“We keep getting our bit of the history written out.”
In the midst of a pretty radical programme, the winners of which being 100% female (when has that ever happened??), George Amponsah’s THE HARD STOP really was the cherry on top of the progressive icing at The East End Film Festival this year. Currently out in cinemas nationwide, the documentary follows two childhood friends of the late Mark Duggan who was gunned down by policemen in Tottenham in 2011 after a ‘hard stop’ pullover. The shooting sparked the London riots and has ever since epitomised the ongoing conflict between black communities and the police in London.
The film has been shown in London before, premiering at the BFI London Film Festival last year and screening at the excellent Human Rights Watch Film Festival in March, but the really electrifying aspect of this screening, which took place at Genesis Cinema, was the Q&A hosted by Krishnan Guru Murphy and featuring director George, subject Marcus Knox Hooke, ex-London Met Policeman Mick Lees, Race Advocacy Officer Stafford Scott and Deborah Coles from InQuest.
— EastEndFilmFestival (@EastEndFilmFest) 30 June 2016
What came out of such a diverse panel was, predictably, a diverse range of opinions and perspectives. When that was met with the diversity of the audience, radical conversation ensued.
Director George came across as the tentative observationalist who was treated with suspicion for months when he embarked on telling the story of the people behind the London Riots, but then became a trusted friend when his intention became clear to Marcus.
Stafford, who has lived through much of the police-people clash from the inside of the black community, including the ‘original sin’ murder of PC Blakelock in 1985 on the Broadwater Farm estate which many feel is used as justification by the police for unfair treatment of new generations of black people, was the most straightforward voice in the conversation, directly addressing government cuts and blockages that have led to support being undercut from Haringey and perpetuated the inequality they face.
“There was a report out recently that says Haringey is the second worst borough in London for ethnic inequalities around employment, education, housing and health. These young people are born into this situation. I hope that this film tells a narrative that lets people know there’s a backdrop to all of this. There’s a history.”
“We all live our lives through our own perceptions. We all live the lives we have lived”, said ex-policeman Mick when called to respond to Stafford, which sparked a comment from an audience member who suggested that when certain people’s perceptions are always given power we can understand why things haven’t really changed in terms of prejudice.
The energy of the audience was strong elsewhere. One man spoke of the concept of consequences and how obvious the disparity is between black men and the police when it comes to paying for doing wrong, epitomised in a sickening statistic:
“1500 deaths and not one police officer in jail. Ridiculous.”
Another young girl challenged Stafford in his view that it is the police officers that need to change, suggesting more black people need to sign up to be officers. He replied by saying that “ones of the biggest cons we’ve ever been sold is that representation is going to make a difference. The police force is a hierarchal institution.”
Mark’s death may have happened five years ago, with the verdict of lawful killing being reached despite him being unarmed, but there was, during the Q&A, and is in general, a definite sense of this conversation centred on structural racism and deliberate disempowering of certain communities being every bit as relevant, if not more relevant, in the here and now. As Marcus pointed out, racism is not a new phenomena and is only treated like one at present because the mainstream are only just being awakened to it.
At the end of this particular EEFF screening, Krishnan wanted to give the last word to Marcus, asking him what he hoped for now. Despite being the central subject of the film and the energy in the room, too, he had said very little up until that point. Very honestly he reminded us all that racism will still exist outside of those doors and it brought the realisation home to me that he was, first and foremost, someone grieving for a childhood friend whose life will never, regardless of all the positive campaigning for change, be restored to this earth, and every radical success will be bittersweet.
But maybe, the point is to realise this: Every time an unarmed person of colour is killed by police officers, every time the decision is made to block funding to an impoverished borough of London, every time a new police officer is guided to look at a picture of PC Blakelock tacked on the wall of Hornsey Police Station as a starting point for their wariness of estate communities, the people become more and more disempowered, and more and more divided. What with Brexit, progressive MPs being murdered in the street and racial hate crime rising steadily, it’s easy to focus on our differences and let it make us protective of our ready-made labels.
And so, now more than ever, it is crucially important that we keep these conversations alive, and passionately alive, and with intent to lead to action. What can be seen as a sad and uncertain time becomes an energising reason to be unified and know our own strength when we all sit down together in one room, watch an honest documentary that crucially humanises those who were not allowed to be humanised in the media, and talk. When we choose not to deem one sided media worthy of our attention, and instead create our own hype, change is more than possible – it is likely, probable and logical.
THE HARD STOP will continue to be screened with Q+As this month that will most likely be as unmissable as this one was – see below links for tickets: