This investigation is about more than Mark Duggan

It is time for the police to prioritise the issue of community engagement.



Few people realise that the first riot in Tottenham didn’t happen in August 2011. It happened in the April of that year, in Northumberland Park, when a few police officers were attacked by a group of thirty or so men, after they saw a man being stopped by them. It got a couple of lines in the local press: it just wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. The relationship between the community and the police in this area has always been strained – right back to the Broadwater Farm riots, largely instigated by frustration over Sus laws – the Stop and Search of their day, and the death of another local.

Many find the strength of feeling in Tottenham over Mark Duggan incomprehensible. If you say that swathes of people there think he was executed, they won’t believe you – but it's true. There’ll be plenty of comments below this asking why we should care about transparency issues over the death of an alleged gangster. The first reason is that it’s a golden opportunity for the Met to prove, in a time of almost unparalleled media pressure, that it doesn’t act with indiscriminate violence.

But there’s a much bigger reason. It's becoming clear that the Duggan case is about a great deal more than the death of one man. There are now issues surrounding it which go to the core of our civil liberties. 

This week millions of TV viewers saw television footage of police officers in the moments after Mark Duggan was killed. The broadcasting of this footage was condemned by the IPCC, who are investigating the incident: the same day, we learned that the man who fired the fatal shot – along with 30 other officers - is refusing to be interviewed by the watchdog.

The watchdog seems toothless and the situation absolutely ridiculous, but terrible headlines are becoming the norm. The IPCC has had a torrid time from the moment a press officer inadvertently told the press that Duggan had been killed in an ‘exchange of fire’, to the day two members of the community reference group it had set up resigned in protest over the removal of evidence from the shooting scene.

One has to feel for Rachel Cerfontyne, the unfortunate commissioner who has twice had to sit before the locals at the Haringey Police and Community Consultative Group. The first time round, she was called an idiot and a whitewasher. This was before the second visit, when she had to break it to them that the IPCC might have information that couldn’t be disclosed to the coroner or the family; this could mean an inquest doesn’t happen.

Neither of the issues at stake – the police’s refusal to be interviewed, the information that can’t be made public – are the IPCC’s fault. On the first issue, a fault line is clearly opening up between the watchdog and the force – one which is starting to undermine the constant complaints that it isn’t ‘independent’ at all. The IPCC claims that the officers' lawyers are advising them not to speak to it for fear of incriminating themselves. Other lawyers claim that there’s nothing stopping them being hauled in other than the watchdog’s cowardice. Whichever way one looks at it, it's an almighty failure of the legal system to provide transparency, and one which might be best solved with diplomacy.

But more troubling is the latter issue. It seems a safe bet the law which is preventing the IPCC from revealing the information is Section 17 of the Regulatory of Investigatory Powers Act, which prohibits the use of intercept product as evidence – we don’t know for sure, because as poor Cerfontyne had to tell the incredulous locals, to tell them which law is blocking them would in itself break it.

The condemnation has been almost universal. The only bodies that seem to want to keep this law in place are the security services, who say it could compromise their sources or make suspects less likely to talk on the phone. These criticisms don’t apply to the Duggan case. Deborah Glass, the IPCC’s Deputy Chair, has said the law simply stops her from doing her job. As David Lammy told Radio 4 last night, the Home Secretary doesn’t like it, the police don’t like it, but nothing’s being done. There is a review of the law (the eighth, in fact), which will report back “in due course”.

In the meantime, the tension and mistrust in Tottenham continues to simmer and ferment. In the absence of concrete proof that there was no malpractise in the Duggan case, the police can just try their best: working with Neighbourhood Watch groups and voluntary sector bodies, holding more public meetings, stronger involvement with schools – in short, committing to community engagement in the long term. It should have been prioritised long ago. Thanks to our ludicrous legal system, it has to be prioritised now.

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National & TLS. He lives in London and tweets as @aljwhite. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture, republished this year.

Source: Getty Images

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.