Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The "lawful" killing of Mark Duggan

This is going to be an emotionally charged time, it seems the jury at the inquest into the shooting of Mark Duggan have decided that his killing was lawful, by 8 members to 2 (it's worth noting that the 2 others didn't believe it to necessarily be unlawful). Confusingly the jury also believed that Mr Duggan didn't have the gun in his possession at the time he was shot.

Unfortunately emotions are taking over here, and we need to remember that lawful doesn't mean "right".

The timeline as being reported from the inquest is this... intelligence found that Mark Duggan had gained ownership of a gun. Police moved to arrest, and Mark Duggan seemed to be aware this was happening. He is believed to have tossed the gun out of the cab he was in before contact with the police and was unfortunately shot dead.

It's important to understand that the police believed him to be armed, and so the question is not whether he had a gun in his possession, but whether the police believed he had and whether they believed him to be a threat enough to shoot.

It's always worth remembering that the police always shoot to kill, there is no "shoot to disarm" or "shoot to maim", because if they shoot on that basis and then kill a person they will have unlawfully killed them. The decision is centered around an immediate threat to the life of an officer or nearby person, and if that threat is determined in the heat of the moment to be credible and immediate, those police trained to operate firearms are lawfully able to take the shot.

It's clearly unfair that Mark Duggan was killed, it clearly isn't right...however that alone doesn't make it unlawful. For it to be unlawful the police would have had to have shot him despite knowing he was unarmed, that he wasn't an immediate threat to those in the area.

Did V53 (the police officer who shot Mr Duggan) honestly believe that the victim had a gun on him until the moment he was down? Without other witnesses, how can the operation be assessed?

Far from this sending a message out to police that it is ok to shoot an unarmed black man, as many a twitter comment like above will say, it shows that if you shoot someone there is every chance it will blow up local tensions, and have you as an officer scrutinised for years on the back of that momentary judgement. However it also does say that as long as you and your fellow officers stick together, and there are no witnesses, you may be able to come out of the end of that scrutiny without any kind of criminal conviction, even if there is a chance you could lose part of what your job is.

I don't think it's helpful at this time to descend into hyperbole, nor to assume the motives of the police any more than you believe police assume the motives of, in this case, young black men.

There may be things to learn here, about the quality of training given to officers (did the training fail V53, or fail to determine their ability to make rational and objective decisions in the heat of the moment?), and perhaps about the transparency of these operations. Should armed police be required to wear functioning AV equipment to document what they do? Perhaps independent individuals should be part of a scrambled armed response team to be able to provide an unbiased account of the operation if it turns sour? (let's leave talk of cost and that person's safety aside for now)

The way firearms operations are carried out needs to change somehow so that we are not relying on the evidence of an individual's "belief", but as the law stands even if there was a camera pointed, as well as a gun, at Mark Duggan in 2011 that showed irrefutably that he was unarmed... if Mr Duggan had moved in a way that could give that instinctive response to an officer *expecting* to see a firearm, you would probably have seen the same verdict found. The question we should ask ourselves is if this is the fairest way to deal with whether the officer is charged with a manslaughter or murder charge, or not?