The streets start emptying at dusk. “As soon as the sun goes down, the kids come out and take over,” said Abdi Ali. He gestured towards the western end of Queens Crescent, the entrance of Weedington Road, prime turf for the gang that controls this corner of Camden, north London.
There was, until quite recently, a police station nearby that functioned as a community hub. Officers would routinely patrol the neighbourhood, offering reassurance and a reliable stream of intelligence.
But the station closed 18 months ago according to locals and since then the surrounding streets have been commandeered by gangs. Violence, said Ali, had spiralled during the ensuing period.
“Now they are killing each other – it’s been made worse because they’ve started supplying heroin. They don’t even bother with cannabis any more,” said the 32-year-old, who works at his uncle’s grocery store, Banadir Gate.
Ali belongs to the area’s sizeable Somali community, still traumatised by the violent scenes last week that saw two of its younger members killed on Camden’s streets.
Sadiq Adan Mohamed, 20, was stabbed to death on Tuesday evening, 300 metres from Banadir Gate. Less than two hours earlier, Abdikarim Hassan, 17, was found fatally wounded in a nearby street. That followed the stabbing of a 16-year-old, who remains in hospital.
Although an 18-year-old man has been arrested in Camden on suspicion of two counts of murder, a section 60 order remains in place across the borough, allowing officers to stop and search people “with good reason”. Already police have intercepted a number of young men carrying weapons. The police measure, under continual review, remains in place amid fear of reprisal attacks.
Weedington Road had recently become bitterly contested “turf”, according to Ali, with youngsters from Queens Crescent clashing with those from nearby Agar Grove, Chalk Farm and Camden. Congolese teenagers had, he said, teamed up with Irish youngsters to take on the Somalis.
“But the police just drive down here, look around and drive on. Since the police left us it’s been terrible,” said Ali, whose family fled Mogadishu and the country’s civil war in 2003.
Other Somalis describe a “security vacuum” that has left them effectively abandoned by the police and, more broadly, the state. “Kids around here don’t feel safe, the police aren’t doing enough,” said Abshir Mohamed, whose parents also fled the Somali civil war for London in 1988.
“There’s lots of money for Prevent [the government’s counter-radicalisation strategy] and for counter-terrorism which can target the Somali community, but then you have younger members of our community being targeted by knife crime. There’s a sense that Somalis are not being protected.” Mohamed, who is a youth volunteer for the Kentish Town Community Centre, and meets many of the area’s young Somalis, said trust in the police among youngsters had ebbed away. “If a young man gets threatened and he’s told: ‘The next time I see you I’ll stab you’, they don’t tell the police. They just carry a knife. They are not safe.”
Mohamed said that Camden borough’s police commander had held a meeting in the community centre in the aftermath of Tuesday’s stabbings to address security concerns.
“He said they had collected a lot of knives in the area through section 60, but when we asked them why didn’t they do more, he just said [there had been] funding cuts. Every time we ask why they don’t do more patrols around here, they just respond by saying cutbacks [were to blame].”
Ismail Einashe, a journalist born in Somalia who used to live in Camden, said that such distrust was compounded by the sense that not only had the state failed to protect them, but that many felt the justice system too easily criminalised them. “And then you add austerity – cuts in youth services and police numbers – to the mix and you create a really toxic environment.”
Mohamed, who also works as a primary school teacher in the area, said when he was growing up he looked forward to five-a-side football and adventure trips that were arranged to occupy them. “They were the good old days, now they’ve got nothing. There’s nothing for them to do anymore,” he said.
A fear of being stabbed had also prevented many of the neighbourhood’s adults from confronting the youngsters who congregated in the area. Mohamed, 33, said many felt powerless.
“If an adult tries to engage with a youth, they just pull out a knife. I’ve seen that with 10-year-olds. You can’t touch them,” said Mohamed.
A young mother waiting at a local bus stop agreed. “We’ve ended up in a place where the kids have nowhere to go, they end up on the streets and that’s where the problems start,” she said, requesting anonymity as she gripped her young son’s hand.
For Mohamed, a daily witness to the alienation facing many of London’s young British Somalis, there is, however, one silver lining. “Thank God we don’t have [many] guns in the UK.”
Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri named young people’s laureate for London
THE GUARDIAN — The 24-year-old Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri, who has been chosen as the new young people’s laureate for London, is hoping to spend her year in the role convincing young people “to see poetry as part of their every day, rather than in some dusty tome, or academic niche interest”.
Mehri, who has a background in biochemical science and wrote the poetry chapbook sugah. lump. prayer, has been shortlisted for this year’s Brunel African poetry prize and won last year’s Out-Spoken Page poetry prize. As laureate, Mehri hopes to encourage young people to voice their concerns and experiences through poetry.
The poet, from Kilburn in north-west London, was selected for the role by a panel of arts organisations and poets, and is, according to Spread the Word’s chair of trustees Rishi Dastidar, “an inspired choice” and a “poet to watch”.
“For young people to have an artist who is an ambassador for them, who brings their concerns, struggles and joys to those in authority, and the wider world, is vital,” Dastidar said. “Her poetry is precise and powerful, and rich with images that are haunting. She is not afraid to tackle the biggest of subjects, which, combined with her talent, is going to give the role a renewed sense of purpose and visibility.”
Mehri said she was exposed to oral forms of poetry by her family when growing up, but only began writing for publication around four years ago. “Over time I honed, or found, my voice, and that allowed me to feel comfortable, finding the poetic voice I felt was most suited to me. Obviously at the beginning you’re very much inspired by your influences,” she said. “I think the poetry I write is interested in questions or ideas around disruption or movement, whether it’s movement of people or places, movement between different ideas, between how things change over different generations, and in themes of migration and urban spaces.”
During her time in the role, Mehri will be looking to amplify the voices of Londoners aged between 13 and 25, “to let them lead conversations, to be as inspired by them as hopefully they can be inspired by me”. She will work with writer-development agency Spread the Word on youth-focused residencies across London, head a tour to six outer London boroughs, and co-host a special project for young London poets called The Young People’s Poetry Lab.
According to research from the National Literacy Trust, 84% of teachers who participated in a poetry programme for disadvantaged children in London schools over a five-year period said their writing skills had improved.
Outgoing young people’s laureate for London, Caleb Femi, said that “poetry has the potential to play a vital part in self-expression and artistic enjoyment in the lives of young people”.
“We need a dedicated person who can assist in integrating the joys of poetry into the everydayness of young Londoners,” he added. “We are extremely lucky to have a talented and dedicated poet such as Momtaza Mehri appointed as the new young people’s laureate for London. Her tenure is sure to be an extraordinary one.”
Mehri said that she wanted to: “Reach everybody, to allow people to see poetry as part of everyday living in London, and all the different poetry traditions that people bring to London.”
“I am very much aware of the fact that I came out of a very different poetic tradition, and what that’s brought to my writing of the English language. So I want to be aware of the fact that people are carrying different poetic influences, whether they consider themselves poets or not,” she said.
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London lawyer acquitted of forcing daughter to undergo female genital mutilation
LONDON, (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A London solicitor accused of forcing his daughter to undergo female genital mutilation was acquitted on Thursday, increasing pressure on police and prosecutors who have yet to secure a conviction for FGM more than 30 years after it was outlawed.
The prosecution was only the second to be brought under FGM legislation introduced in 1985.
During a nine-day trial at London’s Central Criminal Court, the prosecution alleged that the defendant had twice arranged for someone to come to the family home to cut his daughter as a form of punishment when she was around nine years old.
But the defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said in an emotional testimony that the allegations were fabrications arising from a very acrimonious divorce.
He said his wife had repeatedly threatened to destroy him and had turned their children against him.
“I didn’t cut my daughter. I would never hurt my daughter,” he told the jury. “I would give my life for my children.”
A medical expert confirmed the girl’s genitalia had been cut but said the scars were unusual and could not say when the injuries occurred.
The 50-year-old lawyer, who comes from West Africa, said FGM was not practiced in his community and he had no idea who had cut his daughter. He was also cleared of three counts of child cruelty.
Police and prosecutors have faced mounting pressure in recent years to secure a conviction for FGM as part of broader efforts to eradicate the practice, which usually involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia.
An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, which affects immigrant communities from various countries including Somalia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt.
Politicians and campaigners, who believe thousands of girls in Britain are at risk of FGM, have said a successful prosecution would act as a deterrent.
Prosecutors were criticised over the first FGM trial in 2015 when a doctor was accused of performing FGM while treating a woman who had given birth. He was acquitted.
A leading obstetrician branded the trial a “ludicrous” travesty of justice which would leave doctors on labour wards terrified of touching women who had been subjected to FGM.
A second trial involving FGM – but brought under child cruelty laws – collapsed last month. (Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)