Thirteen people were murdered in Southwark last year. Even worse, they are just a fraction of those who have survived but been left maimed with serious, life-changing injuries and psychological trauma after a wave of violence.
Some victims, especially those in their teens, will be remembered for their connection with ‘gang ‘wars’ which seem to be less over postcode turf and more about social media and drill rap videos.
In June, Southwark Police’s gang lead, DI Luke Williams, countered claims drugs were driving escalating gang violence: “In my experience it’s more that it’s an honour thing – that they’ve been disrespected,” he said.
“It’s social media. We have one gang who will go on YouTube, film a video and make derogatory comments or curse about the other gang and taunt them to do things. We see [the videos] go back and forth between the gangs.”
- Read More: EXCLUSIVE – DETECTIVE TACKLING SOUTHWARK’S GANGS SAYS VIOLENCE IS OVER ‘DISRESPECT’ ON SOCIAL MEDIA
One victim, Siddique Kamara, who died by the Brandon Estate in August, had even appeared in an interview defending the aggressive genre.
The Moscow17 member, known as SK and Incognito, admitted in a YouTube video: “You’ve got to put your hands up and say drill music does influence it.
“But knife crime and gun crime has been going on way before drill music, so if you want to talk about 10 years, 20 years, people were still getting cheffed up.”
Siddique died on the same street as his friend and fellow rapper Rhyhiem Ainsworth Barton, who was shot dead in May.
- Read More: RHYHIEM BARTON HAD BEEN ‘SET UP TO FAIL’ AFTER SCHOOL EXCLUSION, SAYS SHOT TEENAGER’S MENTOR IN HARROWING NEW BBC DOC
That street is not far from Harlem Spartans rapper Latwaan Griffiths, who was left dumped by a moped rider on Denmark Road in July.
The police’s role in stemming the tide has come under particular scrutiny, especially given the merger between Southwark and Lambeth’s forces.
At the beginning of the year, moped enabled crime was the hot topic and after a huge increase last year, police had stepped up their efforts with a special new unit that saw a 30 per cent reduction in violent crime in the first three months of the year.
But then the series of high-profile fatal stabbings and daylight shootings sparked what has seemed to be a bloodbath, and left officers scrambling.
Neighbourhood officer numbers have also been depleted by government cuts and the expectation they will deal with emergencies and high profile security events elsewhere in London – from Donald Trump’s visit to extra policing pressures from the lively World Cup.
Figures gained by the News from a freedom of information request show that in the last four years Southwark’s safer neighbourhood team strength has been cut from a peak of 218 in 2014, to 121 at the end of September this year. At the end of December 2017, there were 141 officers in ‘neighbourhood policing roles’.
- Read More: ‘CULL OF NEIGHBOURHOOD POLICE’: CUTS, MERGER WITH LAMBETH AND EVEN DONALD TRUMP’S VISIT HAVE RESULTED IN SAFER NEIGHBOURHOOD TEAMS VANISHING FROM OUR STREETS
Lambeth and Southwark’s police chief, Simon Messinger, told the News the merger would not see any more officers lose their jobs, but one independent police advisor warned: “If communities do not speak out against the reduction in Safer Neighbourhood Teams, they will eventually vanish altogether,” while residents on the Elmington Estate, told the paper they felt they had to police the estate themselves as their local officers were so overwhelmed.
- Read More: EXCLUSIVE – TOP COP SAYS ONLY ONE JOB HAS BEEN LOST IN THE POLICE MERGER – THAT OF LAMBETH COMMANDER
Dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers have been picking up the pieces, with weapons sweeps regularly held throughout Southwark to find hidden caches of ‘Rambo’ style knives and machetes.
But despite an increased use of stop and search, controversial ‘gang matrix’ database, officers themselves have made it clear they cannot arrest their way out of this, and law enforcement will only ever be a sticking plaster on a bigger problem.
This was the year marches for peace were held in Camberwell and Peckham, and public vigils in Blue Market Square, but others were unafraid to say these outward shows of grief would not solve the problem – and claimed they knew that something could.
Senior people in the police, council and support workers have started to focus on the impact trauma has on young minds, and how witnessing or experiencing violence can lead children and teenagers into a violent cycle of their own.
In October, youth worker Alika Agidi-Jeffs told the News: “Let’s call the ‘gang members’ what they are. If someone is willing to kill and then go and get chicken and chips, that person is a psychopath”, backing a campaign to take a ‘public health’ approach to combating violence, which essentially views it as catching.
- Read More: ‘IF SOMEONE IS WILLING TO KILL AND THEN GO AND GET CHICKEN AND CHIPS, THAT PERSON IS A PSYCHOPATH’: YOUNG PEOPLE ASK IF THE POLICE’S GANG MATRIX IS REALLY WORKING
But youth violence is only one part of the picture. Among those killed in 2018 are women, pensioners and a man in his sixties. How many of these deaths could have been prevented?