Police are civil servants, much like doctors, teachers and firemen. They are servants of the state, specifically, it’s laws. They are not however, the law. Their duty is to stop crime from occurring and detain criminals for future trial. They are (supposed to be) neutral. In Mark Duggan’s case, this wasn’t the case.
The shooting was legal, as the police thought Mark Duggan posed a threat and so took action, which under the law, was allowed. This doesn’t make this action morally or pragmatically right. It opens up sores in communities all across the country and damages relations between people and the police, who in reality are no different from teachers or doctors.
However the police tried and punished Mark Duggan, independently from the judicial system, and did not even punish him as the law dictates. If Mark Duggan had simply been arrested with a handgun in his possession, he would’ve gone to jail for 5-7 years, not received several sniper’s bullets to his torso. The police overstepped their responsibilities: instead of bring Mark to justice they brought justice to Mark, in the form of spinning cylinders of metal. This is why the killing was morally wrong.
The reason why the killing is pragmatically wrong is more long-term. The harsh sentences for the Great Train Robbers convinced many robbers to carry guns on heists, as the difference in penalty for unarmed and armed robbery had become minimal. The killing of Mark Duggan will convince gangs to carry higher calibre’s of weaponry, as the difference between being shot carrying a handgun and being shot carrying a machine pistol, or even an assault rifle, is frankly, non-existent, but at least with an Uzi you can defend yourself better.
That’s not even talking about the further antagonisation of communities, especially poorer ones, towards the police. This brings us, as it has brought many, to the debate about our police. Yes, I agree with more BAME officers, especially at high levels. I agree with the need for the police to stop stop-and-searches and for the police to be closer to the community they serve. Nothing new here. But another policy we need to set straight is where the local policemen live. Policemen should live in the area they serve. The public should know who their local bobby is, and that he lives round the corner. A lot of people easily vent their anger on ‘the police’, an organisation, an idea, but most people find it difficult to spit at their neighbours, just for doing a job. Having policemen recruited from the local area, especially young and BAME people, humanises the police and makes it seem less of an occupying force.
In the end, I take the extremely petit-bourgeois (and possibly naïve) view that 90% of the police are hardworking, ordinary people and that there are a few violent black sheep (especially in the riot police) who bring the organisation down. However, until these black sheep are sorted out and, eventually, given prison sentences, unfortunately and detrimentally to everyone in civil society, I don’t think the police can ever claim to be pillars of our community.