Beginning with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr, “A riot is the language of the unheard”, the objective of this film is to give those who are unheard someone’s ear to listen. George Amponsah’s film, The Hard Stop, follows Marcus Knox-Hooke and Kurtis Henville, two of Mark’s closest friends, in the aftermath of the 2011 riots, coping with looming prison sentences, unemployment, racial tension with the police and above all, a focus on the effect of losing someone they loved at the hands of the law, highlighting the tension and grief that has shrouded Tottenham ever since.
Amponsah wants the audience to connect with Marcus and Kurtis not just as subsidiaries of Mark Duggan’s character but as representatives of their own culture and the place they call home. The result is brooding, often stilled responses from Marcus, who we see finding deep faith in Islam to cope with not only loss but his impending prison sentence. He chooses to be a guide through Mark’s story but doesn’t let the interviewer in, he knows what to say and what to keep safe. He is a stark contrast to Kurtis, who whilst admirably seeking a job, offers his clown like behaviour and self deprecating humour putting him across as charming, but also erratic and unpredictable. It is these types of personalities that Amponsah is showcasing as much more complex than the labels of thug and gangster can identify.
The shooting of Mark Duggan brings up many moral questions about the event that catalysed copycat rioting across the country. It was heavily noted on the news that the police admitted to misleading the media in the first few days after the shooting of Mark. A pistol, that was meant to be one purchased by Mark just a few hours before his death was found over 12 ft from his body without a single trace of his DNA on it. Mark was accosted by Operation Trident in what is called ‘a Hard Stop’, a controversial tactic by the police where they outsize, dominate and psychologically dominate a suspect of drug or weapon crime by boxing them essentially into a place where they cannot run.
We are shown montages of Mark growing up, him with friends, him with his partner, him with his kids, all set to a background compilation of ‘RIP Mark Duggan’ rap songs created in his honour by members of the TMD (Tottenham Man Dem). We are shown Mark as a fun, loving and normal man. Not a picture of a drug dealing, gun wielding thug as initially painted by the police.
This film cleverly highlights that the riots did not initially start from hatred, but from a heart of frustration and from a seed of disdain between residents of Broadwater Farm estate and the police since the fatal and unsolved shooting of white police office PC Blakelocke in 1985.
The frustrating thing about this film is that if you followed the news earlier this year, you know there is no happy ending. The death of Mark Duggan was ruled a lawful killing by the courts, and his family had to return back to their homes, hit again by another wave of grief that they still do not have justice for Mark. Mark’s Auntie makes a speech after the court hearing, seeking out her fellow campaigners like she is the head of a political rally; ‘We will be dignified, and not show them our anger, but our tears’. She is a poetic woman, recounting on the bridge where Mark was killed that as long as she still ‘has breath in [her] body, she will be at the site of [his] death every year’ campaigning for justice.
The film finishes with some hard-hitting truths. In Britain, since 1990 there have been over 1500 deaths in custody or following police contact. No officer has ever been convicted following an unlawful killing verdict.
This film does not end on resolution, because it cannot. It highlights the repetitive society these residents are living in, transposing to deaths similar over in the US as of recent. It is a cycle of power, resentment and ultimately violence. And it is not just the people thrown into prison that have to realise their own demons in order for it to stop, it is this film that calls for those in authority to reflect on their wants and actions too, before it happens again.