Though this film is about the events of August 4th, 2011 when Mark Duggan was shot dead by police, its origins can be traced back to 1985 and to the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham.
On October 5th that year, following a police raid on the home of Cynthia Jarrett, a 41 year old Afro-Caribbean mother whose son the police were holding on suspicion of committing a motoring offence, Mrs Jarrett collapsed and died. Her death, combined with the memory of police behaviour during the Brixton riots of 1981, the continued use of ‘stop and search’ , and a shooting by police of another member of the community a few days earlier, added to the growing feeling among the black community that the police were intentionally targeting them. Demonstrations outside Tottenham police station quickly escalated into another riot during which P. C. Keith Blakelock was murdered.
The prevailing political attitude of the time was simply to attribute the breakdown in law and order to bad behaviour, rather than any other cause. Though a determined effort was made subsequently to improve community relations, a legacy of suspicion and mistrust on both sides remained. When Duggan was shot that August day in 2011, it triggered a further outbreak of violence, the full consequences of which may not yet have been played out.
The Hard Stop (a police term for carrying out a forced stop to a vehicle travelling at speed) is not a balanced film. Its purpose is to provide an voice for the black community through the stories of two of Mark Duggan’s friends, Kurtis Henville and especially Marcus Knox-Hooke, to give a chance to the people who knew Duggan and who had been affected by what happened, to tell their side of the story.
In many respects, what appears on screen will conform to a variety of stereotypes. All 3 young men were involved in crime of some sort. They wore the clothes associated with urban youth. Duggan was from a single parent family; though only 29 years old, he had 6 children of his own. Broadwater Farm was a grim and unwelcoming place, where gang culture and violence were an everyday feature of the lives of the people who lived there.
While none of this might be a surprise, that should not mean that the story Knox-Hooke and Henville have to tell has no validity. The film allows them to speak, and we the viewers to realise that, like everyone else, they have their own hopes and dreams, their own limitations and frustrations and they too want to make a life for themselves that offers hope and the promise of something better.
The film also reveals the extent to which their expectations are not being fulfilled. In spite of all the rhetoric of the Big Society and inclusiveness, the police still seem able to escape any sanction for their actions (1,500 deaths in police custody or following police contact since 1990, not a single prosecution); what investment there has been in the area has been in property makeovers, but neither man has much chance of getting a home; both have tried to find work, with very limited success; in spite of the chastening experiences they have been through (both did time for their involvement in the riot) and the lessons learned (especially by Knox-Hooke), they and their community still feel trapped and they know it: as Knox-Hooke says, “Tottenham is where the inequalities of modern Britain come to sleep at night.”
The film will probably be ignored by most, which is a shame. The police have been exonerated, there are no clear answers as to why Duggan died and Knox-Hooke feels that justice has not been delivered. So it’s powerful testimony – for once – from those on the margins and goes some way to explain why Martin Luther King once said “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
Review by Richard Hall