On August 4, 2011, Mark Duggan was shot dead by police on the streets of London. The Met say he was armed at the time; his family and friends insist he wasn’t. The killing sparked off riots across the capital and the rest of the country that left a further five people dead.
George Amponsah’s The Hard Stop surveys all of this damage through the eyes of two of Duggan’s best friends, Marcus Knox-Hooke and Kurtis Henville, in the build-up to the inquest that passed judgment on whether Duggan was unlawfully killed. When we join them, Knox-Hooke is about to go to jail for his part in sparking the initial riot in Tottenham and Henville is job-hunting after recently being released from prison after a spell inside for drug trafficking.
Henville, in particular, is an endlessly engaging presence, whether he’s larking about in his car or desperately hawking for a job outside a mobile phone shop. In comparison, Knox-Hooke is a brooding, deadly serious straight man. The Hard Stop is their film and it’s a lively and often grim portrait of two people at the margins of society, desperate to make their voices heard.
Unfortunately, the focus on Henville and Knox-Hooke comes at the expense of a proper excavation of what should be the most pressing matter at hand: the life and death of Mark Duggan. The shooting is recounted far too quickly, as is what happened in the inquest. Much to the consternation of Duggan’s family and friends, a verdict of lawful killing was returned and the documentary is very much on their side. The decision certainly seems flawed considering that the majority of jurors found Duggan was unarmed when he was shot. But I wanted more detail of court proceedings and to be allowed to arrive at my own conclusion.
The portrait of Duggan that emerges in the film is that of a family man and a romantic boyfriend, which is a welcome humanising of someone who has been portrayed by many since the shooting as a violent gangster and nothing more. Yet Amponsah makes the mistake of tipping the balance too far the other way by not being forthright about Duggan and his friends’ criminality. At one point Knox-Hooke pushes the notion that the Tottenham Mandem, of which the police say Duggan was a member, was not really a gang but more like a family. This assertion is directly contradicted by Henville’s explanation of his lucrative criminal history, but Amponsah shies away from joining the dots.
Admitting to a murky past on the part of Duggan would not have lessened the case against the police, but would simply have given us a more rounded picture of him. Hagiography erases nuance and, most importantly, does his family and friends’ search for justice no favours.