GRIEVING: Friends and relatives of Mark Duggan, comfort each other next to the hearse carrying his coffin at his funeral in September 2011
WHAT DID you expect? Did you really think British policemen were going to stand trial for the murder of an ordinary black man who had been so successfully posthumously traduced in the eyes of the public? Did you really think that a jury was going to think anything other than that ‘V53 believed he was in danger and therefore used necessary lethal force’ (a bafflingly high legal test) in light of the sea of legalised slander posing as ‘allegations’ and ‘questions’ that had been broadcast and printed about Mark Duggan?
If you did then more fool you. This is Britain.
There is so much that could and is being said about this case. But a lot of what is said will be said in places and institutions that unrepentantly remain a large part of the problem. I’m afraid to say that much of the mainstream media is certainly one of those places.
If the Mark Duggan Inquest has done anything it has disproven many of the myths, half-truths and naked lies propagated about Mark Duggan following his death. And it has also proven that our press is perhaps too gullible and supportive of authority. The media are too swift to believe authority. Be it on Mark Duggan (‘he shot us’) or Iraq (‘45 minutes’), authority is always believed.
Andrew Mitchell (the former Chief Whip) eventually got justice because he was himself an authority figure. Mark Duggan did not stand a chance. Mitchell vs the Police was a case of Goliath taking on Goliath. Whilst Duggan was a case of David’s infant son taking on Goliath (the Police, the IPCC and the media).
I originally wrote a longer version of the article below in The Voice in September 2011. It juxtaposes the treatment of Mark Duggan in the media with the treatment of Iraq in the run up to the 2003 invasion.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The British media prides itself on being an institution based on honesty, objectivity and integrity – the opposite of, say, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News.
It is held in this esteem by others too. But there are times when the media either permits itself to be manipulated or to act as the agent of manipulation, just like Fox News does. War is often a good example of this.
During wars all normal media rules of objectivity are thrown out of the window. A nation cannot effectively go to war with a bunch of ‘very nice people’, therefore the enemy must be defined–by the media-in a manner so damning that you and I don’t care how or why they’re killed.
It has largely gone under the radar but this exact wartime media strategy is often used against elements of our own society to construct convenient narratives.
The killing of Mark Duggan crystallised this. The moment Mark Duggan was shot he was immediately labelled a well known ‘gangsta’ (gangster) in the media. Then came the issue of the shootout.
The media initially reported that Mark Duggan shot at the police and was out-gunned and died as a result. The problem was it soon became
And then came the damning, credibility destroying, and catastrophic issue of the bullet lodged in a police radio. At first you were led to believe Duggan was responsible, before it became clear that the bullet belonged to the officers themselves.
Yet despite the emergence of a clear scandal that would make the writers of The Shield salivate, the media still considered the ‘gangsta’ narrative to be more important.
At Duggan’s funeral, ITV News –in a piece that would make Fox News blush- disgracefully felt the need to portray Duggan as a ‘gangster’, ‘suspected drug dealer’ and ‘elder of the gang culture’ on the estate where he lived.
Even independently verifiable facts, such as “did he have any convictions?” were left open to subjective conclusion.
As police watchdog the IPCC was forced to admit, the media was manipulated (“misled”) at first.
But then it became very clear that the media was manipulating (misleading) the public in order, it appears, to negate an emerging picture which suggested that a miscarriage of justice or even a crime may have been carried out by the police.
Duggan had to be made the enemy in the eyes of the public.
Though disturbing, this strategy is not new at all. To draw a parallel with recent history: the treatment of Duggan after the shooting and the treatment of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the run up to the 2003 invasion followed the exact same script.
Although the situations themselves are not comparable the strategy deployed in each has remarkable similarities.
The media was used to aggressively push an agenda of demonisation and dehumanisation in a bid to eradicate any sympathy, questioning or criticism that the actions involved would otherwise generate.
It doesn’t matter if the portrayals are true or false as long as they are effective at damning their target.
Whereas Iraq’s fate was justified in the name of weapons of mass destruction (never existed), Duggan’s was justified in the name of shooting at the police (never happened).
Both turned out to be untrue, but both Duggan and Iraq were damned nonetheless, and so far no one has been held accountable for either situation.