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Special Spectrum Report: Youth Violence is Our Territory

At 9:15pm Wednesday 28th October 2009, thirty young people swamped the Albany Theatre in Deptford, South East London and attacked Simon Somerville (pictured) as he exited the building with a group of Seventh-day Adventist youth. Forty-three year old Simon, a husband and the father of four children, was stabbed nine times in the back and chest. It is reported that his fourteen year old son suffered minor injuries as he stepped in to try to save his father.

The Daily Mail, a national newspaper in the UK, spoke to a female resident who witnessed the incident and stated “someone was screaming, ‘you are killing him, you are killing him’”.

Newspaper accounts suggest that violence erupted soon after security at the Theatre had earlier refused entry to five young people. The Albany Theatre was the host of a three-day seminar entitled “How To Be A Player”, with a nightly turn out of around 100 young people. The seminar had been co-sponsored by the South England Conference (SEC) and Jesus and Ministry (J.A.M). The workshop organiser being the Associate Youth Director of the SEC, Pastor Eddie Hypolite. This particular seminar had been running successfully for almost three years across the UK. Its objective being to help young people and communities deal with the negative aspects of youth and street culture and to make positive decisions about the future. Simon was a part of this initiative.

Standing in the Gap

Following the attack, Pastor Hypolite, with assistance from others, took Simon to the Closet Safe Haven, a café where he was given first aid, “It was a horrifying scene” Pastor Eddie Hypolite reported later. To add further torment to the incident, Simon is Pastor Hypolite’s brother-in-law, the brother of his wife, Yvonne. Pastor Hypolite told news reporters: “Simon stood between the gang members and his kids. He was protecting them. He was trying to be the peacemaker and one of the gang members just went at him with a knife. The children told us that if Simon had not [stepped in], they could have been killed, Simon is a hero”.

A sixteen year old has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and is in custody. Simon is reported to be slowly stabilizing.

It was Stalin who said cynically that “one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”, but for every one of the twenty-eight gun and knife related deaths in London in 2008, is a chilling similarity: they died too young and for no reason leaving families with a void and friends with tears they never thought they would have to cry at their age. The reality is that increasing numbers of our Adventist young people live in the shadow of gun and knife crime. More and more are also becoming victims. As a teens leader in a north London Church, within the last two years I have witnessed a father lose his son to knife crime; a young man who also stood in the gap for another victim outside a north London School, he died within five minutes of his father’s arrival at the hospital; and another young man was sentenced to prison for his involvement in the death of another school boy.

Kingdom of God is Within Us

But the church is fighting back. Recently, over 5000 mostly young people from the Seventh-day Adventist Church and community joined the L.I.V.E (Living Intentionally Versus Existing) March and Rally in June 2008. They staged a procession through Central London in defiance of the gun and knife crime culture in order to raise awareness of how it is choking the life out of their communities. “We are the answer for this knife crime, you right here—the young people”, Mark Prince said. Since losing his own 15 year old son to knife crime, Mr. Prince has chosen to stand in the gap. Speaking at another Christian event he stated “there’s something we can all do. God told us we are the Gospel and that’s going to change things in this world. We need to be radical and do whatever we have to do to save lives”.

The demonstration received a huge response from the local community and on 22 August 2009 the L.I.V.E March and Rally partnered with the London based group Families Against Murders Escalating (F.A.M.E) for a large demonstration.

Youth Violence is not a mystery

Youth violence is all over the newspapers, the television, the radio and is displayed through anti-social behaviour, stabbings and bullying. Although youth are living in a relatively prosperous society, they are emotionally, spiritually and literally impoverished. Young people are growing up without enriching values which is accompanied with parental love and respect for authority. Therefore, as Christians we should be able to have compassion and see that the young people still need to experience God’s meaningful purpose for their lives.

What is emerging is a new battleground. Youth, families, communities, cities or nations do not have to be destroyed if they seek God first. We are that tools God will continue to use to stand in that gap so that the same young people can see that God’s love, healing and forgiveness is relentless. These acts of violence will not deter the youth who live in defiance of this street culture, or the Church leaders who minister to the communities. “What you meant for evil, God meant for good’, the incident in Deptford has only provided greater prominence to the cause of the gospel of Christ to deliver, restore and save.

Ranette Prime graduated from law school in 2003 and practises medical and immigration/asylum law in the United Kingdom.

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