New documentary film following the lives of two of Mark Duggan’s best friends provides raw insight into life before and after he was shot dead by police
When director George Amponsah recently started screening his film The Hard Stop, he could not have anticipated how timely it would be. The stark video of Alton Sterling being pinned to the floor and shot dead by cops in Louisiana, and the very next day that of Philandro Castile dying in his car seat after suffering a similar fate, reignited #BlackLivesMatter protests across the United States and the world. Two days after Castile’s shooting, as #BlackLivesMatter protesters were bringing London’s Oxford Street to a halt, I was at the Frontline Club to watch this raw documentary about the killing of Mark Duggan, shot dead by police here in the UK in 2011.
The Hard Stop is named after the controversial tactic used by British police, where armed officers deliberately intercept a vehicle to confront a suspect. It was the tactic used when police officers shot dead Azelle Rodney in 2005. At the time, the Independent Police Complaints Commission recommended the Metropolitan Police review the use of this “high risk option”. By 2013, the police officer who shot Rodney was found to have had “no lawful justification” for the killing, but the Met had yet to review the hard stop tactic. There had been no review by the 4th August 2011 either, the day the hard stop was used on Mark Duggan.
This candid observational documentary follows two of Duggan’s childhood friends, Marcus Knox-Hooke and Kurtis Henville, in the aftermath of their “brother’s” death. We join them as Marcus is facing prison for, essentially, starting the riots that came in the wake of the killing. He is accused of instigating the first act of violence in Tottenham, the epicentre of civil unrest that soon engulfed the entire country. Footage of Tottenham ablaze, and of widespread looting, is criticised by Marcus in a rare glimpse of politics in the documentary: “We are supposed to be standing united against the government, against all the oppression they are putting us through, not destroying our local area.”
Later, as Kurtis and his girlfriend listen to the radio in their kitchen, there is another nod to politics as the news reports on how austerity is hitting the poorest hardest. Kurtis is unemployed and we follow his struggle to find work. It is his sincere attitude and cheeky sense of humour that break down barriers in this film. These universally relatable glimmers of humanity draw you in, and you might even notice how different life is for the Kurtis’ of this world, as he looks for work online by parking next to a Carphone Warehouse to use their Wi-Fi using an unidentifiable and very old mobile handset.
Moments of insight are scattered along the journey. Prominent race rights advocate Stafford Scott appears briefly. Scott was the co-founder of the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign set up in the wake of the 1985 riots on the estate. Back then, it was Cynthia Jarrett who died after a police search of her home and PC Keith Blakelock who was shot dead in the subsequent unrest. Grainy footage shown from the 1985 riots looks otherwise identical to the scenes of 2011 and leaves you wondering how far things have really come. Scott gives his opinion that the following generations, like Mark, Kurtis and Marcus, need little reminder of the history they were born into, as negative experiences cement what they already know about the police and life on the Broadwater Farm Estate.
For many in this country, places like the Broadwater Farm are the ones you avoid, the places that even police fear to go. But for those who live there, it is not just somewhere to tolerate, or survive. “This is my home,” Marcus says as he shows us the corridors where he learnt to ride his bike, “whenever I need to be safe I come here.” These moments of humanity are the most powerful in the film, like seeing Mark’s girlfriend Simone at home with the kids laughing about when they first started dating, or telling us that some days their oldest son Kimali does nothing but silently listen to Mark’s music all day – or later, hearing Mark’s young daughter crying to her mum: “I’m tired, I want to go and sleep with my daddy in heaven.”
For much of the film though, while the dark footage, harsh words and raging music reinforce the stark realities and the raw anger of day-to-day life for the two main characters, I can’t help but wonder if they potentially reinforce negative stereotypes, too. It’s hard to know whether director George Amonpash has peeled away enough of the misconceptions and misunderstandings to be able to change any minds with his work.
I ask Amonpash about this, and he admits that he is not sure. But he explains his experience of screening the film around the country, and of one particular occasion where a young white boy brought his father to the cinema to watch it. All “dad” had to say in the end was, “Wow – I had absolutely no idea.” As I am leaving the screening, a young international student who has just watched the film approaches me and says, “Can I ask you something? One thing I don’t get is, if they didn’t want all of this to happen to them, why did they do all the things they did in their lives?” Perhaps the documentary should have dug deeper to answer this. Or perhaps, the point of it is that you walk away asking this very question, because, ultimately, we must all take responsibility for both the question and the answer.
This film opens with the words of Martin Luther King that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” The Hard Stop ends by not only giving a voice to the unheard, but capturing it in its rawest form. The importance of watching this film will only grow as we realise how much the reality it documents still has to change.
The Hard Stop is in UK cinemas from today, Friday 15th July 2016.
Image from: https://www.intofilm.org/resources/1035
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