The riots one year on: I was a lost gang member - but no one helped me find my way

Last summer, one in five Londoners arrested during the riots was in a gang. But in this remarkable open letter, Karl Lokko argues that the gang problem is not just their fault

Share
Related Topics

Dear Society, my name is Karl Lokko. I'm a young man from south London. In the sight of many of you I may be considered a nobody – you may have walked past me on the Tube or been stood next to me at the bus stop and had your nose so high in the air you couldn't see me. You may not have seen me then, but lend me your attention briefly now....

Civilisation used to be under the illusion that the world was flat and lived lies accordingly. This is a notion we can all laugh at today, but once upon a time this had people absolutely terrified. At one point or another in our lives we have all believed a lie; that doesn't make us dumb or stupid, just human.

I in my past believed a lie. I believed it was kill or be killed, I believed drug dealing was an acceptable way to make a living, I believed a council estate was my territory and the end of my world; I believed there was no hope.

The moment we are born we all embark upon a journey and like any journey all it takes is for one wrong turn to leave someone in the wrong place. The alcoholic that sleeps in the park is a human being just like me and you; that cocaine addict in the shelter is a human being just like me and you – they just took a wrong turn. Since when did we penalise an individual for being lost?

That brother of mine you labelled a monster, as an adolescent he had dreams to be a fireman, or a pilot, or an architect but en route got lost. People can end up lost for various reasons. They could have asked for directions and been misguided, or they could have just followed those who, they believed, knew the way.

Some of my peers have made your headlines, your front pages, your tea-time discussions, all for the wrong reasons. And because of the places they have wound up, you feel you have the right to give them labels. You call us hoodlums. Scoundrels. Monsters. Dogs. Animals. But you only know about the incident that got them in the headlines, not the incidents that led them there.

I've heard so many take digs at the parents of these people, as if they are the beginning and end of the matter. But in most cases youths are not sat in their homes with sub-machine-guns scared that their parents are going to take their lives. Instead, fear grips them when they step outside their homes, when they walk down the courts, roads, twists and turns of their council estates.

Society is supposed to act as everyone's guardian, but society's neglect of the underprivileged has created what you now refer to as "monsters". Now Frankenstein's monster has been created, the public has turned into an angry mob with pitchforks and torches trying to kill the problem, not solve it.

I didn't come into the world with the intent to join a gang. But after being attacked on several occasions, I had a stark choice to make: either I remained a victim or took up power in my own way. I couldn't walk from my house to the corner shop without the fear of being approached for my phone or the bike I got for my birthday. That constant uncertainty troubled me greatly and, on top of that, my brother was experiencing the same thing; even my mother was intimidated.

This led me to the conclusion that I was going to take the bullet, a prospect that both scared me and intrigued me, because I had a sense of feeling unimportant and thought that being a gangster would resolve this.

From a young age I lacked self-esteem. I was bullied, which contributed to my feeling of worthlessness. I thought representing a culture that seemed to have space for me would offer me solace and a chance to form an identity; an identity which I did form and would constantly put my neck on the line time and time again. It soon spiralled out of control. But even though the position I was in wasn't a good one – it was destroying me and my peers – I felt powerless to end it. As a teenager, I lost one of my best friends to a stabbing in 2006; he was the first of my friends to be murdered. He was killed with a stab to the chest. It pierced his heart, causing the blood to shoot from his body at such a pressure, propelling the front of the top he was wearing into the air.

You'd have thought this sort of incident should have been a wake-up call, but all it did was build rage within me. I cried until there was no more water left to come out of my tear ducts; I didn't eat or drink for days. I was traumatised. His burial was also just wood for the fire, not closure, and the emotional damage it inflicted on all of us only strengthened our resolve to become more fearsome as a gang. Yes I broke the law, but society helped in the breaking of my identity and instead of taking the time to fix it sensitively and with love, all that is thrown at it are more police and more money. There is no easy solution – it is not the breakdown of a car, it is a breakdown of a human life, in a lot of cases children.

I myself was a lost child, broken and travelling a road of destruction en route to either death, lifelong incarceration or the mental institution. But I received the right directions from genuine, loving, sincere people like Pastor Mimi and Camila and her team at Kids Company. They may not have had the money that the Government has, but they have more heart for the youth than the whole House of Commons.

So next time, instead of pointing fingers of condemnation and judgement, try to use the same finger to point us in the right direction. These issues cannot be treated by incarceration or medicated by psychology. We need practical help, financial aid, safe space and an environment of love: a real helping hand every step of the way.

Love,

Karl Lokko, aged 22

The writer is a former gang leader from London who is now a Community Champion for the charity Kids Company

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

 

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen