, that the British state, whether it be the Home Office or the police or other parts of the judiciary, aren’t going to serve the function they claim they do. They’re not going to protect Black communities from this kind of racial violence. In fact, quite the opposite; they are going to expand this kind of violence, and make it more pronounced.

It’s from these movements in the late 1950s that you begin to see the emergence of what’s generally referred to as Britain’s Black Power movement. This begins to really develop in the 1960s with a number of different organizations, probably most famously the United Coloured People’s Association, which kind of becomes the Black Unity and Freedom Party, and the first branch of the Black Panther movement outside of the United States. Here, it’s called the British Black Panther Movement, which, although it wasn’t an official chapter of the US Black Panther Party, was in close contact with many of its activists and shared a lot of its politics—the politics of militant Black Power that we know today, influenced by Leninism and Maoist thinking, but also by solidarity with movements in places like Angola, Mozambique, Rhodesia, and South Africa, as well as other parts of the decolonizing world.

The British Black Panther movement participating in a protest in Piccadilly Circus, London, against the British invasion of Anguilla, 24 March 1969.

In relation to policing, the big crescendo involving the Black Power movement was the famous 1971 Mangrove trial in London. It’s in the wake of a number of different campaigns that come together in the trial that you see this powerful confrontation between the Black Power movement and the British legal and policing establishments. The Mangrove was a restaurant in Notting Hill which had undergone a number of different raids and had a number of different cases of police brutality attached to it. It’s in defense of the restaurant that you see a number of people arrested, some of whom then represented themselves in court, showcasing for the country and for many other parts of the world the way in which the police and the court system are complicit in the kind of racism which hitherto had often been portrayed as an aberration in Britain. And you also see a connection being formed between Britain’s grassroots Black Power movement and Black professionals who were seeking to challenge and confront institutions of power in Britain. This included Black intellectuals but also those who were going into the courts and, rather than wanting to become part of that system, wanted to change it. It also included Black journalists and writers who wanted to make an important intervention in Britain’s political landscape—they were unwilling to join and be absorbed into its institutions, and instead worked to develop independent Black institutions to challenge mainstream norms. It’s within that particular culture that you begin to also see the ways in which Black Power in Britain was connected globally to a broader movement of Black Power in other parts of the world. I think that beyond those challenges to the institutions of the state and of the judiciary, it’s the forging of international connections, as well as local ones, that makes the Mangrove Trial such a pivotal moment in British history.

The Mangrove restaurant, 10 August 1970.
Police photograph of the demonstration in Notting Hill, 9 August 1970. Barbara Beese, who was to be charged as part of the Mangrove Nine, is holding the pig’s head. Image National Archives.

By the end of the 1970s, you begin to see the decline of the Black Power movements, in formal terms, and a different kind of politics and different kinds of stories begin to emerge in the 1980s. I think Stafford and others can talk in more detail about the ways in which the legacies of the Black Power movement had a really profound effect on the people engaged in struggles in the 1980s, and how urban rebellion and revolts, as well as challenges within the judiciary system and to policing more generally, made the 1980s a really important moment for Black communities who were challenging police power and state racism.

Civil rights activist Darcus Howe addressing a rally for the Mangrove Nine in Notting Hill, London, 1971. Howe, one of the Mangrove Nine, was charged with “incitement to riot” following a protest on 9 August 1970 against the police’s continuous harassment of the restaurant and its owner Frank Crichlow. All nine were acquitted of this charge in the trial at the Old Bailey, which ended in December 1971. Photo Horace Ové.
Image from a pamphlet printed in support of the Mangrove Nine, 1971. Image National Archives.

Najafi: What were the mechanisms through which the various local organizations within the UK could share information and learn to articulate their various struggles? Were there conferences, for example?

Elliott-Cooper: There were a number of different ways in which people networked or shared ideas, which were obviously very different from today. One of them was international conferences such as the Pan-African Congresses, the first of which took place in 1900 in London. Probably the most famous one happened in Manchester in 1945, where you had people from across the African continent and the Americas coming together to organize for Black liberation across many different parts of the world. But you also had newspapers being printed and circulated all over Britain in the 1960s and 1970s—newspapers like Black People’s News Service, Grassroots, and Black Voice, which were read all over.

The Fifth Pan-African Congress, held in Manchester, 15–21 October 1945. The speaker is John McNair, General Secretary of the Independent Labour Party.
Black People’s News Service, published by the British Black Panther Party, July 1970.
Broadside in support of Tony Soares, 1972. Soares, a founding member of the Black Liberation Front and editor of its publication Grass Roots, was arrested on 9 March 1972 after reprinting an article from the US Black Panthers newspaper that included instructions for making Molotov cocktails. He was found guilty on 21 March 1973 and sentenced to community service.

One of the most important publications was a magazine called Race Today, which was founded in the 1970s and concluded in the 1980s. It was a platform for different activists who were involved in Britain’s Black Power movement in the 1960s and who came together to really provide rigor. It wasn’t simply reporting on news and providing the odd editorial; it was doing investigative journalism. It was going out and speaking to large numbers of people in places like Nottingham, where there were nurses who were struggling against discrimination and trying to unionize. It had a foreign correspondent based in Grenada when there was a socialist revolution there in the early 1980s, and in Mozambique when it had its armed struggle against the Portuguese in the 1970s. Having these kinds of global reports was really important, but it was also a fundamentally important magazine because of the ways in which it was able to report on the civil unrest that took place in Britain in 1980, 1981, and 1985, and the ways in which it pushed against the popular narrative that these were unthinking riots from unthinking Black youths. The magazine had people like Gus John going to community centers in Toxteth, Moss Side, and Handsworth in Birmingham, and spending time with the young people there and helping coordinate a lot of the defense campaigns that were being established. It enabled a far better analysis of what was taking place in the 1980s by connecting the kinds of intellectual work that people like Gus John and Darcus Howe were doing with the young people engaged in street battles and with the day-to-day violence of policing.

Race Today, October 1976. Darcus Howe was the editor of the magazine from January 1974 to December 1984. Image George Padmore Institute.

Najafi: Would others like to add anything?

Marcia Willis Stewart: I want to add to what Adam was saying about the communities that were not yet in Britain. In the early 1950s, many of the Caribbean islands weren’t yet independent, and the communities there gathered to work out what they could do and how they could support their families in the UK. They weren’t necessarily thinking directly of policing, but about how they could come together and voice their concerns around what was happening in the so-called motherland.

You have to remember that at that time, many of them were still part of the British empire, but of course the support for families in the UK waned, sadly, on independence. But it was very, very strong before then because people were coming to the UK to train as doctors and barristers and returning to their countries to fill key posts in all areas of government. There was still an investment in the people who were coming to the UK to be trained. And so they and those supporting them had a voice, and they used it.

Najafi: Adam, can you tell us a little more about the politics of the particular organizations and publications you mentioned? How homogenous or diverse were they politically? Some of the publications you mentioned sound like they were leftist.

Elliott-Cooper: All these different types of Marxists would have had big arguments about who was correct, but what is important is that they all understood that racism is fundamentally linked to capitalism and to a class system. They weren’t simply trying to recreate the world as we currently know it, with some Black FTSE 100 companies and some Black politicians in Parliament, with the same kind of class hierarchies that exist but with a multiracial class hierarchy. They wanted to do away with both racial and class hierarchies.

The second thing that’s really important about their politics is that they were anti-imperialist. They understood racism was not about prejudice and people not liking people who they deemed to be outsiders for one reason or another. They understood racism as being fundamentally linked to exploitation and profit, to the extraction of resources and the taking over of lands. By understanding racism in its global context, influenced by the thinking of people like Mao, as well as Walter Rodney, C. L. R. James, and people like that, they were able to understand that they had to think internationally even while they were always working directly with the grassroots.

I think that was a really important part of their politics, a politics that I think a lot of people in the current generation could learn from in understanding the importance of not only class but also internationalism.

Najafi: Stafford, would you pick up the story from the 1980s, which is not only an important threshold moment but also when you became involved in activism?

Stafford Scott: I’m a child of the 1960s. My generation is in many ways the generation that doesn’t get spoken about that much. We are the children of the Windrush generation; we are the very first generation born in this country “en masse,” the first generation to go into the education system “en masse.” That’s how they perceived us back then. The community lived in specific localities in those days. Initially, most of our communities, especially the Jamaican community, would have been located in Brixton, and obviously, we had communities in Ladbroke Grove. In north London, we were in Stoke Newington to begin with, and then we came to Tottenham. When my generation entered the education system, our numbers in the schools in our areas may have appeared to be a bit disproportionate compared to the rest of the country. They said we were swamping the education system. It was an education system that wasn’t ready for us, an education system that we feel treated us particularly badly.

Today, I saw a professor, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, on television. For those of us who know his story, he’s a cult figure in our community. He was a character who came to this country from the Caribbean as a teenager in the 1950s. He was put into a so-called ESN school, a school for the educationally subnormal. Black children were being put into these schools disproportionately as a means of getting us out of the mainstream education system. Sir Geoffrey went on to become one of this country’s foremost scientists. He’s a professor emeritus based in Scotland. He only became this great professor because when he was sent to a school for educationally subnormal children, he was found to be a great cricketer. So they took him out of that school and sent him to a normal school, a private school, and he was allowed to reach his full potential.

The rest of us were never given those kinds of opportunities. We were violated in the education system. And by the time we came out of that education system “en masse,” there’d been a downturn in the fortunes of this country. Our parents had been invited over to help rebuild the country post-World War II. By the time we were coming through the education system in the early 1970s, economic decline meant that the jobs that they invited our parents here to do, the jobs that the English didn’t want to do themselves, were no longer available to us.

We weren’t felt to be good enough. We didn’t have any spaces or places, any community centers or halls or clubs where we could gather. As young people, we ended up taking to the streets. We started to come together, to self-support to resist racist attacks and racist policing. We started to listen to the culture coming from Jamaica. We laugh nowadays; we say, white people like Bob Marley now. We would listen to Bob Marley, but we weren’t listening to “Three Little Birds.” We were listening to “War”: “Until the philosophy which hold one race superior, and another inferior, is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war.”

We saw all the things that Adam told you were there in our community in our parents’ generation. We were being told, for example, that an Englishman’s home is his castle, yet we saw police officers just walk into our parents’ castles and treat them as they wanted. We decided we were going to resist these kinds of behaviors and in response, the police began to use what are called the sus laws, “sus” standing for “suspected person.” It’s an old law that had been on the statute books, but they’d stopped using it. They started to use these laws against young Black people to stop us from being able to congregate or being able to move around freely, and in so doing, they criminalized large swaths of the young Black community.

Overturned vehicle in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, April 1981. The uprising in south London, which lasted from 10 to 12 April, resulted from the Metropolitan Police’s use of “sus” laws to stop and question some thousand Black residents of the neighborhood in the five days leading up to the unrest.

It was so bad that they had institutions called detention centers and borstals in which they would lock young, predominantly Black kids up using the sus laws. In 1981, the uprisings that happened in Brixton were a result of the police—the same officer that Adam spoke about, Kenneth Newman—using the sus laws in that one particular geographical location. It was called Operation Swamp, and they literally stopped every Black kid over a certain age to arrest them using the sus laws. That ended with uprisings and then with the Scarman Inquiry, which ended the sus laws. But those laws really criminalized and penalized us and meant that we couldn’t go forward in terms of careers in a system that didn’t want us in the first place.

To understand the sus laws: police officers could take us to magistrates’ court and say that they had seen us behaving in a suspicious manner. They didn’t need a victim or witnesses. You can imagine how that was used against us. The first thing I was ever arrested for in my entire life was “sus.” And if I told you the story, you’d understand it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity; the crime itself did not happen.

What it meant for us as young Black kids is that we felt that we didn’t have a place in this society. Adam has painted a wonderful story of our parents’ struggles, but unfortunately their struggles didn’t come to anything that was material, so we also felt we were being let down by our parents. We felt that international struggle was a struggle that needed to happen, but we felt that it was a struggle where they needed to support us, because we were here in the belly of the beast. We became a very inward-looking community. We’re mainly now talking about those who were born here and those who came here at a really young age. There’s a real Black British experience, and for us, it was really a Jamaican vibe, through music and such.

The UK, apart from issues of race, was a pretty liberal society. They were stopping things like corporal punishment, but in our homes, corporal punishment was the norm. We were still getting a Caribbean kind of treatment from our parents, post-traumatic slave syndrome and such. So we had to rebel and resist. For us, the institutions were run by racists and our homes were run by mad people. We were being squeezed in the middle. We couldn’t come home and tell our parents that a cop had stopped us. “Why did he stop you?” “Because he’s a racist.” “You must have done something.” “Hello, we were walking whilst being Black.” So, we had difficulties with our parents. We had to educate them to understand what racism truly meant. Because of the time we were born, my generation has a perspective on racism that most other Black communities, apart from maybe in America, are still yet to develop.

In north London, in Haringey, we were just then getting to that age where people want to leave their parental homes. Many in my generation went to Haringey Council for assistance when looking for housing. I was fortunate not to be in this group, but they went to the council, and the council housed them on a rundown, hard-to-let estate called Broadwater Farm. The council had adopted what was later identified by Lord Gifford, in the public inquiry that followed the 1985 uprisings, as an institutionally racist housing policy. And they put large numbers of youths onto this estate.

That changed the makeup of the estate. It was just young Black youths and older white people—not even families, but older white couples who had been trapped on the estate and couldn’t get off. The estate was also architecturally designed for crime. It really was. It was built on stilts, lighting was terrible, and there were long corridors. There would be fifteen flats in one corridor, and people worked out that if you broke into flat number one, you could go through fire exits that led into the other flats. So you broke into flat number one, and you could rob fifteen flats if everyone was out. The estate became a mad hotbed of crime. As a consequence, the police said they wanted to open a police station on the estate. And we said, “No, you can’t do that because you’re only going to further criminalize the youths.”

I was a youth worker at the time—the youth I was supporting was my generation, my friends, my peers. With the support of a woman called Dolly Kiffin, we came together and formed the Broadwater Farm Youth Association. We said to the council, “You can’t allow the police to open a station on this estate. It’s going to lead to uprisings and to the criminalization of our community, and what we want is an opportunity to be able to work with our young people, to empower them, so that they can start to deliver services to other young people on the estate who look like them.” At the time, with the support of Bernie Grant, we were able to build and grow and deliver services, not just to young Black people, but to the rest of the estate.

Najafi: Who was Bernie Grant?

Scott: He was the first Black leader of a municipal authority. The reason he became leader of Haringey Council is because he threw a coup after the council allowed the National Front—that was the big fascist organization—to hold a meeting in one of its schools. Bernie was very supportive of us Black youths in the community. So as our youth association started to deliver services not only to our community but to the wider community, others saw that we’d got rid of the few racists around and created a safe space. It meant that most Black people who lived in this area started to come to Broadwater Farm; they didn’t have to have anything to do with the estate. They just came there to be recipients of the services and to feel part of a community that wasn’t under the constant cosh of the police. It was a great place to be. We loved it, until October 5th, 1985, when the police arrested Floyd Jarrett, claiming he had stolen a car because he was driving what was a mashed-up BMW. The stereotype was that we shouldn’t be driving those kinds of cars, and the actions after that led to the death of his mother, Cynthia. They also led to what we now know as the Broadwater Farm uprisings, in which policeman Keith Blakelock lost his life.

There’s a strong belief in our community that we’ve been paying for that day ever since. When Kenneth Newman came to London, he identified Broadwater Farm as one of the symbolic locations for policing across the city. We didn’t understand what he meant when he said it at the time, but “symbolic policing” meant that we were going to be overpoliced from then on.

As a result, we had the uprising on October 6th, 1985, when Blakelock lost his life. We had six of our community members arrested and charged with his murder. At the trial at the Old Bailey in March 1987, three of them—now known as the Tottenham Three—were sent to prison for life. In 2001, we had the appeal, where the court found that Winston Silcott, in particular, had been framed, and the three men were acquitted and released.

Najafi: Can you talk a little bit about the death of Cynthia Jarrett?

Scott: Floyd Jarrett was a senior member of the Broadwater Farm Youth Association. He was driving home when three police officers stopped him, and said that he was driving with an out-of-date tax disk. It turned out that that was not the case. They then arrested him because they claimed that he had tried to assault them. They took him to the station, and an off-duty police detective called Mike Randall saw him being brought in and identified him as a senior member of the youth association. Instead of going home, this officer decided to get involved. He took Jarrett’s keys and together with three other officers went to the family home, though Jarrett didn’t live there. He opened the door with the keys; he didn’t ring the bell and announce himself. They went inside and the mother who was there with her daughter and grandchild was shocked when she saw these white men in her home. Randall then pushed her over as he went about the raid. She fell to the floor and basically didn’t ever recover.

He stepped over her on the way out. When outside, he radioed the station and said that everything had gone fine. She was in there dying from a heart attack. The finding at her inquest was it was an “accidental death.” The coroner was clear that “accidental death” meant that the jury would have had to accept that the police officers touched her and caused her to go to the ground, even though the police have never accepted it. The police didn’t follow up on the judge’s ruling that they should consider the possibility of disciplining the officers involved, so we were particularly angry at what happened to her, but I need to contextualize it. Exactly one week before, back in Brixton, the police had shot a Black woman, Cherry Groce. They had gone to her home looking for her son Michael. She opened the door, saw armed police officers, turned to flee up the stairs in her nightdress, and they shot her in the back. They crippled her, and eventually the bullet they put inside her body was to kill her. In Tottenham, we were particularly upset hearing that. What was also going on at the time was a power struggle in South Africa. We had Soweto and Sharpeville and we lived those lives with our South African brothers and sisters. All of a sudden, it was happening on our doorstep, with a Black mother shot. There were uprisings in Brixton that weekend. So when, on the following weekend, they went a step further and took the life of a Black mother, an uprising was almost certain to happen. We on Broadwater Farm wanted to go to the police station to demonstrate and to demand that they suspend the officers involved in the raid on Cynthia Jarrett’s home. The police tried, we believe for the first time, to kettle an entire estate and trap us there, to deny us our right to demonstrate, so that our voices couldn’t be heard. You know what Martin Luther King says about what happens when a community cannot have their voice heard; it makes itself heard in different ways.

Since then, we’ve had the death of other community members. Joy Gardner was killed on August 1st, 1994. She was forty. She was killed in the most horrific of circumstances. Officers from the Home Office and the police entered her home. The crime that she had committed was overstaying in our wonderful country. They put handcuffs on her hands and manacled her feet. They sat on her and did God knows what else to her, and she died. They wrapped fourteen feet of masking tape around her mouth and nose. They did it whilst her five-year-old son was in the corner watching. He was just committed to a psychiatric hospital the other day, by the way; we live with the trauma caused by their behavior.

In January 1999, they killed Roger Sylvester, also a member of the Broadwater Farm Youth Association. Six police officers took him from his home and ... we saw what they did to George Floyd the other day, and that’s what they did to Roger Sylvester. They told us that he died of ... is it called combustible delirium, Marcia? That he got himself into such a whir—this only happens to Black people and it only happens to us when we come into contact with police officers—that he just blew up.

Willis Stewart: It is referred to as “excitable delirium,” but you’re right to think of it as combustible, because that’s what they want to convey with the term.

Scott: We had to wait about four years for an inquest. It took months to hear all the evidence and the jury took two hours to say “unlawful killing.” The judge then dismissed and overturned the verdict; he said that he believed the jury was confused. They changed the law as a result of all this. After that case, they stopped putting the option of “unlawful killing” in front of inquest juries, and brought in the notion of what they call a “narrative verdict.”

Then, in 2011, we had the killing of Duggan. I think the Forensic Architecture model says everything we need to say about that, apart from the callous, inhumane way they treated the family before and during the investigation. Then the one that we don’t talk about so often; the killing of Jermaine Baker on December 11th, 2015, at the age of twenty-eight. You see that the age is getting younger and younger every time they take the life of someone in our community.

Najafi: You said that that at some point the sus laws were suspended, but it seems that some version of what in New York is called stop-and-frisk did continue to be used in the UK. Is that correct? Is it the case that the police just devised a new method for doing essentially what the sus laws had done?

Scott: Absolutely. When I was growing up, we didn’t have stop-and-search because police officers had to take you to a station if they wanted to search you. We had the sus laws. When we managed to bust the sus laws, that’s when they started stop-and-search. It shows that the police have to have an instrument to control our ability to move, our sense of freedom, an instrument where they can treat us in a way that belittles and controls us at all times.

Weizman: I know Stafford’s work on the police’s Gang Violence Matrix database and I wonder, Stafford, if you think that the preemptive or predictive logic of the sus laws—it’s not what you have done but what you will have done—is somehow related to the predictive logic of the Matrix?

Scott: Absolutely. It’s one continuum.

Najafi: What is the Matrix?

Scott: Let’s come back to the Matrix when we talk about the events of 2011. It was the government’s response to the riots in Tottenham and across the UK that followed the killing of Mark Duggan.

Najafi: Let’s move to 2011. Marcia, could you tell us about the important legal issues in the case?

Willis Stewart: First, I want to go back to a couple of things that Stafford said. He mentioned being caught between what was happening outside and inside the home. There has to be an understanding of how the Black community was othered, and then how that community itself further marginalized those who wouldn’t “conform” within it. Young people, as Stafford said, couldn’t go home and tell their parents that they’d been stopped by the police or that they’d had difficulties at school from either a teacher, children in the class, or in the playground because of the perception that it must have been them that had done something bad.

Going back to the sus law, this was a stop-and-search law that permitted a police officer to stop, search, and potentially arrest people on suspicion of them being in breach of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act of 1824.

Another piece of old legislation that has been used is “joint enterprise.” Adam talked about the relationship with the colonial past, and we see where bits of old colonial legislation are brought in to control and to create a situation where there’s further scope for punishment.

Najafi: What is joint enterprise?

Willis Stewart: Joint enterprise is a common law doctrine where an individual can be jointly convicted of the crime of another, if the court decides that the person could see, expect, or predict that the other party was likely to commit that crime. It is used, for example, where a group of young people are out and an individual gets stabbed and you can’t say who the perpetrator was. There have been a lot of challenges to joint enterprise; the Prison Reform Trust have been doing a lot of work, and an activist group called JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association) has been campaigning on the issue.

Speaking of Roger Sylvester, I came home one weekend in 2016, and at the top of my road, I heard screaming. There were two police officers; one had a man face-down with his knee on his neck, and another was trying to cuff him. The man was saying, “I can’t breathe.” I shouted, “Stop that right now.” The police officers looked at me and told me to go away. And I said, “Stop it right now.” Still nothing. And then I said, “Do you want a repeat of Roger Sylvester?” At which point the officer said to me, “That’s not very helpful, ma’am.” I said, “Haven’t you heard of postural asphyxia? You sit him up right now.” It was important to intervene; I was concerned not for myself but for the man, who was clearly distressed and, more importantly, was having difficulty breathing.

The question is often asked: “What can you do when you see these things happening?” My response is, and this is not just the responsibility of Black people: anyone seeing this should stop and observe. It is sometimes necessary to make your presence known by asking what the problem is. Officers need to be aware of your presence. You do however need to make sure you do not place yourself at risk. Sometimes the easiest thing is to shout out, making your presence known. This isn’t about breaking the law—it might simply be about saving a life.

Najafi: Do people use cell phones to record such incidents as extensively in the UK as they do in the US? And what is the legal status of filming the police?

Willis Stewart: Film the incident if you can, or make an audio recording on your phone. Whatever you do keep a copy. Don’t just hand over your phone.

Temi Mwale: A common tactic that the police use is to say that even filming them is “obstructing.” When we run police interaction training for our staff and young people, we make sure to emphasize how important it is to film. We tell them to make sure they are at a distance so that the police can’t say, “You’re obstructing.” Many officers even say, “You’re not allowed to film,” but that’s not the law. We see that young people are particularly harassed when trying to assert their rights, and being told that there’s already a body camera. But the police-worn body cameras are facing the wrong way! We’ve had young people’s phones chucked to the ground, luckily still recording, but now you can’t see anything. Or police officers just confiscating their phones, and some of those phones have not been given back. The more that young people assert their rights and community workers observe what’s happening and try to intervene, the more they are obstructed with the claim that they themselves are obstructing.

And it’s very difficult to get hold of the body-cam footage, even when you make sure you ask for it to be saved. Sometimes, it takes a very long time for it to be provided, if at all. In some cases, when we haven’t been able to film, we’ve even had lawyers on FaceTime live-watching what is happening and saying, “I’m a lawyer, I’m watching you.” But even that doesn’t seem to prevent abuses from taking place.

We must film; they know how powerful it is to have records other than their own cameras. We fought for body cameras; it’s progress, but they can just turn them off. Nobody talks about how useful body cameras really are when they can just do that.

Willis Stewart: When I speak to people who are older, I say to them, you have a responsibility to record either by filming or taking a note. I also suggest that they get somebody to film the person filming. If this is not possible, it might be helpful to telephone someone you trust and let them listen to what’s going on. The point is to not put yourself in danger, and certainly there are often efforts to prevent filming. The point is to make a record of what you’ve seen in the best and safest way possible.

Najafi: Was the complete lack of body cams in Duggan’s killing unusual at that time?

Willis Stewart: It was very unusual. In a nation where surveillance is part of everyday life, it was incredible that there was no surveillance on that stretch of Ferry Lane. It was incredible how little footage there was. In fact, the only footage was that of the resuscitation efforts and from the person filming from the flats.

Najafi: Can we talk about the case from a legal perspective—the coroner’s inquest, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report, and the civil suit? I was very surprised to hear that the IPCC report was in part relying on evidence gathered by the same police who they were investigating. Was there a separate, independent gathering of evidence from the scene?

Willis Stewart: The IPCC gathered the evidence because it was their mandate to investigate this fatality. Although the Metropolitan Police were not in control of the IPCC investigation—so, yes, the investigation was “independent” of the Metropolitan Police—the IPCC did not have the resources to carry out independent forensic examinations, so these investigations had to go through the police service. And the IPCC’s officers were often former police officers, retired either from the Metropolitan Police or other forces.

Najafi: What repercussions did this lack of independence have for the case?

Willis Stewart: Initially, it was unclear as to which organization was in control, and for the family there were conflicting messages, i.e., what was the role of each organization. So, for example, the family were not informed that Mark had been shot and they had to rely on press announcements for information. The Metropolitan Police should have informed the family that Mark had been fatally shot—it was their responsibility. It was the role of the IPCC to begin an immediate and unbiased investigation, as opposed to relying on the erroneous press statements, etc. The IPCC should not have relied on information provided by the police regarding “an exchange of fire,” which led to an inaccurate account of an “officer being shot.”

The fact that investigating officers in the IPCC were former police officers meant that the family felt that, more often than not, it was Mark being investigated, as opposed to the officers involved in the operation which resulted in his death. The investigating officer was extremely surprised after the forensic results, which showed that Mark’s DNA was not on that gun. Try as they could, they couldn’t get around that fact. Significant resources were expended trying to prove, rather than disprove, that Mark’s fingerprints and DNA were on that gun; finally, it was accepted that the only DNA belonged to another person, who was later prosecuted and imprisoned in relation to it.

When preparing for the coroner’s inquest, our team also had to deal with “closed material,” which is intelligence material we were not allowed to see. The material could only be seen by a judge with clearance, following which the material was redacted and summarized before it could be presented to the court. What became clear to us was the degree of intelligence behind the shooting, both in respect to Mark and to others in Tottenham. Demonizing Mark served the purpose of deflecting attention from the details of this surveillance operation and from those who were under surveillance. In pursuit of this, Mark had to be characterized as the baddest man in Tottenham, the biggest gangster, all of that kind of stuff. You just have to look at the press coverage of the time. Usually when there’s an encounter with a Black man, you hear that they’re the strongest, most violent, most aggressive. They couldn’t say that about Mark because he didn’t have an opportunity to be aggressive. And so he was demonized in other ways.

That became a central theme in the inquest to justify his shooting. The jury finding raised complex concerns for the family in that their verdict was that Mark didn’t have the gun in his hand but that he was “lawfully killed.” The explanation that the police were in effect arguing self-defense has been understandably difficult for the family to comprehend, as opposed to the view that this was more in line with the practice of “shoot-to-kill.” The family finds it interesting that the new police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), has said in response to the Forensic Architecture investigation that they are considering whether or not to reopen the investigation. We can but wait to see.

Mark’s shooting was part of an operation known as Operation Dibri. The question this raises is whether this operation was concluded with the shooting in Tottenham, or whether this was part of a wider and continuing operation.

Najafi: Eyal, the police often justify such killings by claiming that they thought, in that split second in which they had to act, that their life was in danger. What is logic of the split second when used this way?

Weizman: The legal formulation of the “split second” connects two points, one made by Stafford—about “sus laws” and the Matrix—and other by Marcia about police manipulation of the notion of self-defense. They both expose the racist dimension of preemption—the state use of force, sometimes lethal, to “respond” not to something that has happened but to what they believe could happen or is about to happen. The landscape of risk that preemption opens depends to a large extent on racist perceptions in relation to inherent violence. So “sus laws” allowed the police to stop people for looking suspicious, for purported fear that they may do something, and the Matrix purportedly allows the police to preempt gang crime. Just like the “split second” argument, these are part of the entire scaffold of the logic of policing regarding what constitutes order and what qualifies as disorder. The order here refers to the order of white supremacy, which needs to be protected from people and actions that could pose a challenge to it.

The social order has to scan for risks before they emerge, and thus preemption is the place where systemic, societal racism is most clearly manifested. Racialized people are often believed to embody repressed violence that might explode at any moment.

This logic of preemption has, of course, colonial corollaries. Back where I come from, Palestinians simply walking through Jewish-majority cities—just like a Black person walking through a majority-white suburb—are seen as “ticking bombs,” an attack about to happen, and they therefore should be stopped even if they have done nothing. Another related example is targeted assassinations from drones in Pakistan and Yemen, which are likewise articulated as preemptive action, with CIA predator drone operators justifying lethal action as responses to signs of an imminent attack. In the case of “signature drone strikes,” this logic of preemption—like that of the Matrix, which Stafford has done a lot of work to oppose—is performed by algorithmic calculations. The preemption that drone murders and assassinations perform is justified by the legal category of “imminence,” or imminent risk they pose—indeed, a “ticking bomb” that needs to be diffused. So imminence, in this type of manhunting that takes place in Waziristan or Gaza, is equivalent to the “split second” idea in cities. Over time, and with much abuse, what counts as imminent has become increasingly elastic, stretching and twisting the sense of temporal immediacy. Imminent cases can go on ticking for an awfully long time, to the degree that imminent risk becomes simply a political category. As an aside: the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in January 2020 notionally relied on this definition, to the point where imminence lost all meaning.

So one of the questions for us is: how can we open up and extend the duration of imminence and the “split second” in order to connect it to longer history? In fact, Forensic Architecture was approached to help with this case after Richard Hammer, one of the barristers representing the family, saw a presentation of ours titled “The Long Duration of a Split Second,” where we showed two cases we had undertaken involving police killings. One was in Palestine and the other concerned the shooting of a Black man in Chicago, and both were justified by the police as split-second decisions. In these cases, we unpacked the milliseconds of the incident, but also showed how learned cultural and systemic racism, nourished from a long history of settler-colonialism—and in the Duggan case, as Adam outlined, from imperial and colonial relations coming home—are condensed into the smallest possible fragment of time. In the case of the south Chicago police killing of Harith Augustus, who was just out on an errand, we narrated the incident across six timescales—milliseconds, seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years—to show how each bore on the incident in a different way.

Usually, we would undertake such analysis on the basis of videography. As Temi was saying, the police body cam, when it exists, distorts the perspective that viewers have onto an incident. They’re pointed the wrong way; they’re not really monitoring police action, but are aimed at the person the police are interacting with. In that, they are again criminalizing the person the police officer is looking at. When cases of police brutality are litigated, the body cams could generate something that is called “perspectival bias.” Juries in the US seeing the situation from the perspective of a police officer tend to identify with the officer as a protagonist. Everybody who has seen this kind of footage knows that it is reminiscent of first-person shooter computer games. There’s also the issue of the lens. Police cameras lenses are very wide-angle. When analyzing movement captured on body cams in relation to the same movement captured by a smart phone from further away, we noticed an interesting phenomenon. The wide-angle lens will make any movement—say, a hand movement—appear augmented or amplified, and so for those viewing the footage later, it can often seem more menacing than it actually was. This is just to say the obvious: no evidence, whether testimony or video, is perfectly faithful and neutral, and each is skewed in some way. The problem is that all evidence tends to be skewed toward the police.

Elliott-Cooper: The “split second” argument got me thinking about two things. I think it’s something that the state and the media try to do a lot, which is to decontextualize or dehistoricize certain problems or issues. Nothing can decontextualize something more than offering only one thing to think about—the split second in which an officer makes a decision to kill Duggan instead of the hour up until that point where they decided to pursue him, or the months leading up to it when they were planning the operation.

In the inquest, when the lead police officer was being cross-examined, he was asked what lessons were learned from the operation. And he said that everything had gone as planned. They had already deemed themselves judge, jury, and executioner for Duggan, and they explicitly articulated this in court and received zero criticism for it. So the idea of “Let’s just think about that split second and forget everything else” does the important work of decontextualizing. It’s also helpful for the police because it creates the impression that racism is some kind of disease deep in the unconscious of some police officers that requires surgical removal, so that you can have this perfect, racism-free police officer once they’ve completed their unconscious bias training. The police love unconscious bias training.

I’ve been reading through the Metropolitan Police’s equality and diversity agenda for 2021, and unconscious bias training is at the core of it because it’s a really great training—they’ve got the funding for it, they can all go through it, and then they’ve been purged of the disease of racism forever and ever, which for some unknown reason was just deep in their unconscious and required removing. It serves this dual purpose of decontextualizing racism, but also treating it as a disease rather than as a power that has a really specific and important function in our society.

Mwale: I think the case of Azelle Rodney and the police marksman Anthony Long is really integral to this point. It’s one that makes me deeply sick to my stomach. If you type in “Anthony Long,” you’ll find that his bosses joked that he was the Metropolitan Police’s very own serial killer. He killed multiple people. And he was only ever charged with Azelle’s murder. When you research him, you’ll see, “the incredible career of the most controversial police marksman.” His career has literally been shooting and killing predominantly Black people but this is something that can be lauded as “incredible” by the mainstream press.

I also read an article about how Long kept a file on all the dodgy, illegal things that his supervisors were doing. For him, his insurance policy was to not report anything his supervisors were doing. We’re told that there are bad apples; surely, if there are these bad apples, then the rest of them are good apples and they would be reporting the illegal things that happen behind closed doors. The reality is that we have a rotten tree. We have police officers who carry weapons who have to have files on their bosses’ unlawful things as insurance policies, so that in case they ever shoot and kill someone like Azelle Rodney, they will be able to say, “I’m on your side. You don’t want to write me up for anything because I’ve got this file on you.”

The reason I found it so disturbing is because this was all in mainstream newspapers. He admitted to this during the trial. It makes me question the kind of character we’re building up in these officers, who rarely even face trial. It’s not as if we can hold these people up and say, “It was just a split-second decision.” The guy shot eight times; Azelle was hit six times, including several shots in the head. We can hear a voice recording of an officer saying “sweet” after every single shot. Even when we get a case to be heard, the jury, after hearing all of that evidence, still decides that it’s better to uphold the fidelity of policing rather than admit that Long had done something illegal. And I’m deeply disturbed that he now works in private security, where he presents himself as this man who got away with it.

Scott: We also have to remember that prosecutors fail to properly prosecute police officers when they’re charged. In the case of Duggan, this is the difficulty that we’re facing with the decision that is being made now; the IOPC, who we’re now asking to reverse the IPCC’s decision, were part of the management team that took the original decision that every time they contracted an expert, the expert had to look at the scene and always imagine the gun being in Mark’s hand. That totally biased the entire process, because it meant that they didn’t at any time consider that the police planted it, even though there were IPCC notes where one of their investigators says that the police officers said that another officer placed the gun over there. It didn’t get investigated at any time. That means that it was never put in front of a jury to consider at all.

Then finally, there’s this bullshit notion of a police officer being able to say, “I had an honestly held belief.” Ultimately, that is the safety net: “No matter how crazy everything I’ve said may sound, no matter what you find out there, I honestly believed that this person was a dangerous threat to me. So I did what I had to do.” And how do you undermine the “honestly held belief” argument, especially when it’s backed up with the notion that “I made a decision in that second”?

Elliott-Cooper: I think that this idea of honesty is really important. That’s also where race and class come into it, with the fundamental presumption of honesty on the part of the state and the fundamental presumption of criminality and violence on the part of this young Black man. Unless you hold those two presumptions in your mind the whole time, none of it makes sense.

Najafi: Marcia, can you talk a bit more about the sequence of legal options in the Duggan case and how each one was blocked?

Willis Stewart: There was an inquest, which was mandatory as this was a death involving agents of the state. Alongside this, there were a number of complaints which were investigated by the IPCC, including complaints about the failure to inform the family, failure in respect to the gun—which had been involved in a previous incident that had nothing to do with Mark. With the investigation into the failure to contact the family, we actually had a positive outcome in that the police accepted that they had not done what they should have done. There was a change of protocol in terms of what’s known as the death notice and the way the police are obliged to provide it to the family and next of kin. The investigation into the gun resulted in an individual being prosecuted and convicted. Also, the two officers involved in investigating the gun faced disciplinary proceedings for their failure to secure the gun long before it resurfaced in the Duggan shooting. The senior officer was disciplined for misconduct and the junior officer was fired. There were also civil proceedings, which were concluded in December 2019.

Najafi: How common is it for UK police to settle out of court?

Willis Stewart: This is now common following reforms in 1999. There is a risk of going to trial, for both the claimant and the defendant. Whilst the claimants who are funded by legal aid have to consider the risk of having funding removed if the merits of the claim change and/or a “reasonable offer” is made by the defendant, there is no doubt that the risk to the defendant in losing this claim would have been significant and would have had major ramifications for the Metropolitan Police and those officers involved in the shooting.

Najafi: Stafford, can you explain what the UK police’s Matrix system is?

Scott: The Gangs Violence Matrix is a database that was created following the 2011 Duggan riots. Once the riots finished, David Cameron and Boris Johnson, the leader of the government and the mayor of London at the time, decided that the riots were the responsibility of gangs, even though they set up a number of different inquiries that told them differently, including the Metropolitan Police Service’s own audit. They set up a lot of cross-party, cross-government initiatives and created bills that for the first time ever in UK legislation defined what constitutes a gang. In the UK, three people constitute a gang. Can you imagine that? Three people! I don’t know what they would call those supergangs in the US. So they redefined the law and created this database called the Matrix in every borough to list all the individuals who they claim are gang members there.

At some point, I got a printed copy of the Matrix as it stood in 2016 for the borough of Haringey, where Tottenham is situated, and all but one of the people in it happened to be Black. Until very recently, the pan-London Matrix had around 3,800 people in it, and around three-quarters happened to be Black. In Haringey, the biggest gang is the Tottenham Boys, also known as the Tottenham Turks, a really organized, sophisticated gang, but the police are focusing on these little kids. Once you’re in the database, which is algorithm-driven, you’re given a “harm score” for how dangerous you might be, as well as a score for whether or not you’ve been a victim of gang crime. And even if the police don’t think you are a gang member, they can add you to the list if you’ve been a victim of gang-related crime because they claim that that means that you might become involved in gang crime later, i.e., to seek violent revenge.

I wrote about the Matrix in January 2019 and Tottenham Rights made the Haringey database public at an April 2019 meeting in Tottenham where it was discussed with the community for the first time. The police subsequently had to take over a thousand names off the London database, and as a result of what we did, Amnesty International put in a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) about the nature of the database. The ICO carried out an investigation and found that in setting up the database, the police had broken all sorts of privacy, data, and equality legislation. And it was not just the police; it was the mayor of London and the Home Office. And they share that information right across the system—with the benefit office, the local authorities, housing, social services, and education, to the extent that it is the end of these young people’s lives once they’re in the database. It kills people. And it causes so much frustration amongst the young people who are caught up in it that this is what is really fueling the violence that you see happening in London today.

Najafi: Temi, could you tell us about the work that your organization does?

Mwale: I set up the 4Front Project in 2012 after my childhood friend was murdered. I wanted to provide a platform for young people who have been impacted by serious violence to create change in society. Policing and the criminal justice system claim to keep us safe and address the harm that results from violence, but that is not the effect they have. Through a range of services, including mentoring, advocacy, youth activism training, creative support, and more, 4Front supports some of the young people most directly harmed—not just by violence in the community, but by policing and the criminal justice system itself. Our work centers healing and transformative justice whilst directly challenging the UK’s addiction to criminalization, policing, and prisons.

I think the most important thing to say at this stage is that policing doesn’t work. The deaths in police custody are really at one extreme and I’m pleased that they’re being investigated and gaining the exposure that they deserve. But that’s the tip of the iceberg; the culture of violence that enables those deaths, like Duggan’s and others’ that we’ve discussed today, has so many victims. 4Front supports many of those young people who are victims of everyday brutality, abuse, and harassment. I originally got involved in the Justice for Mark Duggan campaign because I had already set up 4Front at that time and I was working with young people who were being labeled by professionals from the outside world as “gang members.” What the murder of Mark Duggan showed me was that anybody who can be labeled in this way can be executed on the street, even in broad daylight. Not only will nobody care, the media will have a field day.

I want to share something that’s always stayed with me. I was only fifteen when Duggan was killed, so I didn’t really know much about the activism around deaths in custody. I was young and naive, but I did know about police harassment and brutality in the everyday sense because, well, which young people growing up in communities like mine don’t know about that? I was at school doing my A levels and studying law, and we had a class on law and morality. And when I talked about Mark Duggan, my law teacher said that he was a gangster, so it was actually good that he got killed—basically he deserved it. Bear in mind, he’s supposed to be teaching us what the law actually is. He didn’t tell us anything about the fact that there’s legislation and mandatory minimum sentencing related to the possession and use of firearms. In fact, he didn’t tell us about the law at all in terms of how it related to this case. He inserted his opinion, which was based on what was being said in the media and by the police: that because he was a “gang member,” it was basically okay for him to be killed by the police in the way that he was.

That was a significant moment for me, because I realized that this was a type of oppression I was facing in school. There’s such a disconnect here; we’ve seen over the last couple of months with the reinvigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement, especially in this country, that it’s so easy to point the finger abroad. People want to talk about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, though they wouldn’t be able to point to Minneapolis or Louisville on a map. I’m okay with that because international solidarity is fundamental, but the British public has almost no idea of the scale of abuse within policing, the scale of deaths in custody, happening on their very own doorstep. And there is very little will, or maybe desire, to interrogate it because it would force you to understand the colonial legacy that Adam’s talking about.

I feel so inspired and motivated by the work that happened in the 1980s that Stafford described. I met Stafford through the Justice for Mark Duggan campaign, and I didn’t know much about the history of Broadwater Farm or its youth association and all the activism that young people were being empowered to do. And I think it’s interesting that decades later, we have 4Front, which is doing something very similar to what the Broadwater Farm Youth Association was doing in the 1980s: that is, understanding that in our community there are young people who are being targeted, harassed, and criminalized by an oppressive force, so that it essentially feels like our community, Grahame Park estate, is being occupied. Stafford said that they made sure there was no police station on Broadwater Farm, but we’re right next to Colindale police station, and right next to Hendon, the training center for all police. And we also have a police center on the estate, where there have been many reports of young people being unlawfully strip-searched and abused.

We’re talking about young people who have been ostracized and marginalized—excluded from school at such rates that we can’t even fully articulate the impact; discriminated against in terms of housing, educational opportunities, and employment; having to live in impoverished areas; exposed to extreme harm, trauma, and violence—but it’s the police who have been put in place to manage them. And by “manage them,” I mean that they’re seen as a burden to society. They’re not seen as part of the community because when the police try to justify their treatment, they say, “Well, the community is calling us and saying they don’t like young people hanging out outside or smoking cannabis.” And it’s like, “Why are the young people that you’re harassing not seen as part of the community?” So, part of our work is to transform that narrative. These young people are just as much a part of this community as anyone else. And actually, part of the community does not want the policing we see here, does not want a police center on the estate, because the experience of our section of the community is extremely different from people who are even living next door.

That’s part of the issue: that even someone living next door can have completely different experiences, completely different views on history and of policing. What happens when you mobilize young people by helping them understand the historical context for what’s happening to them and what happened to generations before them, and that their resistance to it is part of an evolving struggle that didn’t just come from nowhere? What happens when you mobilize young people to advocate for their own rights, for their communities and families? They know it’s not right, but they feel so subdued by the scale of harassment that sometimes they don’t want to make complaints, not only because it is emotionally draining, but because they have no faith that anything will be addressed.

If Mark Duggan can be killed, if they can be abused every single day with no repercussions, why would they complain? But the fact that there are very few complaints is taken as evidence that there are very few issues, rather than a lack of confidence in the system of accountability for policing. We’re trying to create space for young people to envision how they can build a new system of accountability. How can we work with the young people who are most harmed by criminal justice? Because it’s not just policing; we’re working with young people who are being put on a conveyor belt into prison, with young people who have experienced criminal justice because of the way our communities are being treated. How can we try to build new systems for healing and accountability that not only look at the harm that’s been caused by the state, but the harm that we’re causing to each other within the communities, which is used in turn to justify the current systems of policing and criminal justice?

I see that work as deeply connected to the kind of work that has taken place across the world in many other places that are trying to interrogate these systems. It’s a cycle of pain and harm and trauma. And that is the fundamental disconnect, because nobody is willing to admit that the police and criminal justice system inflict trauma, and there are no services to deal with that. We’ve had mayor’s offices across the country over the last couple of years say, “Let’s have a public health approach to violence.” And Cressida Dick says that with her as the commissioner, the Metropolitan Police are implementing a public health approach to violence. Apparently, they are “trauma-informed.” I laugh. How can the police, who have the sole monopoly on legally justifiable violence and domination, even when they act unlawfully, be trauma-informed?

What we’ve just started to unpack with the Gang Matrix database is how professionals from all these different institutions—the local authorities, schools, and even hospitals and mental health services—actually get together through multi-agency meetings and prop up the criminal justice system. Take police intelligence, for example. We have local councils using so-called police “intelligence” on one young person who’s potentially in the Matrix database to try and evict the whole family. We have the job centers run by the Department for Work and Pensions, where people are supposed to get support for seeking a job; they have more gang members listed in their own database than the Metropolitan Police themselves. I don’t know how the workers in the job center are in a position to identify who’s in a so-called gang and who’s not. The reality is that we can’t just be speaking about the harm of policing without looking at how all these other public agencies and the state in all its other forms intertwine with the police and the criminal justice system and further the harm and abuse.