I was a police officer for more than twenty-five years and, in that time, I stood in far too many of the haunted places where boys and young men had lost their lives - as the madness of history continued to repeat itself, and the journalists asked the same tired questions, and the politicians responded with the same pointless soundbites. And nothing seemed to change.
I remember the day that Damilola was killed.
I remember the photograph of him, dressed in a blue shirt and burgundy jumper, smiling at the camera.
I remember the sense of horror.
I remember sitting in the conference room at Southwark police station as police officers and members of the community gathered together to work out how on earth to respond.
I remember Damilola’s father walking quietly into the room.
I remember the sadness.
I remember the search for justice.
I remember the dawn briefing before the suspects were arrested.
I remember it all.
I was a police officer for more than twenty-five years and, in that time, I stood in far too many of the haunted places where boys and young men had lost their lives – as the madness of history continued to repeat itself, and the journalists asked the same tired questions, and the politicians responded with the same pointless soundbites. And nothing seemed to change.
The easiest thing might have been to lapse into despair, were it not for the stubborn insistence of hope. Because I refuse to believe that it has to be this way. I refuse to accept that we have to wake up each day to the grim repetition of the same old headlines.
But I also know that, if we want things to change, then we are going to need to start doing things very differently.
We need to take a long-term approach to youth violence – 20 years or more – recognising that, where problems have been a generation or more in the making, they are going to take time to mend.
We need to take a public health approach – one that recognises that, while violence is a disease that can be caught and transmitted, it can also be diagnosed and treated. We need to take an approach that ensures the operational response to violence is independent of political control. We need to break the pointless cycle of short-term thinking, short-term funding and decision-making driven by partisan interest. Some things are too important for politics and this is one of them.
We need an approach that has policing at its heart, but not at its head. The response needs to be led by experts in the field of violence reduction, alongside those with lived experience. Most of all, we need an approach that is driven by hope.
In the Old Testament bit of the Bible, you can find the story of Abraham: an old man holding onto an old promise that he would, one day, become the father of many nations. As the years passed and he and his wife remained childless, they might have been forgiven for giving up on it all. But we are told that, “against hope, Abraham believed in hope”. And, one day, in the late autumn of their years, the promise they had been holding onto came true.
Against hope, it’s time to believe in hope.