On Tuesday of last week, 16-year-old Oluwaseyi Ogunyemi was murdered in Stockwell, south London. The headlines reported: "Teenager knifed to death as 30 youths rampage in bloody battle on the streets" and "Boy killed in 'tit for tat' murder". The truth is rather different.
I met Oluwaseyi's parents last week, and it brought back precisely the feelings of hopelessness that I felt when my son Damilola was murdered nine years ago for standing up to the thugs who were bullying him. He was a fine, upstanding young man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the police and media didn't take the time to find that out. One of the problems the poor Ogunyemi family have encountered is that the police see all young black boys as possible gang members.
The tally of young lives being senselessly lost on the streets of London is starting to rise again. As the recession deepens, my great fear is that there will be even less hope than before for our young people in the inner cities, and that poverty may drive the numbers up towards the record deaths of last year.
Oluwaseyi's death also made me aware of a new problem. The police are failing to take serious action to clamp down on the hard core gangs who are blighting local communities. When they are able to take over local estates or shopping centres, it can become impossible for the community to live normally, free from fear. They intimidate the younger children and take retribution against those who refuse to join their ranks.
They should be treated as what they are, terrorists, cowards hunting in packs who have caused a lot of the killings we are witnessing.
Only zero tolerance – from the police and local communities – can get rid of them. The police know who the worst of the gangs are. They should act to take them off the streets. Failing that, the local community should call Crimestoppers and break the wall of silence themselves.
We can only make the good children safe if we stand up for them.
Since accepting the Prime Minister's offer to become a special envoy to the Government for youth violence and knife crime, I have met a lot of families that are suffering the same painful loss than I continue to suffer. I would like to absorb the power of those feelings constructively, to help me create a "Manifesto for Change" to take back to the Government.
One of my great passions is working with our positive young people, who sadly do not receive the same media exposure as the feral minority. In the hope of trying to remedy that, this year the Damilola Taylor Trust will launch The Spirit of London Awards, a community "Oscars for young people". It is this kind of activity that encourages the majority to make some noise in support of each other, and we need to see more of it.
I was very heartened by The Independent on Sunday's recent article about Sisco Augusto (The uplifting truth of Britain's youth, 12 April), a fellow pupil of Damilola at Oliver Goldsmith's School, in Southwark. His story shows that there are young people who are thinking again about the wrong path they have taken, people who are ready to help rebuild their local communities while turning their own lives around.
The common denominator with young people is that they all want to find a level of success. They want to enjoy their futures and live well. To deprive them of that hope is to starve them of ambition. They need our support more than ever.Reuse content