Can Tottenham MP David Lammy Rebuild his Constituency?04:08 - Monday 08 August 2011 - In Categories UK News, UK Videos
According to unconfirmed reports, last week police stopped Mark Duggan as he travelled in a minicab along Ferry Lane, Tottenham, writes Orantes Moore.
One of the armed cops accidentally shot a colleague as they exited their vehicle.
Duggan laughed and mocked the officer’s poor aim and was subsequently shot by the cop, allegedly so badly his mother had difficulty identifying him.
While it’s unlikely the police will corroborate this version of events, their failure to provide Duggan’s family with any official account of how the 29-year-old died leaves the Metropolitan Police open to yet more accusations of corruption.
The catalyst for last weekend’s uprising mirrors the police’s unsuccessful attempts to conceal their involvement in the death of Cynthia Jarrett, a 49 year-old Tottenham resident who died in 1985 after officers raided the family home looking for her son, Floyd.
Jarrett’s death preceded the Broadwater Farm riots, which in turn led to the murder of PC Keith Blakelock.
In 1987, Winston Silcott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite – known as the ‘Tottenham Three’ – were sentenced to life imprisonment for Blakelock’s murder.
However, six years later, all three convictions were overturned after forensic tests revealed police had fabricated evidence.
When I spoke to Silcott in 2003, he predicted there would be similar uprisings in the future because ‘…as a community, little has changed in Tottenham’.
He said: ‘Technology may have changed, but little else. Today, everything’s more subtle. The dialogue the police use may have changed slightly, but their manoeuvres are the same.’
He added: ‘Everybody has to take responsibility. If the community is to blame; they should accept that and correct it. Likewise, if the police are wrong, they should do the same.
‘That’s how people move on, but until we get to that stage, nobody will be able to move on.’
Silcott’s comments rang in my ears as I watched the images of burning and looting on Sky News and the BBC throughout the weekend.
Similarly, I remembered Derek Bennett, the 29-year-old father who was shot in the back by police for carrying a gun-shaped cigarette lighter exactly 10 years ago, and Roger Sylvester, a 30-year-old Tottenham resident, who died in 1999 after being restrained by eight police officers.
At the time, police claimed they’d received a 999 call from a local resident saying Sylvester was acting in an ‘aggressive and vociferous manner’.
Within 90 days they retracted this statement and issued an apology to the Sylvester family.
In 2003 a jury unanimously agreed that Sylvester was killed unlawfully, but 11 months later a High Court judge overturned the ruling leaving the officers free to return to work and the victim’s family with unanswered questions about the details surrounding his death.
Bernard Renwick, Sylvester’s cousin, told me: ‘The focus of an inquiry into a death in police custody is never on the police officers.’
The suspicious circumstances of Duggan’s death coupled with recent allegations of endemic corruption within the Met make it difficult to place confidence in the force’s ability to investigate deaths in custody.
If the police responded quicker to both Duggan’s death and Saturday evening’s peaceful protest, the uprisings that followed could have been avoided.
Likewise, the response of Tottenham’s MP, David Lammy, was both sluggish and somewhat out of step with the community he serves.
But that’s nothing new; Lammy has always struggled to fill the shoes of his predecessor, Bernie Grant.
I grew up, lived and worked in Tottenham and have first-hand knowledge of the issues affecting Europe’s most ethnically diverse constituency.
The area is home to numerous criminal gangs and includes the Northumberland Park ward, which has the highest rate of youth unemployment in London and the misfortune of being one of the poorest areas in England, despite housing Tottenham Hotspurs – the third most lucrative football club in the Premier League with profits of £30 million last year.
By 2009, it became increasingly clear that providing local youths with alternatives to street-crime was a necessity. So I contacted Lammy’s office to discuss how Overground – an organisation that delivers youth-focused events, projects and workshops – could help.
We arranged to meet at Lammy’s office at the College of North and East London, but he never turned up. To add insult to injury, there was no apology or explanation for his absence.
Although disappointed, it would be misleading to suggest I was surprised. As a reporter for the now-defunct New Nation newspaper, I was invited by Lammy to spend a day watching him prepare and canvass support for the general election in 2005.
While highly intelligent and charming, I found him aloof and a little arrogant; although he did relax after discovering I was a local resident and lifelong Spurs fan.
I asked what he was doing to divert young people from gun-crime.
He replied: ‘There was crime before I was elected and there will be crime after I’m elected. You have to fight [gun crime] within the community and families have to do it. It’s not my job to raise the young people of Tottenham.’
Fair point, but surely Lammy must take some responsibility for the breakdown in communications between the police and the Duggan family.
Tottenham residents are used to being mistreated by the police. Consequently, they depend on community leaders and their MP to act as conduits working on their behalf. Is that too much to ask?
In 2004, the Sunday Times and New Statesman reported that a poll taken by his Labour co-workers revealed Lammy to be the most useless of all Blair’s government ministers.
While this description may appear a little harsh, it reminds me of a comment proffered by Olive, a silver-haired pensioner who was part of his campaign team: ‘It doesn’t matter who our Tottenham candidate is; if they put up a broomstick, we’ll still support it.’
Among his constituents and colleagues Lammy has little respect, which effectively makes him politically impotent.
Until Tottenham residents find and elect an MP that is prepared to stand up and fight for their rights, they can expect little change.
In the meantime, the young people in the area must seriously consider the damage they have afflicted upon their own community as – considering the current economic climate – the shops they burned down and looted are unlikely to be replaced by thriving new businesses.
Orantes Moore is co-founder and publisher of Overground Online.