Wilted flowers, candles and remnants of cards lie in front of a graffiti artist’s spray-painted tribute to 15-year-old Billy Cox. The black teenager was shot and killed on Valentine’s Day a few metres away, in a flat on a south London estate. A stone’s throw and a social class away from Clapham’s gastropubs and delis, the murder was one of a spate of such killings.
The police appear powerless to stop the violence, arriving to deal with the casualties and, sometimes, arrest the assailant after blood has been spilled.
Yesterday, a 14-year-old wounded in a drive-by shooting last week was released from hospital. He was luckier than some of the other victims in a series of turf wars. All seven of the young men shot or stabbed to death in London since the beginning of February have been black.
This prompted Tony Blair to speak out last week, claiming the spate of murders in London was not being caused by poverty, but by a distinctive black culture.
The Prime Minister’s views put him at odds with Baroness Scotland, a Home Office minister and arguably one of Britain’s most influential black women, who has said gun crime is a problem for the country as a whole and produced statistics to back up her view.
In 2004-05, there were 78 fatal shootings in England and Wales. Of these, 40 of the victims were white, 25 black, seven Asian. The figures do not record the ethnicity of the killers but, by and large, murderers tend mostly to target members of their own ethnic group.
In 2005-06, there were 50 fatal shootings. Eighteen victims were white, 19 black and four Asian. That same year, 351 black people were injured by guns. For whites, injuries totalled 2,952.
The statistics confirm that the problem of gun crime is not unique to the black community, but they provide stark evidence that the black community is over-represented to a frightening degree.
According to the 2001 Home Office census, Britain’s black community makes up just 2 per cent of the total population. Yet each year around a third of all shooting victims are black. About one in 10 victims are of Asian origin, a population that makes up just 4 per cent of Britain’s total.
Research to be published later this year is expected to highlight concerns that young people are being recruited into adult gangs through older family members or friends. The study is based on research by the Youth Justice Board into gangs and weapons.
However, it concludes that it is rare for under-18s to belong to hardcore gangs. Instead, the study will say that teenagers offend in less organised groups, that they carry out violence spontaneously and carry knives for their own protection, especially if they have been victims of crime.
Paul Kwasi, 40, a security officer on the North Peckham estate notorious for the killing of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor seven years ago, said: “I don’t think Tony Blair was right to say what he did. The solution is for us all to get together to sort it out. The Government needs to stop the infiltration of guns into the country. It isn’t just black people using or selling themwhite people do it too.”