Five years after the death of Mark Duggan and the subsequent riots, many Londoners from black and minority ethnic communities still struggle to trust the police. The 2013 inquest into Duggan’s death at the hands of police found the shooting to be a ‘lawful killing’, despite many witnesses testifying Duggan had not been armed. A gun was found at the scene, but it bore none of Duggan’s prints, blood or DNA. An expert witness went as far as to testify it was “very difficult” to imagine the deceased throwing the gun to the spot where it was found, some 20 feet away, after he had been shot twice. Marcus Knox-Hooke and Kurtis Henville, two childhood friends of Duggan, were determined to find justice for him and the resulting documentary, The Hard Stop, explodes historical tensions between law enforcement and London’s black community. The film’s director George Amponsah reveals what East London said about the film, what divides Londoners, and how to protest.
How have Londoners responded to the film?
We screened it at the East End Film Festival in June and afterwards had a panel with two police officers. Emotions were high: feelings of sadness, feelings of anger and a sense of injustice. There were a lot of questions asking those officers how they felt the police might change some of the patterns of behaviour reflected in the film – the main pattern being a history of not being accountable when things go wrong.
Is there a clear dividing line between people open to Duggan’s story and the people who are not?
I don’t know. To be honest, I’m not trying to be evasive in saying this but I’m a filmmaker. What I know is films and trying to tell a story. Part of the motivation for making The Hard Stop was that I wanted to make a film that was about an important subject and about my home. I was born in London. I’m British. In many senses I’d be satisfied with the film as long as it is something that provokes debate and discussion. Because what’s important to me in some ways is that Martin Luther King quote that appears at the beginning of The Hard Stop: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” It’s just important for a debate and discussion to be had rather than for a significant amount of people to think their voice and opinion is not being heard, and is being discounted – so much so that they find themselves taking to the streets and getting involved in the kind of disturbance that we saw in Britain in 2011.
What advice would you give to young Londoners who want to carry on the conversation started with this film?
Try and get involved in things that are constructive and creative. Try to find a way of protesting where you’re getting your voice heard, where it can’t be discounted, and certainly in a way where you know you’re not going to be imprisoned or find yourself on the wrong side of the law.