After Duggan

17th January, 2014 10:15 am

There are lessons for the Labour Party to learn in the wake of the shooting of Mark Duggan.  This week, in the aftermath of the coroner’s court verdict on the shooting , I called a meeting at the House of Commons. The community has talked of little else in the wake of a verdict that surprised many. So the meeting, which was called at just two working days notice, was packed. The speakers included: barrister Matthew Ryder QC;  Deborah Coles,  Co-Director of Inquest; Carole Duggan, Mark Duggan’s aunt and Claudia Webbe, ex-chairperson of New Scotland Yard’s Operation Trident Independent Advisory Group. The Duggan family’s lawyer, Martha Willis Stewart, was also present. In all the meeting was attended by over 150 people.

The meeting was the third in a sequence of meetings that I have called in Parliament since the riots in 2011. It seemed to me that the riots raised issues about the relationship between the police and the community which were long-standing and should not be swept under the carpet. In the immediate aftermath of the riots there was intense interest, but the media soon moved on. So I called a meeting on the first anniversary of the riots to discuss issues like police/community relations and the use of stop and search. I believe that this is a debate that the Labour Party should be at the heart of. The speakers included community activists and the policeman in charge at Tottenham police station the night the riots erupted.

police

Last year I called a meeting entirely about the question of stop and search. Disproportionate levels of stop and search are a totemic issue in the black community. Evidence based stops are one thing. But the unhappiness is focussed on non-evidence based stops. It was stop and search, or as it was known then “sus”, that triggered the original riots in Brixton in the nineteen eighties.

Amongst the speakers last year were barrister Courtney Griffiths QC, young victims of stop and search and the Home Secretary Theresa May MP.  The Home Office had launched a review of stop and search. As a result of concerns raised at my meeting they simplified the wording and extended the deadline for responses. Curiously the results of the review have still not been published.

At last week’s meeting there was general unhappiness at the Duggan verdict. Activists, who had been in the court day by day, insisted that they could not equate the evidence they heard with the ultimate findings of the coroner’s court. There was much discussion about stop and search and black deaths in police custody. Interestingly nobody raised the issue of the need for more black policemen. The emphasis was on the way the Metropolitan Police carries out its work, not on the colour of people doing it.

What steps the Duggan family take in the light of the coroner’s verdict is obviously a matter for them. But one of the most telling speeches at this week’s meeting was not from a lawyer or experienced activists. It was a young woman in the audience wearing school uniform who got up to protest at the use of “stop and search”. She said that she and her friends had been harassed by the police since the age of eleven. And she wanted to know what could be done. The key to fighting crime, particularly gang crime, in the inner city is for the police to enlist the trust and support of young people like her. So after the Duggan inquest the Labour Party needs to be mindful that the task of rebuilding trust in the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission is more urgent than ever.

Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

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