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‘We can stop the cycle of violence’, says Duwayne Brooks

PLEA: Stephen Lawrence's friend Duwayne Brooks (Photo credit: Jess Winteringham; Rogan Productions)

THE MAN who was with Stephen Lawrence on the night he died has called on the black community to unite in a bid to prevent more young people falling prey to knife crime.

Duwayne Brooks was also stabbed in the same attack by racist thugs that killed Stephen at a bus stop in Eltham, south London in 1993. He spoke to The Voice about his heartache over the loss of young lives after presenting a BBC documentary about the issue.

TOGETHER

And in an emotional plea to the community, he said: “We as parents or adults need to understand that whatever we can do to create that safe space for our young people to speak to us about their fears and their concerns we need to do it."

The former local councillor said he knew “that knife crime isn’t just about black people”, but added: “We need to speak about it and we need to come together and assist one another in a way that’s non-judgmental and in a place where you feel safe. Unless we do so, then this spiral of violence will continue.”

Brooks said he wanted his documentary to give survivors of knife crime like himself the chance to share their experiences. It wasn’t until 2018, 25 years after the attack, that Brooks first spoken openly about Stephen’s death. Now he’s made a documentary to raise awareness about the aftermath of trauma following acts of knife crime and give survivors, like himself, and the families of victims a platform to share their experiences.

In the documentary, called Stabbed: Britain’s Knife Crime Crisis|, which aired on BBC One on Thursday (March 21) Brooks acknowledged the community’s lack of confidence in the police thereby making the issue harder to solve.

One stab victim, Elyon Poku,a 20-year-oldDJ known as Nana Banger, was killed at an 18th birthday party. Despite a considerable amount of witnesses, no one has come forward with information or been charged with his murder.

Brooks said: “What happened to Nana...everybody was there with this outpouring of emotion but no one’s been arrested and that isn’t just down to the police. We have this no snitch, you might as well call it a policy, amongst young people.

"They refuse to talk and that is the situation for Nana and his family. Right now Nana’s mum and dad have been told that there’s no evidence to arrest anybody, yet there were over 100 people at the party where he got stabbed.”

The experience of Nana’s family is not an anomaly. And Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has previously stated that the lack of wit- nesses has hindered the police’s ability to bring charges.

Dick referred to a “wall of silence” as an obstacle in proving which gang members or suspects were responsible for knife deaths. But community activists and members have long expressed a lack of faith in the police to protect witnesses and victims and for authorities to support them in the long-term.

DISPROPORTIONATE

While knife crime itself is not something that black people exclusively experience, various high profile deaths in custody, a disproportionate rate of stop and search of black men and boys and poor individual experiences with of cers has strained the community’s relationship with the police.

So much so, those affected by knife crime don’t always trust the authorities with doing their jobs. Brooks, said that this was a situation that had to change.

“The pain for the family is indescribable. The pain for a victim of knife crime is indescribable when there’s no justice and it’s very dif cult to recover when there’s no justice,” he said.

“I know knife crime isn’t just about black people. It wasn’t black people that stabbed Stephen to death. It wasn’t black people that attacked me. So I know from personal experience, it isn’t just a black-on- black issue or just black boys carrying knives – and across the country it isn’t that either. So we had to show in the documentary that it isn’t.”

Experts have put forward various reasons as to the cause for the spiralling knife crime in the UK. But Brooks feels it’s important to examine the role played by unresolved mental health issues and trauma.

A strong feeling that this important piece of the puzzle was missing from the national dis- cussion was one of the major factors that prompted Brooks to make the programme. “For me, the issue around all of this knife crime stuff that we’re not talking about mental health,” he said.

Creating the programme, he says, caused some unresolved trauma of his own to resurface. James Brindley, a fitness instructor, was fatally stabbed metres from his parents’ home in Aldridge, Walsall.

During a visit to the Brindleys’ home, Brooks broke down in tears. On another occasion, while he was attending a gathering at Nana’s home, Brooks left the home prematurely, nding the grief overwhelming.

“Having gone through all of this, I feel that I need to do a round of counselling because it brought back quite a few issues for me that I don’t think I’ve dealt with properly or sufficiently,” Brooks said.

“I think it’s important to. If you’re carrying issues that haven’t been resolved around trauma then you’ve got to speak about it.”

During Stabbed, Brooks searches for solutions to knife crime, which led him to visit Glasgow’s Violence Reduction Unit, an initiative that has been praised for its work to successfully decrease the rate of knife crime in the city.

Glasgow had previously been described as the murder capital of Europe. However, he said: “The journey was hard, very hard. One of the hardest things to do was to go and speak to people who had carried weapons before.”

IMPACT

When it comes to addressing the issue or serious violence Brooks sees no hard and fast solution. “There’s never going to be immediate solutions for this type of crime,” Brooks said.

But there are some things he believes can have an impact when it comes to preventing young people from falling into the downward spiral of serious violence – and help them when they do.

“All we need is a new approach and the VRU has shown the way,” he said referring to Glasgow’s method. “The VRU has shown the way forward and what needs to happen is it needs to get adopted all around the country.”

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