This month marks the 10th anniversary of the police shooting of Mark Duggan and the days national uprisings that followed.

On the 4th of August 2011, Duggan was fatally shot in Tottenham by Metropolitan police officers, who had been following him after he had acquired a gun earlier in the day. Between the 6th and 11th of August 2011, widespread looting, arson and assault directed at police and police property took place across a number of London boroughs and eventually spread to other cities including Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.

An investigation by the IPCC concluded in 2014, that the shooting had been lawful, and that Duggan had most likely thrown the gun 7 meters over the fence, where it was found, while being shot.

In the UK, there have historically been very few convictions of police officers for murder or manslaughter. The guilty verdict given to PC Benjamin Monk for the manslaughter of Dalian Atkinson earlier this year, marked the first conviction of a police officer in over three decades. This may suggest that police officers overall act lawfully in their interactions with the public, many activists and campaigners would argue however that this instead highlights the severe limitations of the current criminal justice system that fails to keep the police accountable for their damaging actions.

In the last ten years 164 people have died in, or following police custody in England and Wales, with black people more than twice as likely to die.

The death of Duggan did not mark a new or isolated act of police force against black people. Rather, when looking back historically, it highlights an ongoing pattern of the mistreatment of black people by the police.

Going back over 30 years in 1985, the wrongful search of Cynthia Jarret’s house by police officers, led to her death and the subsequent riots that took place on the Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham, following the community outrage of her death and the wider racist conduct of police officers towards black people in the area.

In the same year, the police shooting of Cherry Groce, that similarly took place during an armed search of her house, also resulted in rioting and violence on the streets in and around Brixton.

Likewise, the 2011 uprisings and the anger felt towards the police after the death of Duggan, who like Cynthia Jarret also grew up on the Broadwater Farm estate, was not a spontaneous violent response, but was rather the culmination of growing anger and frustration from a community witnessing yet another member of their community being killed at the hands of the police.

Reactions to the riots and the possible causes for its outbreak were widely debated and discussed by politicians, the media and academics, with a wide range of contributory factors suggested. The influence of consumerism on society was deemed by some to be a significant reason for the outbreak of violence, with rioters simply advancing their own consumerist interests through the extensive looting of stores. Others, including government officials, pointed towards the innate criminality of rioters as demonstrated by the then Prime Minister David Cameron’s analysis, that the riots were nothing but ‘criminality pure and simple.’ In his address to parliament on the 11th of August 2011, Cameron reinforced his belief that the riots were a direct result of a criminal gang culture, poor parenting and the overall moral breakdown in society.

As a result, the policy and political response focused primarily on trying to turn around ‘troubled families’ and fixing the so called ‘gang problem,’ despite clear evidence that gangs had no involvement in the creation and spread of the riots. The ‘gang matrix,’ a database collecting and sharing information on those thought to be involved in serious criminal activity and gangs, was introduced in response to the riots, by London Mayor at the time, Boris Johnson.

However, in a report published by Amnesty International in 2018, it was found that 78% of those identified on the matrix were black, despite only making up 13% of the London population. The report concluded that the racialised conception of ‘the gang’ and the associations made between criminality, hip hop music, styles of clothing and family backgrounds, led to the continued stigmatisation of young black men and the increasing levels of disproportionality within the criminal justice system.

However, such understandings of the riots, which attributed sole blame to consumerism, gang culture and poor parenting, failed to adequately consider and address the structural social, political and economic factors that significantly contributed to, and exacerbated the violence seen in August 2011.

Interviews conducted with rioters in the aftermath highlighted the role that factors such as social deprivation and anger at the police, played in their decisions to take to the streets and riot.

The 2011 riots occurred in a period of austerity following the 2008 financial crisis and recession. Evidence from the Institute for Fiscal Studies highlighted the negative impact that cuts to welfare and benefits had in reducing household incomes and living standards which disproportionately affected poorer families.

There have been known links between austerity, social deprivation and civil unrest and the 2011 riots were no different. Evidence collected in the aftermath, revealed that rioters were more likely to experience higher levels of poverty and come from more economically deprived areas, signifying a strong link between poverty and rioting and thus challenging the perceptions that the riots were nothing more than bored criminals on the street shopping for free.  

Another important element and contributory factor to the 2011 riots, was the strained police and community relations and the continuation of the long-term tensions that existed. The high levels of stop and search used by the police was a commonly mentioned grievance by rioters and explained the anger and violence targeted towards the police seen during the riots. London boroughs that saw the most rioting in 2011, were also the areas with the highest stop and search rates in the years prior. In addition, black people were 6 times more likely to be stopped by police in comparison to the white population in 2010. The highly disproportionate and discriminatory use of stop and search powers towards black communities, only sought to reinforce the deep-rooted hostilities felt towards the police, created and exacerbated by current policing methods and the historical legacies of racist police treatment towards the black community.

It is therefore clear to see how both social deprivation and the breakdown in police and community relations both contributed to and exacerbated the violence seen in 2011. We as a society now have to ask ourselves whether things have changed 10 years on and if lessons were properly learnt from the days of rioting that shocked the nation to its core.

It would be easy to suggest that as no other riot on that level has occurred in England since, that improvements have been made, social deprivation has decreased and the relationship between the black community and police is no longer strained. However, a quick look at the last 10 years sadly shows that this is not the case.

2020 saw the rise of the global movement against police brutality after the tragic murder of George Floyd. The protests and conversations that were sparked across the world as a result, once again highlighted the impact and negative experiences of the interactions between the police and ethnic minority communities both in the US and here in the UK.

A report published by HM’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire Rescue Services, highlighted that in 2019/20, the likelihood of black people being stopped by the police, was almost nine times higher than white people and black people were also 18 times more likely to be stopped with Section 60 powers, which allows for the search of individuals without the need of reasonable suspicion. The same report highlighted the disproportionate level of force used against the black community, with police nine times more likely to draw tasers against black people in comparison to white people.

Such figures highlight the continued unequal treatment of black people by the police today and the fact that as a society we still have a long way to go in order to address the structural racism that contributes to the over policing of black people and the continued hostilities and tensions that still exist between the police and black communities. 

The Government’s plans to increase police stop and search powers, while doing nothing to tackle the already disproportionate and ineffective use of their existing powers, is likely to see an even larger number of young black men face the public humiliation of police stops.

It is hard to see how this will do anything but further sour relations between some communities and the police.

It is clear to see how some of the same structural issues and concerns highlighted in the aftermath of the 2011 riots, regarding levels of social deprivation and the treatment of black people by the police and government, are still prevalent today. Much more needs to be done to address institutionalised racism and the structural inequalities that we still see today if we are to avoid a repeat of the rioting and anger, we saw on the streets 10 years ago.


Abigail Ukbai

Abigail recently graduated from LSE with a degree in International Social and Public Policy, where her thesis was on how the 2011 England riots were understood and the government's policy response to it. She also works closely with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds helping to build character and raise aspirations through mentoring. She has always had a passion for understanding and addressing systemic inequalities and working towards a more racially inclusive society.