'Croydon - this has to stop': Community unites to rid itself of being 'London's knife crime capital'

·4-min read

It's known as the knife crime capital of London.

The people of Croydon hate this label - and they're doing everything they can to get rid of it.

But there's a reason for this unwanted reputation.

Grim rollcall of young victims killed in capital this year

Last year was the worst on record for teenage murders in London. There were 30 in total, and five happened in Croydon - more than any other borough in the capital.

But the community is fighting back. The killings have sparked the birth of a new movement.

A group of more than 100 community members - including youth workers, schools, the Met and local politicians - have united to tackle knife crime in the area.

"Croydon, this has to stop!" Anthony King's booming voice echoes around the streets of his home town.

The youth worker has organised a march to send a message to the young people. Hundreds join him to march through the main strip of shops.

Anthony tells me: "We're here to send the youth a message - that we're here for you. We need mothers to stop the narrative that there's no men in our communities.

"There are men in our communities and there are men that want to stop the knife crime. The parents in this community should stop and search their children before the Met do.

"I'm working with the Met, look at my skin colour. I will stand with the Met until we've got this problem dealt with."

The march passed the spot in London Road where 14-year-old Jermaine Cools was stabbed to death in November 2021.

His father, Julius Cools, strokes his picture at the scene as the procession passes.

Julius tells me: "Jermaine was our life - he meant everything to us. My son lost his life, and the boy who killed him has lost his too, because he's in prison now.

"There's no end to this. It has to stop now."

I also meet Tilisha Goupall, whose 15-year-old brother Jermaine was stabbed to death in Croydon in 2017.

"These young kids don't understand the impact of carrying a knife. I can't put into words how this has affected my family. I don't want anyone to go through what we've been through."

She added: "I'm scared to have kids. If I have a child, is my child going to get stabbed? Am I going to have to go through that trauma again? Because of what's happening now - with all the teenagers dying.

"Am I going to have to raise a child only to know that one day they'll be killed? That's a trauma I don't want."

After her brother's death, Tilisha launched the Justice for Jermaine Foundation to educate young people about the impact of carrying knives.

The march was part of a concerted effort to take the youths off the streets and out of the clutches of gangs.

One of the many organisations involved is United to Change and Inspire (UTCAI). Its co-founder Troy Davis said: "The reason for the violence comes down to many things - you just have to look at the economics.

"The first thing that is going to be cut is the thing that affects young people, so when you take away hope - what do you think is going to happen? Of course, it's going to spiral out of control.

"And that's what we're here to do - to provide opportunities for the young people here and making sure that they progress in society."

The combined efforts to combat knife crime in Croydon include ex-gang members. I was invited to meet Jay Jay, who has mentored more than 1,000 youths in the area.

He was working with a teenager who has recently turned his back on gangs.

He told me: "I got involved in selling drugs, carrying knives, getting involved in gangs. But me going through all that gave me a first-hand insight into how our youth think.

"It makes it much easier to get through to these kids. They're much more likely to engage with me because they know I've lived it - I've been to prison and turned my life around."

His mentee Munir says Jay Jay saved his life.

Munir said: "Life on the street makes no sense. It's terrifying - anything can happen at any time. I just want every youth to take a moment for themselves and ask what you're doing with your life."

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