Hatred towards the police palpable as gangs mix with anarchists and socialists at Tottenham protest
A mix of groups met in the north London district to highlight the Mark Duggan inquest ruling
Friends and family of Mark Duggan hold a vigil outside Tottenham police station in London on Saturday. Photograph: EPA/Andy Rain
Stafford Scott has stood on the steps of Tottenham police station before. Fifteen years ago he joined crowds who came to burn it down after the death of Roger Sylvester. Sylvester, a 30-year-old mentally ill man, was arrested by eight officers in Tottenham as he stood naked banging on his front door. Restrained, he fell into a coma, dying a week later.
Hundreds more have died in questioned, if not questionable, circumstances in British police stations over the past five decades.
Hundreds gathered in Tottenham on Saturday for a vigil to protest at last week’s inquest ruling that police lawfully killed Mark Duggan in 2011, the incident that sparked that year’s riots.
Men from local evangelical groups in suits, dicky bows and overcoats mixed with anarchist groups and Socialist Workers Party members carrying banners.
Others, however, had the swagger of the gang culture that plagues Tottenham, though the majority of them heeded calls not to dominate the day.
Sylvester’s father, Rupert was there. So, too, was Marcia Rigg, whose brother, Sean died in a police cell in 2008.
Five years on, his death is now subject to a criminal investigation.
“Fifteen years ago, the Sylvester family said, ‘Don’t burn the station. We want justice for our son. They went to court,” Scott told the gathering.
In the Sylvester case, a jury found that he had been unlawfully killed, but a High Court judge subsequently overruled it on the grounds that they had been confused. “Well, we want a judge now to tell us that the Mark Duggan jury was confused. There was no evidence that could have made them come to that decision,” he said.
Before Saturday’s vigil, the Metropolitan Police raised fears the protest could turn violent or that violence could be sparked in coming days.
In the end, though not without tension, it passed off quietly, bar isolated threats to some reporters seen by most in the crowd as villains who have “blackened” Duggan’s name. The police fears are all part of a piece, say campaigners. “Duggan was a thug, therefore the public should not care, that’s the argument,” said one.
The hatred of many towards the police was tangible. “Who are the murderers?” Scott roared.
“The police are the murderers,” most roared back.
Retired lecturer Hesketh Benoit knew Duggan as a young boy who wanted to be a footballer: “Now, they are pushing it that he was a ‘gangsta’, which is totally out of order. Young boys, even my own kids, are being stopped on the streets, it is a weekly event, even when they are just hanging out. Now, they feel that they are targets.”
Duggan’s criminal background, plus the involvement of the SWP and anarchist groups, has made some wary of becoming too closely involved. Local Labour MP David Lammy for one did not turn up: “And he was invited by the family,” said Scott to jeers from the crowd. “He was invited.”
Defending himself yesterday, Lammy said he would “not share a platform with anarchist groups and people that don’t accept that a jury laboured and reached a decision”.
Duggan’s wife, Carole Duggan emphasised the need for the vigil to pass off “peacefully” and “with dignity”, but insisted that she would “keep fighting for justice”.
“We need to show that we are not a gangster family. We are just an ordinary family,” she said, standing near her children and Duggan’s mother, Pamela.
Local Methodist clergyman, Rev Stephen Poxon was transferred to St Mark’s in Tottenham three months ago. For now, he chooses his words carefully. “I want to be here to support the community,” he said, though equally it is clear that he pulls away from the invective directed towards the police.
“There are a lot of efforts going on to rebuild the community. I have not found things to be as tense here as some in the media would have you believe.”
Asked about the opinions towards the police of the young in his 300-strong “almost totally black” congregation, Poxon stressed that they are “aspirational”.
“They are not the kind of young people who want to get involved in some of this stuff on the streets,” he added.