Imagine being the man who started the 2011 riots that swept the country. Imagine your friend is shot by police, and the explanation in the media is a lie, and you’re furious and sad, and you go to the police station for an explanation. And no-one comes. You wait for hours with Mark Duggan’s friends and family and no-one from the police comes to talk to you. And your frustration boils up. And you see a police car. And you tear that thing up.
The Hard Stop follows Marcus Knox-Hooke, the man jailed for inciting the riots, and his friend, Kurtis Henville. The documentary, released July 15, puts you in their shoes, in their car, in their houses, at Mark Duggan's grave and back at the Tottenham police station where the first brick was thrown.
If you're sketchy on the history: police shot 29-year-old Mark Duggan in what was initially labeled a shoot-out. Mark’s cousin had been stabbed in a nightclub and the police believed Mark had acquired a gun to exact revenge. Indeed, a gun was found near the scene, but not very near Mark, and not bearing his fingerprints or DNA.
A hard stop is a police procedure, where a car is boxed-in by other vehicles and brought to a rapid stop. This is how the police stopped Mark’s taxi, before bringing his life to a hard stop.
Mark, Marcus and Kurtis grew up on the Broadwater Farm estate, a housing project in Tottenham notorious for criminality – the murder of PC Keith Blakelock during earlier riots in Tottenham in the mid-1980s has cast a long shadow. Ever since, dealings between the police and the black community have been toxic, no forgiveness, no forgetting.
The documentary challenges media labels. For Marcus, Broadwater Farm is home, cosy and protective. Home videos show these guys as family, a loving family who dance and laugh and hug, and have mothers, sisters, brothers, children. Living these lives, what they know and who they know, of course they cross the line into criminality. Of course they hate the police.
One of the most visceral scenes comes later in the movie. Marcus, released from prison, is working for an outreach venture trying to prevent young men including Mark’s eldest son from making similar mistakes and becoming another petty gangster. He meets an ex-policeman who’s part of the program, and you can feel Marcus’ bristling emotions, the flight-or-fight response, the urge to scream. And the ex-cop’s “hail fellow well met” bluster seems horribly ill judged after all we’ve heard about the police’s mishandling of the Mark Duggan situation in the hour before. It doesn’t help that he’s so big and so blond.
While this is a strong moment, the film is one-sided. We see life through the eyes of Marcus and Kurtis, but there is no representation of the establishment, of the police, even of the local MP David Lammy. Perhaps this is right: every day we get the other side’s version, so for 80 minutes it’s ok to take a break from the media account, and hear from the Tottenham Man Dem.
According to the police and Wikipedia, Tottenham Man Dem is an organized crime gang. According to Marcus, the words just mean a man from Tottenham. Which seems disingenuous. But the film is “in their own words”, and director George Amponsah doesn’t pop up Nick Broomfield-style with explanations or conclusions, or a challenge. Duality is ignored, offered to the viewer to unravel. Could Mark have been a kind man and a loving father and a drug dealer and had a gun?
The police use a Tony Blair defence: the firearms officer “believed” life was in danger, that Mark Duggan was armed. But the “gun” in Mark’s hand was probably a mobile phone. Strangely, it’s the lies more than the killing itself that caused the rage that caused the riots. You get a picture of two gangs, the police and the Tottenham community, who both close ranks to protect their own.
The Hard Stop is more television than cinema. But then Tottenham is not Hogwarts: there isn’t movie budget for Broadwater Farm-ers. As with every other aspect of these men’s lives, opportunities are limited. At least here, for a short time, their voices are heard.