Mark Duggan and Moral Bankruptcy

January 13, 2014 2:10 pm


mark dugganFor our non-UK readers, or for our UK readers who are not aware of the Mark Duggan case, here is the summary:

On the fourth of August, 2011 – 29 year old Mark Duggan was shot dead by the Metropolitan Police in Tottenham, London. Fifteen minutes before he was shot dead, Mark was in possession of a blank-firing gun that had been converted  to fire live rounds.

The police stopped a cab that Mark was using. What happens next becomes confusing due to the conflicting reports. It started off with the police claiming that he had pulled a gun out from his waistband, but it was eventually concluded that he threw his gun over a fence when he ran away to try and get rid of the evidence, and was then shot dead. There were a lot of conflicting reports, and incidences where police officers gave statements and then retracted them.

However, in a recent trial attended by a jury, it was determined that Mark Duggan was lawfully killed. His family were of course devastated, and the community he was part of saw it as an injustice – stating “no justice, no peace.”

*Just to clarify, I am not debating the court’s decision in this article, but rather focusing on some people’s reaction to the incident and the ruling. After all, the decision was reached by a randomly selected jury who probably know more than most of us ever could about this incident. *

The problem 

Friends and relatives "salute" at Duggan's funeral

Friends and relatives “salute” at Duggan’s funeral

As I was  reading the news from various papers, I was alarmed at people’s reaction to this whole event. Looking at the comments (and I won’t quote anyone directly), the basic sentiment was that “being a gangster, he had it coming”. More importantly, the Daily Mail, took a provocative angle towards the case – headlining the story as “Mark Duggan, the man who lived by the gun: Arms draped  around two violent gangsters, the thug whose death sparked riots – but who his family insist was a peacemaker.”

The sub heading of the article also listed his criminal past, however true it was. Stating that he was one of the most violent gangsters in Europe and that he had been linked to ten shootings and two murders.

So the basic discourse from the Daily Mail and others who support it is that Mark deserved everything he got, and that him being shot dead in the street is a good thing.

And yet, despite the supporters of such a sentiment displaying an utter revulsion at gang culture, gangs and organized crime, the most curious thing is that it just stops there. And that is a big mistake. They do not ask why these gangs exist and why people get involved in organized crime. Let us say, for argument’s sake, that Mark Duggan was indeed a top criminal – why should we not wonder what drove him and thousands  more in London alone towards a life of crime? The most basic guess I can give are two – economic desperation and a materialistic society that worships money; encouraging people to seek their fortune at whatever cost.

mark duggan verdictEven stranger is that some of these people who are repulsed by organized crime and gang culture, and who seem to make judgements without investigation, say that his death is a good thing. Now organized crime is bad because of loss it creates, and the biggest loss of all is that of human life; whether someone is killed or dies because of a drug addiction. So it should be clear that death is a bad thing. Yet when we encounter criminals, a moral bankruptcy seems to take over some of us and we become illogical. If, as it was accepted in the recent ruling of Mr. Duggan’s death, he did throw the gun over the fence then there might have been a chance that the police could have arrested him instead of killed him. In light of that, what is tragic and hard to understand is that someone could celebrate his death and say that he deserved it.

Why am I writing this? Because I believe that the most important part of being a moral society is being morally consistent. And the most important time to be morally consistent is when we are faced with cases like this. Even when we look at the life of someone who could have been a criminal, and who could have done a lot of wrong in his past, we must not allow ourselves to react so that we become morally bankrupt ourselves. Otherwise, what is the point?

We should be beyond knee-jerk reactions. And if we truly want to make things better, then we should not just say “I don’t like this”, but also ask ourselves, “why is it happening?”

  • Adewaj Behal.

    I have a couple of opinions on this. Not that it should matter, but I’ll start by saying, I am black, live in east London and my family have done so for over 70 years.

    Firstly, I agree with what this article says in so far as, no one should celebrate a killing or death like this, it is incredibly disrespectful and hurtful to close family and friends and whilst Mark Duggan obviously had his criminal problems, he of course did not deserve to die. So I agree, those who say his death is a good thing, are wrong and naive. I do not, however, think there are many who would say that. I might also draw the parallel to people celebrating when Mrs Thatcher died, this was also abominable behaviour that should have been more widely condemned.

    Secondly, on the questions of the man’s innocence and the legality of the shooting itself. There are a couple of things you have to accept. Police hunts will never be perfect, policemen are fallible just like anyone else. Everyone sees things in there own perspective, so of course, there were different statements. But ultimately, it is extremely rare something like this happens, and when it does, it is very unfortunate. The police officer in question can only make a choice to the best of his knowledge at the time, which I think (and the court obviously agrees) was to take the shot. The evidence to the police officer at the time was that this man was an imminent threat and if he has not acted and people had died because of that then things could have been much worse. As it turned out, the threat was not what it seemed, and this is a tragic incident which came as a result of bad luck and previous criminal activity, including being in possession of a gun shortly before.

    More importantly, the shooting was declared lawful by a jury with a decent majority, in a court. These people were randomly selected, they were not policemen and they were not influenced. They heard all the facts, and they made their decision. We have an excellent court system in place that very very rarely fails. I do not believe it has failed in this situation. This was an unfortunate accident of events, pure and simple.

    So did Mark Duggan deserve to die? Of course not? Did the police officer do the right thing with the evidence he had at the time? Yes. It isn’t a perfect world, and regrettably some things can do terribly wrong, and this is one of those cases, but please, do not put it down to racism, or moral bankruptcy or white people governing black with prejudice. That simply isn’t the case. He was an unlucky man, doing the wrong thing, at the wrong time. That is all.

    • Ziyad Hayatli

      Hello Mr. Behal

      Thank you very much for your input. Of course, I do agree with what you said. I wasn’t there in the court room after all, and I don’t know the full details of what the jury heard and why they chose to label it a lawful killing.
      It is the hypocrisy of hating gangs for costing human life and yet celebrating his death that is the problem. And also the fact that many who seem to be bothered by organized crime don’t really ask any questions. If you want to help someone who is hungry, then give him food but also ask “why is he hungry”?
      My article is focusing on people’s reaction, and I am not debating the court’s decision.

      • Adewaj Behal.

        Hi Ziyad,

        Thank you for replying to me. Sorry, my reply was more of a general opinion on what is going on in the media and with unrest caused by the friends etc. I do agree, that to hate gangs but then incite celebration at someone’s death is highly hypocritical.

        You can’t help but wonder if perhaps this kind of behaviour is down to a lack of education or maybe some imposed naivety by an outside source. I don’t know, but it is sad to see.

        I will agree with your last statement and perhaps take it one step further. To truly help a hungry person, you would not feed them, but teach them how to feed themselves. If these things are down to education, then let us hope our education system continues to improve.

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