CATCH A FIRE
Days after Mark Duggan was fatally shot by London police, a peaceful protest exploded into riots that spread across Great Britain and burned through the international media. Duggan has since been dismissed as a gangster, his supporters shrugged off as looting villains. But when it comes to police brutality in the U.K., half the story has never been told. VIBE sifts through the ashes of Duggan’s Tottenham hometown and turns to his family for answers
WORDS: Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou | PHOTOS: Will Robson-Scott
Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old London-based father of four, sent a text to his mates at 6 p.m. on Thursday, August 4: “Yo fam, you on the block? Watch out 4 green VW van. Trident just jammed me.” Duggan was referring to Operation Trident, a Metropolitan Police Service program designed to limit illegal guns in the Black community.
About the same time, Semone Wilson, the mother of three of his children, received a similar message from Mark: “The Feds are following me.” It was the last she ever heard from him. While his phone continued to buzz, Mark Duggan would send no more texts that evening—or ever. Around 6:15 p.m. the silver Toyota Estima minicab he was riding in got pulled over by Metropolitan Police near the Tottenham Hale Tube station. According to police sources, Duggan was an alleged drug dealer on his way to avenge his friend, 23-year-old Kelvin Easton, aka “Smegz,” who had been stabbed to death with a broken champagne bottle at a nightclub the previous March.
Exactly what transpired in the moments between the traffic stop and the shooting remains unclear. Minutes after Mark sent his last text, his younger brother Marlon got a call from an eyewitness saying Mark had been shot by police. Rushing to the scene, Marlon Duggan encountered a group of officers. He was told that his brother had been rushed to Royal London Hospital in London’s East End. Marlon called Semone and told her to meet him at the hospital. But when they went to check for Mark in the emergency room, he wasn’t there. Fearing the worst, Semone rushed to the scene. After showing police Mark’s birth certificate and pictures on her phone, she was allowed to cross the yellow tape. She described the tattoos of their children that adorned his skin, but the police refused to tell her if he had been shot, even as Mark’s lifeless body laid under a sheet nearby.
Later, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) reported that he had been involved in a shoot-out with police, in which he wounded an officer before being fatally shot. The Daily Mail, Britain’s second largest newspaper, published a similar account: “Mark Duggan, 29, was in a car being followed by police during a covert operation… But Duggan, a known offender from London’s notorious Broadwater Farm Estate, became aware that he was being followed and opened fire on the officers. He shot the officer from Scotland Yard’s elite firearms squad CO19 in the side of his chest with a handgun. Armed officers shot the gunman dead seconds later.” However, it was later revealed that the bullet lodged in a police radio, sparing the officer from any injury.
The headline on Rupert Murdoch’s The Times screamed: “Policeman cheats death after bullet hits radio during London gunfight.” This did not sit well in Broadwater Farm Estate—aka “the Farm”—the public housing community in Tottenham, North London, where Mark Duggan was raised.The people of this mostly Caribbean community told a very different story than the one portrayed by the media. “He picked his son up every day and attended all of the games,” said Clasford Stirling, director of Broadwater Farm football team, where Mark’s son played. “Mark was a good and involved father. He was like a son to me.” Stirling said he understood that Mark was not a saint, but “like most Black youth who grow up, get in a little trouble and get criminalized.”
At 22, Mark was held by police for possession of marijuana. The amount was so small that he was released without a criminal conviction. But Mark’s brother Shaun Hall dismissed the gun-slinging gangster reports about Mark as “rubbish.” His friends and family members could not say for sure whether Mark was in possession of a weapon at the time of his death (one was reportedly found at the scene), but they were confident that he would not use a weapon against the cops. “I knew straightaway that it was not right,” Semone said. “He was a runner. He would have run from the police.”
Sure enough, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) eventually released an official report stating that there had been no shoot-out, and in fact only two shots were fired—both of them by police. One bullet fatally struck Mark in the chest. A second round passed through his right bicep. Mark was pronounced dead on the scene at 6:41 p.m. The Forensic Science Service (FSS) was commissioned by the IPCC to conduct tests on the bullet that was found lodged in a police officer’s jacket radio. Initial findings indicated that the bullet was police issued. And the gun that was found at the scene was not fired. Although London has one of the most extensive public surveillance systems in the world, the closed-circuit camera footage that could clear up so many lingering questions has yet to be released.
So if there was no shoot-out, what really happened?