The Little Boy From South London

WRITTEN BY CHARLES ODUGBESAN

So whilst everyone’s been losing their minds over the presidential election in America this week, something a little more sombre and closer to home caught my attention. Recently I watched the show ‘DAMILOLA: OUR LOVED BOY’ which aired on the BBC this past Monday. It tells the brief story of a young boy aged just ten years old, stabbed on his way home from school in Peckham, South London, leaving his family: mum, dad, older sister and brother aggrieved and in pursuit of justice.

The BBC programme depicts Damilola as an exuberant, energetic young boy, full of hope and positivity, taken far too soon from his family (new to country) and his father back in Nigeria, who wanted him to stay and was reluctant to allow his youngest child to leave for the UK. Without revealing too much of the programme, I personally was gripped by the emotional turmoil of two of the characters. The first being his older brother. As an older brother myself I can relate all too well with the guilt I would feel were anything to happen to my own younger sibling (touch wood!). The second is Damilola’s father who deals with both the shock of his son’s loss and the alarming frame of mind that the youth in the area adopt, as well as the inefficiencies of the judicial system to bring his family justice for their loss. Both of these two characters share the most heart wrenching moment in the 1 hour 30 minute drama.

Now this fatal incident occurred almost 16 years ago exactly. I had just turned seven and this was one of the earliest memories of any tragedy or indeed any major news that had caught my attention. The city of London has been no stranger to knife crime over the years and death by such a cause is a serious matter in any case. But given my age at the time, perhaps I could not fathom how significant this was. Watching the programme and speaking with my mother and friends afterwards helped me to do so. It was a story that literally sent out shockwaves internationally and remains one of London’s most significant tragedies in recent times. This was the tragic case of a child (a Year 5 student), the youngest of three who had only been in the country for three months. He had just left the school library and was on his way home before being cornered, stabbed with a broken bottle on a London estate and left to bleed to death by two CHILDREN aged twelve and thirteen. Three trials and six years passed with £16 million spent before both  Ricky and Danny Preddie were sentenced to 8 years in youth custody on the charges of manslaughter. Ricky was released on parole after serving half his sentence but since has been sent back to prison three times. In October 2013, on his way to a court hearing in Hammersmith he held up a sign demanding ‘REAL JUSTICE’ for Damilola Taylor. Might I add, he misspelled Damilola. I saw no ounce of sorrow in this monster’s eyes however. Only defiance and even an air of arrogance. Disgusting. Ignorant!

Still fresh in her memory I asked my mother to explain to me some of the emotions she felt at that point in time. She said that in the main she felt fear. Fear because of the similarities between myself and Damilola that she had drawn. Damilola Taylor was a young boy, like myself, of African descent, like myself, living with his mother and siblings in one of London’s rough estates, like myself, who so mercilessly met his demise. Regardless of Damilola’s background, I think my own mother’s viewpoint echoed those of a lot of mothers in London at the time…  worried and afraid of the fact that it could have been their son on that day at that time who had left for school only to not return. Again, the fact that I was seven when this happened may have meant that the whole concept had gone over my head growing up. But watching this drama, going back and watching interviews and reports on this case really echoed a lot of problems I see in today’s society. Life really is unpredictable and there isn’t much beyond the realms of possibility.

If a young boy’s life can be so cruelly taken on his way home from school whose to say what could happen to any one of us?! There are so many cases like this one that Londoners can relate to, even in 2016. Names in this country synonymous with knife crime like Stephen Lawrence, Shakilus Townsend and Damilola Taylor are tragic instances of the danger that young people in the Capital (as well as other parts of the country) are subject to every day. And judging by what we as young men and women in the city can still see today, knife crime is not an issue that is necessarily being stamped out. Not at all.

WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY ON BBC IPLAYER HERE

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