Last week, an inquest jury ruled that Mark Duggan was ‘lawfully killed’ by an armed police officer, despite the fact that he was not holding a gun when the policeman fired, and that the police procedures that led up to the shooting were conducted inadequately. In the reaction that followed there was anger and confusion at what seemed like a major internal contradiction in this verdict. Politicians and lawyers (groups which frequently overlap) dominated the public discourse after this event, particularly with the shocked silence of the Duggan family and attempts by many sections of the media to smear them. The response of the vast majority of politicians who commented on the case ran something like this: “The verdict is baffling; the police have many questions to answer; we must respect the jury system; we must restore public trust in the police”.
These statements are good examples of the logic of fetishistic disavowal, Žižek’s term for the state where one admits the limitations of their own ideology and yet continues to conform to it, a typical situation in late capitalist democracy. The forumla of fetishistic disavowal is: “I know things are like this, but I will not admit to that (disavowal), because an investment in a part of the whole edifice of things allows me to ignore the contradictions in the edifice of things as a whole (fetishism)”.
In the responses to the Mark Duggan verdict this takes the form of a disavowal that the jury’s verdict seems problematic, unjust, wrong, and that the police have behaved in a way that is at the least brutal and most probably racist, by fetishising the idea of juries as always correct and unbiased, and the idea of the police as honourable public servants.
Here we can see politicians and lawyers justifying their continued power through the fetish of the Law. There is a disavowal that the most basic ideological state apparatuses have broken at their very centre, which is supported by an investment in the Law, an abstract idea which legitimates the continued existence of these apparatuses, and the politicians’ ability to speak.
Mark Duggan’s death caused riots. If politicians did not enter this structure of fetishistic disavowal, they would not only be seen as justifying those riots, they would be inviting them to reoccur with their justification laid bare.