“It was mayhem!” These were the words that an eyewitness used to describe chaotic scenes that unfolded on Thursday, 21 October in Brixton, South London.
Around 6:30 am that day–a time when school children and professionals would have been starting their day–a strong police presence could be seen near Belinda Road due to an incident that had occurred in the area. Roads had been cordoned off as police officers began an investigation as to the murder of a young man in his 20s.
The man was said to have been shot in the leg earlier that night whilst attending a local house party. Staff at a nearby hospital reported that he presented himself at the institution seeking treatment for his injuries. Though numerous efforts were made to sustain his life, he unfortunately died later that afternoon.
CCTV footage captured from a nearby street around the time of the incident shows utter panic, as partygoers can be seen frantically fleeing the scene of the alleged shooting, passing unsuspecting pedestrians who were either making their way to work or coming home from a night shift.
As per protocol, police have been appealing to witnesses or anyone with information that may assist in bringing justice for this young man and charge those who are responsible for this senseless loss of life. That being said, a 27-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder, while a 37-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender. They have since been released on bail. Police continue to urge the public to come forward with any piece of information that may help with the investigation.
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However, even with such appeals, one is left to wonder how many from the community would truly be willing to cooperate with the police. In such a time where police mistrust is high, one wonders if many are still swayed by this dangerous and counterproductive rhetoric that the collective enemy is or should be the police force, especially when it comes to tackling crime in our communities.
With A-list celebrities purporting that young men, more specifically young black men, are being hunted down by the police, and with leading activists calling for the complete dismantling and defunding of the police system, I often ponder who or what is the real threat to young boys growing up in these communities.
Are the police the threat? Abimbola Johnson, chair of the Independent Scrutiny and Oversight Board on the police’s action plan on inclusion and race, mentioned in a recent article that her black friends fear calling the police. Now, fear is usually generated when a potential or real threat presents itself. However, on Belinda Road that Thursday at 6.30am, the police were not a threat to that young boy or his life. The only ones that were a threat to him were those who had no regard for human life nor the consequences of their actions.
Violence in our communities has been tolerated and excused for far too long, and some have even had the audacity to glorify and glamorise it as an ideal lifestyle for young people to emulate. This, with the added mistrust and disdain for law enforcement, contributes to the ongoing crime that still lingers in many of these communities in London.
Well-known knife crime activist, Pastor Lorraine Jones, said it best when she said explained that we need to work with the police to remove “the bad fruit” from our communities. Her own son’s life was brutally and mercilessly taken when a sword was thrust through his chest. We are so quick to talk about police brutality, yet many remain hesitant to discuss the brutality that continues to plague our streets where young boys continually hunt and take the lives of other young boys. And oftentimes, for the most nonsensical reasons.
James Bascoe-Smith is an example of this–he was stabbed in an unprovoked attack in the same area in Brixton. He was apparently simply testing out his new bike and was only 10 minutes away from home when he was randomly attacked and stabbed multiple times. After the callous attackers left, he managed to find strength to facetime his mum to tell her what happened. His mother immediately rushed to where he was, potentially being the very reason he remained alive.
This idea that police hunt young black boys is a myth. Police officers hunt criminals, no matter the colour of their skin. Young people are the ones hunting themselves. Nevertheless, when one talks about removing the bad fruit in the communities, it is not in relation to people. People are not bad. What leads people to make bad decisions is the wrong mentalities that they harbour within themselves, which causes them to act in destructive ways. The bad fruit that needs to be removed is not bad people, but bad mentalities and belief systems.
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What are these bad belief systems? Many stubbornly hold fast to the idea that it is the police who should be hated and feared and not the violence that disrupts their way of life. This is not entirely their fault; this mentality exists because they are continually fed lies and false narratives that cause them to focus their energies on trying to fix the wrong things.
On the wake of the George Floyd protests in the United States, Londoners took to the streets too, demanding a change of behaviour from the police and the way they deal with people, more specifically, black men, in their communities. While this is all well and good, when will the same people demand a full stop to the violence that persists in many communities, regardless of the reasons many give to justify it? I have not seen one march by these same activists calling for an end to the brutality that many inflict upon themselves in their own communities.
Hostility, resentment, and contempt of the police are just a few factors that contribute to high crime rates in many communities, and the greatest levels of mistrust for the police can be found in the black community.
Senior British police officer, Martin Hewitt, said that confidence in policing is approximately 20% lower in the black population compared with the average. However, such levels of mistrust only serve to be a hindrance when it comes to the effective handling of law and order in our communities. One can blame the police for this and indeed find grounds to support their stance as the police aren’t perfect; however, we cannot be blind to the fact that there is a deep contempt for the police force that is embedded in some parts of black culture.
According to the Angiolini review–a report that sought to examine the procedures and processes surrounding deaths and serious incidents in police custody–there were 18 deaths following the excessive use of force by police officers in the year 2020; 14 of these were white and three were black. Of course, one death is too many when it comes to police encounters with the public. Though, if you ask some black people what the threat is to their communities, they will brazenly say it is police officers.
Yet, many are fully aware that “turf wars” and post code “beef” is giving rise to young people hunting each other down and engaging in violent crime that continues to cause irreversible pain to the families the victims leave behind. However, when you mention this, you are simply told that such things are just part of the culture or the legacy of generations of racial oppression, poverty, and systemic inequalities.
In such a polarized society, people have forgotten that many things can be true at the same time. Discrimination and negative racial disparities still exist in the criminal justice system, and these must be eradicated. Nevertheless, we cannot remove power and personal agency from individuals by asserting that they have zero control of the choices they make, but are only a product of the environment they are in.