A hit? A Yardie-style attempted murder in my road, where I live with my family? The shooting made me wake up: it finally dawned on me that events in Landor Road, Clapham North, were seriously out of hand.
The name of the road may sound familiar. It was in Landor Road that three men were picked up the day after PC Patrick Dunne was gunned down two streets away. They were later found not to have been the murderers.
Landor Road, about three-quarters of a mile long, runs between Clapham High Street and Brixton. I moved there in 1981; its cheap Victorian terrace houses were ideal for gentrification and there was a tube station at the end of the road. Soon there were builders' skips everywhere. The small clump of ramshackle shops - a Jamaican bakery, a West Indian cab firm, a Fijian supermarket, a pair of Gospel churches - was part of the attraction for the young professionals moving in; the Caribbean immigrants who lived there were in the main elderly and benign, even though their children would sometimes steal your TV.
But there were warning signs: in the middle of the Eighties a West Indian drinking house - a shebeen - opened on the corner of Landor and Tasman roads; you would be woken in the middle of the night by men bashing their women's heads against car doors or by knife fights in the street; even a man being stabbed to death did not cause its closure. The shebeen created a spiral of tension you could almost see.
Now from that dilapidated 100-yard section in the middle of Landor Road has spread a lethal 'front line'. Locals were not surprised by the death of PC Dunne. Over the last three years it seems someone has decided to turn Landor Road, less than 10 minutes' drive from the Houses of Parliament, into the London equivalent of Moss Side, a no-go area to the police in which crack dealers can trade openly on street corners. Have the dealers kept their heads down since PC Dunne was killed? They are even more brazen now - you sense they feel they are winning.
Until the shooting in the West Indian cafe, I had made myself blank out who all these people were, standing on the street corners in their box-fresh trainers and expensive American-football gear, portable phones poking out of their back pockets. They seemed to have a lot of friends: cars kept pulling up that they went over to talk to. Maybe it was a black thing.
I think everyone blanks it out round here; this is where you live, where you have to survive. When a friend came round in the middle of the day and told how he had run a gauntlet of offers of 'crack-smack-smoke', I tried to pretend to myself that the people making these offers were the exception - they just happened to be passing through.
Later this spring someone fired a bullet from a car through the window of the local betting shop, where any time during opening hours you can buy crack or hash. When it shuts, the dealers just step outside. You want to use the laundrette opposite the bookies? Don't, not unless you don't mind walking past the pushers, most of them still teenagers, perched up on the machines by the door.
The police made a move on 15 July, around 9.30 on a chilly night. As a pair of Rover squad-cars blocked off the road at either end of the front line, plainclothes police poured out of unmarked rental vans. There was a helicopter, horses, dogs, armed police - all the stuff of a high-profile operation.
The police charged into the door of 90 Landor Road, next to the West Indian cafe. This address had been notorious for a couple of years as a shebeen and crackhouse. The place was a nightmare: a never-ending procession of the detritus of south London would pull up in their cars and hurry in and out of the doorway. Last December I had to leap into my car and lock the door to avoid being mugged ('Gi' mi yuh money, star') by a pair of men leaving there at six in the evening.
The social club of some of the area's nastiest Yardies, it gained especial renown last year after two individuals wearing balaclavas and carrying pump-action shotguns made their way down its basement steps and removed more than pounds 100,000 from a drug-dealers' card game.
After the attempted mugging I called the police; in passing, I mentioned the story of this hold-up. Its veracity was confirmed. 'They called us,' said the officer I spoke to, 'but funnily enough no one seemed to want to talk.'
I also mentioned to the officer that there was a view in Landor Road that the police permitted drug-dealing there so they knew where it was taking place.
'There is an argument along those lines,' he replied.
After the 15 July raid the shebeen was shut down. Yet on the night of the raid none of the main dealers was on the premises and a handful of individuals were charged with nothing more than possession. Next day on the street it was business as usual. So little have the police done since then that increasingly it is believed in the area that the operation of 15 July was a cosmetic media exercise.
'All the police drive by in their cars,' said one local trader. 'They asked me to let them know if I see anything. I'd have to be crazy: people are getting shot left, right and centre round here.'
You do all the things you are supposed to do. You call the police and tell them when the dealing is getting out of hand: they don't come. You write to the Home Secretary, an official writes back saying it is a matter for the local police. You write to Kate Hoey, your local MP. You get back a letter expressing her concern and a copy of a letter to her from an Inspector Morrell at Brixton Police Station. He says since 15 July police activity has been 'intense'. It hasn't. He adds: 'Traffic wardens have also specifically been patrolling the locality and issued a total number of 14 fixed-penalty notices.' They are waging the war against crack with parking tickets? Is he taking the piss?
Angry that men were dealing crack outside my son's bedroom one Sunday evening in September, I called the police. I spoke to a female officer. I told her that the problem seemed to be getting much worse. 'Yes, it will get worse. There's a lot of money involved,' she said, and half-heartedly offered to send a squad car along to have a look. I never saw one turn up.
Four days after the killing of PC Dunne, a trio of dealers stood on one of the corners at 10pm. Again, I called the police. I was told that a car would be sent along. I sat at the window for more than half an hour. No police car arrived.
I have just looked down the road again. Four dealers are standing there. Again I was going to call the police. But then I thought, why bother? They're not interested; they won't come; you'll just wind yourself up.
There are four crack dealers standing on the corner. PC Dunne was shot to death two streets away. And the police don't seem to make the connection.
No wonder everything seems as though it is sliding into anarchy, with everything in disarray everywhere, and no centre any more. No wonder no one gives a shit.
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