'We carry knives here to be safe. This ain't Hollywood'

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The Independent Online

The 16-year-old boy reached into his pocket and drew out an eight-inch switchblade he called a shank. "Thugs carry knives 'cos there's nowhere safe," said YP. "It ain't Hollywood, it's real life." He had not been "moved" to use it yet. We were just yards from the spot where Kieran Rodney-Davis, 15, was stabbed to death for his mobile phone on Wednesday. Then, three black youths, at least one of them with a knife, had been "moved" to kill. Kieran collapsed outside the block of flats in Daisy Lane, Fulham, where he lived; by Friday night, many of his friends, and people who had just been touched by his death, had left flowers there.

"Everyone's robbing everyone these days," said Profanity, a 15-year-old tomboy nicknamed by her teachers. "We're prepared." Standing with YP down the road from the tributes on Friday night, she produced her own switchblade. It was smaller but had a wicked jagged edge. Like YP's knife it had been bought at the market. Profanity's friend was stabbed in the heart and she herself had been attacked a few times: "I got rushed by five 18-year-old boys two weeks ago. They never got the person they wanted so they rushed me."

Profanity, YP and their friends live in Fulham and Chelsea, their lives achingly different from the wealth they see all around them. The Hurlingham Club, which describes itself as formerly "the headquarters of polo for the British Empire", is at the end of Daisy Lane. There has been a lot of talk of a gang called the Red Bandanas since Kieran was killed, but the youngsters standing around on Friday night just laughed derisively at the words. "Are you crazy?" said Michael, 18, a sales assistant. "There's no Red Bandanas. That's a myth. They were from Battersea." Kurt, 17, agreed: "It's not all gang-related. It's a big bunch of boys. They're our friends." "I don't believe in gangs," said Chantalle, also 17. "We might not see it as a gang. But gangs, crews, boys in hoodies . . . it's going to get worse."

The others agreed. Gang members or not, they all knew what the motivation was. "When you see someone with something you haven't got, you just want to take it from them," said one of the group. "I want to be filthy rich and have the whips [cars] and the chicks."

Some very impressive cars drive past the housing estates of Fulham on a Friday night, on their way to the country.

"To earn money you have to work hard. When you rob it's easy money."

Junior said: "They see people with all the bling, the chains. Everybody wants to be a millionaire." Junior lives with his mum, brothers and sisters. "There's nothing for young people to do," he said, expressing a familiar lament. "You sit in the park and smoke drugs. Everybody wants a job. People just think: 'He's black, he's got a hood.' If people were just to give us a chance, this country would be different."

Most of the group had absent fathers and lived with their mum and siblings. Profanity said her dad "did his own thing". She grew up learning to protect herself: "People won't really mess with me 'cos of my dress code. It's gangsta dress code. Life ain't a game."

Most of the kids had been excluded from school. Simon, 16, lives with his mum and three brothers. He told me he had been "tricked" by his teachers and kept away for longer than the six months originally imposed. "I've missed two years, Years 9 and 10. I'd done a few things," he said. Chantalle had also been expelled: "If I was in school I'd be educating myself. If I'm outa school I have nothing to do. My mum has no control on me."

If trouble does come, the youngsters feel they have no one to ask for help - and certainly not the police, or "feds". Michael, pushing his pedal bike, said he was stopped about four times a week. "I don't understand why there's police to stop me riding my pushbike and not to stop a mother losing her kid. How many feds is there, but all they can do is stop me? You get stopped for your colour and your dress code. I can't do nothing. If you swear they put you away."

On Friday night 80 youngsters of all races held a vigil for Kieran. His friends rapped their tributes to the murdered boy by candlelight. They see themselves as adrift on the edge of society, walking the same west London streets as the very rich and dreaming of change.

"We street dream," said Mysterious, a 15-year-old with astonishing rapping skills. "We don't wanna be on a block for ever."