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'Lawful' Shooting of Mark Duggan May Have Further Consequences

10/01/2014 11:18 GMT | Updated 11/03/2014 09:59 GMT

>Mark Duggan was lawfully shot dead by police on 4 August 2011. The jury reached this verdict on Wednesday at the end of a 4-month inquest, contrary to expectations - at least by Duggan's family. The news prompted fears of another riot.

'Will things kick off again?' I received a barrage of tweets and messages from people who had read Feral Youth (which is based on the lives of disenfranchised young people during the build-up to the London Riots), asking this question.

Hearing the cries of "Murder!" and "Who killed Mark Duggan?" as the Met Police Assistant Commissioner attempted to read out his statement, I was almost tempted to believe that a fresh wave of violence was likely. It is clear that many people are enraged by this apparent injustice, in light of the jury's conclusion that Duggan had been unarmed when shot.

The answer, however, is no. Things will not 'kick off' again - not immediately, anyway. For a start, riots rarely happen in winter; things don't burn as easily and there aren't enough people on the streets to create a mob mentality. But more importantly, Mark Duggan's death was not the cause of the London Riots. Many rioters didn't even know who Duggan was; they were out there for their own reasons. The shooting was just the spark that ignited an already-glowing tinderbox fuelled by a complex and interlinked set of issues.

Depravation, unemployment, a lack of opportunities for young people, a sense of 'them and us' and not being listened to, frustration over cuts to youth services, broken homes, poor parenting, demonization by the press and a distrust of police all contributed, in various permutations, to the sense of frustration that led people to take to the streets.

This last factor - distrust of police - is why the Duggan verdict is a concern. A recent survey found that a quarter of Londoners believe that the Metropolitan Police is institutionally racist. Among minority ethnic groups, this figure is as high as 38% - but this is not just about race; it is about justice.

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Many people, regardless of their opinions of Mark Duggan and his clear involvement in crime, gangs, guns and drugs, will feel that for police to 'lawfully' shoot an unarmed man dead does not constitute justice. What this verdict will do is to further erode our trust in the police and add to a growing sense that different rules apply to different parts of society. I'm not endorsing this response. It may not be sensible or rational, but it is the natural reaction for many.

The root causes of the London Riots have not gone away. We still have a million 16-24s out of work. Austerity measures have widened the gap between rich and poor, putting pressure on the vulnerable and exacerbating the sense of 'them and us'. Trust in the authorities is fragile and 'lawful' killings of unarmed men by police can only make things worse.

We won't see more riots this winter, but I worry that we're keeping the embers warm for summer.

Polly Courtney is author of Feral Youth, the story of the London Riots through the eyes of a 15-year-old girl.