Yesterday I had to make two 999 calls within a 12 hour period. One at 04.03 when a gang of kids were trying to break into my property and the second at 15.28 when my children, my friends children, other kids from the school and I were caught up in gang warfare on our way home from school.
The Police seemed not to care.
In March last year I wrote an article about my feelings on a gangland killing in the area that I live. It upset me at the time that two young boys had been stabbed to death in the middle of the night and I couldn’t help but wonder at how their poor families had felt. How these boys, who were once their beloved babies, had grown into young men who wanted to kill each other?
I imagined the Mothers of all of them, both the victims and their murderers and in my mind’s eye thought of them as normal people who had got in with the wrong crowds, normal boys who came home at night and slipped back into being the apple of their parent’s eyes. The outpouring of grief in flowers and cards left at the scene of the crime showed they were loved. Loved like I love my children. Loved with the hope they would grow up to be good but something must have gone terribly wrong.
That’s how I felt then. Sad.
But yesterday evening, after gangland crime had touched the people I love most in the world, I just felt frightened. And this morning I feel angry. I have changed now that it’s not just a sad story. I have changed now that my children have been subjected to something so terrfying. I have changed.
Back then it was senseless to me that two young men had died because they didn’t get on with another group of young men. Gangs and vilence, drugs, knives, guns… This is just not a part of my world and I didn’t understand it because it would never occur to me to behave in the way that they do. I didn’t understand it so I had a sympathy that I have now lost. Yet I still don’t understand it.
These boys, these men? How does it happen? They meet the wrong type of mentor who uses them to do his dirty work so that he avoids prison himself. They may very well go into these gangs as young innocent boys of fourteen but they do grow up. And at some point they DO know what they are doing. I no longer believe that their mothers only know their sons as good. Not now that I’ve seen their sons petrify MY children.
The attempted break in yesterday morning was frightening. But it’s happened before. I was frightened but it was long forgotten with the terror shaken into me with what happened after school.
The incident was fleeting and the gang weren’t interested in in us, they weren’t after us, but they didn’t care about us either… It scared me more than I’ve ever been scared before. It scared my children and the children who were in my charge. It was in broad daylight. At school finish time. As I screamed to my children to come to me while it was all going on, one of them looked me in the eye, kept on running around and past us with a knife in his hand, a mask over his sinister face and I saw in his eyes he didn’t care one bit that there were tiny children having left school all around him.
This is what happened yesterday.
On our way home school we were walking across the Wanstead flats as we always do. There’s a proper path way and a track walked into the grass running adjacent to it. I let the older girls walk down the track on their own (I was looking after two of Florence’s friends). I can see them the whole way and when we meet at the end of the paths the girls wait for me at an iron barrier blocking off two roads. Then we all carry on walking together.
The girls were half way down their path and Jimmy had scooted to the end of the proper pathway. I saw a big black car on the road in front of the barrier where the girls would stop and wait for me. And then it all happened. In a matter of a minute. But it felt like a lifetime.
5 men wearing bandanas as masks ran to the car and at least some of them got in.
The car reversed really fast into the barrier.
I started screaming for everyone to come to me. The girls, started to come but were frightened.
The car doors flew open and the masked men inside it ran off in different directions. Two of them towards the girls.
I screamed again, ‘come to me, come to me’. I didn’t know what way to go. The children were all in different places.
The two men ran straight across my girl’s pathway nearly knocking one of our friends and Florence over.
I screamed for the girls again and they started running to me and I to them. All the while Jimmy was at the end of the path where another two of the men had run past him and I screamed at him to STAY still.
The masked driver got out of the car and chased over the pathway after the first two men; again nearly knocking over the girls who had stopped in fright not knowing which way to go.
I was still shouting and screaming at the children. ‘Stop’ to Jimmy. ‘Stay where you are’. ‘Come here, fast girls, fast. Just come here’ – It all felt like slow motion and I felt like I couldn’t move, like they weren’t moving. It felt like it went on too long.
The girls got to me and the man with the knife turned. He’d seen the two who had run past Jimmy run back to the vehicle and get something out of it before running off again and he started to chase them instead. Again he crossed us. Me and the girls. This is when he looked directly in my eyes.
He had the handle of a knife up his sleeve with the sharp end in his hand pointed out in front of him as he ran, as he ran towards us, past us and after the other men.
I started pushing the girls over the road, past the barrier to get around the corner. I was dragging Jimmy who was dragging his scooter and then I picked him and the scooter up under one arm and grabbed hold of a piece of clothing on each girl before I DRAGGED them all around the corner. I don’t really know how I did it but I was so frightened I just needed to get them onto the corner and out of the way.
Someone came over to ask if he could help us, walk us home.
‘Call the Police’ I said.
He wouldn’t. Said it happens everyday, is gangs and he didn’t want to get involved.
‘Well I’ll call the Police’ I said, all the while pushing the girls and Jimmy, saying ‘let’s get home, let’s get home’. A 2 minute walk away.
I called the Police.
The masked driver then came back. I saw over my shoulder. He got back in the car and with the doors open he drove off.
‘Get back, keep moving, walk girls’. I shouted. I pushed. I dragged. I got them home. All the while on the phone to the Police because that’s the right thing to do right?
The Police sent units. They took my details. They said they didn’t need to come and speak to me because they wouldn’t be able to catch them. Then they rang back. To confirm the exact spot where they had been. 15 minutes after the event. ‘Well, there’s no sign of them now’ the officer said… And we can’t see any damage to the barrier.
So? So? So?
And that was it.
I didn’t hear from the Police again. The Police didn’t care. Didn’t get there quick enough. Didn’t want to talk to me even though I saw the driver’s face after his mask fell of.
Three frightened girls needed reassuring. Apologising to for being shouted at and explained to that it was because I was scared, that there were some very naughty boys. But that we were fine now. That I wasn’t scared anymore even though I was. Three sets of wide eyes, one filling up with tears who didn’t belong to me, and I felt very frightened indeed.
I still feel frightened today. But now I feel angry too.
Why don’t the Police care enough? Why didn’t they DO something? Why didn’t they want to talk to me?
Yesterday the gangs of East London became not just a story to us, but something in our lives. Something I can’t have in our lives. In broad daylight. On the school run.
How can those men run around with knives, behaving in such a sinister way in front of our children?
I’ve lost faith that they are normal human beings underneath it all. They are monsters.
My lovely, lovely area which is filled with million pound houses and is too expensive for us to be able to stay. The area I love and where I felt safe despite the ‘stories’ in the news papers?
I don’t care if these men kill each other. Let them. Let them wipe themselves out. The world is better off without them. Let these boys frighten each other, let these boys play war games. But don’t ever dare let them do it beside a school, at 3.20 as the bell has rung and everyone’s on their way home.
Let their Mothers weep over their blood. They raised them. They know. They must.
But don’t ever let them come near the rest of us.
Just don’t ever let that happen again.
Except who will protect us if the Police won’t? Can’t? I wonder if David Cameron has ever been in a situation like that? No, well… I expect more resources would be poured into the Police if he knew what real life was like in East London.
I can’t wait to move now. Who’d have thought? In one 12 hour period I am ready to leave my beloved East London. Way, way behind me. This isn’t what I want for my children thank you very much.
Shame on the Police who told me no one would give them details anyway, everyone is too scared to stand up. I’m not. I wasn’t yesterday and I’m not now. Scared of what happened but not scared to do something right and try to prevent it happening again. Neither is another Mum who I spoke to this morning and who had been at the end of the path with her children and where Jimmy had scooted to. Another Mum who was terrified by the same crime. With more children who were frightened at the same.
Shame on the Police who haven’t even so much as rung to see if I’m alright despite having to attend (or not as the case may be) two crimes I reported to 999 in the space of 12 hours.