I grew up in Newham where Fares was killed and saw children fall victim to gang culture

Natasha Mwansa
·3-min read
 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

Each story of knife crime sounds more horrific and more senseless than the last. The victims get younger and the perpetrators are often just as young. On Friday afternoon, 14-year-old Fares Maatou was stabbed and killed in Newham. A boy of the same age has been charged with his murder. Fares joins 10 other young people who have lost their lives to knife crime this year and he is the youngest. Just yesterday two teenage girls were hospitalised after being stabbed in south London.

I grew up in Newham and saw not only how friends of friends got caught up in gang culture but also how widely the issue spanned. I was in college when a boy from a local school — Ailton Campos De Oliveira was chased and stabbed 10 times by a gang of teenage boys. I remember the grief in the community, among people I knew who had known him personally. That small degree of separation was chilling and the loss devastating — I’ll never forget it.

More than a decade later I don’t see that much has changed. Everyone knows someone who has been mugged or has had a close escape. Knife and gun crime mainly affects boys and young men, mostly from ethnic minorities and working class backgrounds. But anyone can find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time — just ask the family of Joshua White, the victim of a gang initiation that had nothing to do with him and everything to do with misguided young men seeking clout. Or the family of Alexander Kareem, a student who was gunned down in a case of mistaken identity. Knife and gun crime don’t exist in a Gotham-like vacuum — it seeps into every crack of the city, whether we turn a blind eye to it or not.

It’s one thing for the Government to promise crackdowns but without a clear strategy for understanding the complexities of the issue, we’re stuck in a loop. We can talk about a stronger police presence but the Met’s frayed relationship with young black men has created a barrier of mistrust. Few mayoral candidates have acknowledged the lack of resources and opportunities for boys from black and Asian backgrounds who are more vulnerable to being groomed for gang warfare. The problem starts there. The research should start there too, at grassroots level. This isn’t a young person problem, nor an ethnic minority or working class problem. This is London’s problem, one that has become a stain on our city and a worsening crisis.

Daniel Kaluuya took home a well-deserved Oscar last night for his performance in Judas and the Black Messiah but I would not like to be him after that ceremony. After he joked about being grateful to his parents for having sex (and ultimately creating him), a camera pan to his mortified mother provided us with a reaction we’ll be meme-ing for weeks. Another highlight was Chloe Zhao winning best film and best director for Nomadland. She is the first woman of colour, and only the second woman, to win the latter award. A miserable pair of stats but grounds for hope if you’re a glass half-full kind of person. Yuh-Jung Youn did exactly the right thing by making a pass at Brad Pitt in her acceptance speech. After all, how often do you find yourself metres away from a veteran Hollywood hunk? Glenn Close blessed us with a little twerk, Riz Ahmed unnecessarily interrupted a photo op to “fix” his wife’s immaculate hair and Zendaya looked like a million bucks. What a night.

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