The Hard Stop (2015)
Director: George Amponsah
Writing by: George Amponsah and Dionne Walker
Stars: Marcus Knox Hooke and Kurtis Henville
“A riot is the language if the unheard” – Martin Luther King
I’m guessing that this documentary has such a low rating on IMDB, because the British don’t like hearing the truth about themselves – particularly when it’s about their blessed Metropolitan Police.
This documentary not only tells the story of a quest for justice; It tells the story of the unheard in Britain: young, black men. Marcus and Kurtis both grew up in Tottenham, in the same neighbourhood as Mark Duggan who was gunned down by police in 2011, sparking the riots.
The story begins a year after the riots, three months before Marcus is due to be sentenced for his involvement in the riots. He’s been accused of instigating the worst civil unrest in recent British history. While out on bail, he’s wearing a tag and living with criminals – the law already perceives him to be a criminal before the inquest into his friend, Mark Duggan’s death has even begun.
This is a story of young, black men who have lived a hard life on the streets, making what Kurtis admits was “easy money”. As he struggles with unemployment, he reminisces about how easy it was to make £ 500 a day! But this was during another lifetime, before prison, before kids. Yet society will forever discriminate against him for his past.
Marcus was different, as was Duggan. Neither of them had been to prison.
Marcus had moved away from Tottenham, moved away from that life to focus on his Islamic faith. Amponsah portrays a very talented, respectful and spiritual young man and it’s very easy to see Duggan through these eyes.
“The killing was the spark” – Marcus
As Marcus shows us where he grew up, he describes the tension between young black people and the police, and when their brother – because that’s who Duggan was to them – was gunned down by police, they hadn’t planned to riot, it had just happened. Then opportunists took advantage of the situation. I was actually living in Kent at the time, and I remember the riots spreading to our towns. Those people were looters, not protesters – they had nothing to do with the emotional protest in Tottenham.
Marcus pleaded guilty to four of the eight charges relating to his role in the riots. He was sentenced to thirty-two months imprisonment.
The only consolation for he and his family was that it could’ve been longer. During this time, the inquest into Duggan’s death still hadn’t even begun, and therefore Marcus hadn’t yet seen the justice he so desperately needed for his brother.
The mixture of CCTV footage from the riots, as well as news reports and documentary footage is a very clever juxtaposition. Amponsah is challenging his viewer: “I know what’s real, do you?” During the opening of the documentary, one report states that the police admitted two days after accusing Duggan of being armed, that they had deliberately misled the media; that when they had told the media that Duggan had opened fire first and that this was that reason why he was gunned down, they had given false information to the media.
This is not the first time that police have persecuted residents in Tottenham either: in 1985, on the same estate, when police charged in Cynthia Barrett’s flat, an unarmed Black woman, causing her to have a fatal heart attack, residents rioted in protest. Yet white Britain is very forgetful when it comes to its murderous police.
Striking moments for me, were having to watch Kurtis read derogatory and racist comments about his brother Duggan on YouTube and seeing the blank stare on his face as he tried to hide the pain and emotion. And, watching Marcus crying in the car on the way to court for sentencing. Black men rarely show emotion like that. That was deep.
Another two striking moments were when Marcus was released and seeing a broken black released from a white supremacist system… and finally having to then watch Marcus speak to an ex-police officer, who used to be part of that same system. I had so many emotions running through my brain during that scene; I can’t imagine what he was feeling, however I commend him for putting that all aside for his cause.
The documentary shows the dark side of “gang culture” – the arrogance and the feeling of invincibility that the young men feel, which is extremely important because Marcus pointedly says that this life does not last forever, which is why he works so hard to ensure that Kurtis keeps on the straight and narrow. When Marcus is released, he also becomes a Youth Mentor, to work with young boys and help change their mindsets.
The best thing about this documentary for me, was that it directly took on racial stereotypes. Marcus, Kurtis and Mark were never part of a gang – they were a family, looking out for each other, however people saw a group of black boys together and made assumptions – including Marcus’ probation officer. It happens all the time – it’s happened to me.
In 2011, the Metropolitan Police did the same and they psychologically tortured Duggan for it, which is what led to his murder.
However, a jury found that although he didn’t have a gun in his hand (therefore he was unarmed), it was a lawful killing.
“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.” – (inquest.org.uk)
Mark Duggan was executed. It was proved that he was unarmed.
Juries are supposed to be a group of our peers, however I felt just as deflated and rejected by those “peers” as Duggan’s family did. To them, a black man’s life is worth nothing. Especially in comparison to a policeman’s.
“Everybody wants to change the world,
but nobody wants to change themselves” – Leo Tolstoy