Magazine article The Spectator

Mary Wakefield: Who Dares Face Down the Teenage Gangsters?

Magazine article The Spectator

Mary Wakefield: Who Dares Face Down the Teenage Gangsters?

Article excerpt

The baby, unbothered by diesel fumes, enjoys an outing down the main road through London N1. Each passing bus is marked by a fat and pointing finger: 'There!' On the way to our local park last Thursday, we had just begun to cross the road, pointing up at the green 'walk' man, when a scooter tore straight through a red light and cut across in front of the pram.

'What the hell?!' I shouted and raised an angry hand.

To my surprise, instead of speeding off, the driver jammed on his brakes and skidded round to face me. He was a boy of about 15 or 16, black, slight, and snarling with fury.

He said: 'You want to start? You really wanna start this?' The baby and I were mid-road. The sun was bright on new tarmac, the pedestrian light flashing a countdown: 10, 9, 8...

Only the gang kids behave in this jumpy way, hyper-sensitive to disrespect. This was one of them for sure. In winter, like mice, the gangs go to ground. In springtime, in Islington, they come out to play, bringing with them a seasonal wave of knife crime and the ceaseless peacock-shriek of sirens.

Of course I didn't want to 'start'. Gang kids carry blades, sometimes big ones. Last year samurai swords were quite the thing, the year before, machetes. Keep quiet and carry on.

And yet... I've recently been helping the baby learn self-control. Don't throw a fit, Cedd, just because your biscuit's finished.

This furious boy seemed familiar. A toddler. Shouldn't I stand up to him? Don't we have a duty, as adults, not to let children boss us about? I flung my hand up again, indignant: 'You went through a red light. You might have hurt the baby.'

This lack of respect was altogether too much for the boy. He revved the engine of his scooter and made as if to charge at us.

'There!' said the baby, excited. 3, 2, 1... I fled, and ended up, as it happened, alongside a police car with two of the usual fatty-puffs tucked inside. I knocked on the window: 'That boy went through a red light!'

Obligingly, they hit the siren and sped off in pursuit and I sailed on, triumphant, to the park. There! It was only when the baby was squashed into its swing-seat, the adrenaline draining away, that I began to worry.

A gang from one of the surrounding estates arrived in our local park last summer. It became their base. They appeared each day as the light was lengthening, mostly black boys, some white, no girls and quite different from a non-gang group of kids. They smoked dope, dealt drugs, heckled passers-by and every now and then little flurries of violence would break out among them.

The park warden found knives in the bushes, and when he tried to confront them, he said, they threatened to kill him. At first they kept to a corner by the wall but, as the summer wore, on they became bolder and moved into the middle of the park, on to the benches by one of the gates. They sprawled across the path, making it clear who owned the joint. …

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