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By Lee Jasper

Monday, May 09, 2011.

These are dangerous times in south London. Easter weekend saw a dangerous escalation of a vicious gang war that resulted in shots being fired at members of a church congregation who gathered on Easter Sunday to celebrate the christening of a child.

Easter is a most sacred time for all practicing Christians and a period of calm reflection on the biblical tale of crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ.

The christening of a child on that day is a time of great celebration and joy. That joyful peace was completely shattered that Sunday as we witnessed a continued escalation of a recent spate of gang violence in Lambeth that continues unchecked.

At a well attended high profile community christening at the New Testament Church of God on Lambert Road, Brixton, London, at around 2.30pm on Easter Sunday, families fled in fear as bullets flew in every direction.

The service was well attended by many people including the High Commissioner of Jamaica. It was during this service that two young men outside the church began shooting targeting one of the congregations’ young guests. Panic ensued and over 60 calls were made to the police.

Luckily on this occasion no one was injured but what was striking was the fact that the young people doing the shooting were seemingly intent on entering the church and were continually threatening to do so. All in the community including violent criminals have traditionally regarded churches as sacred and safe places. Not so today as this terrible incident demonstrates.

It would seem that no one or place is now considered sacred.

This incident also follows the shocking shooting of five-year-old Thusha Kamaleswaran, when three young people on bicycles chased two youngsters into a Stockwell shop and opened fire.

These violent groups of youths are demonstrating a brazen disregard for both the police and the public safety. Regularly groups of young people some 20 -30 strong, usually travelling on mountain bikes, storm an area looking for their intended victims. The police seem almost powerless to act usually arriving too late to intervene or arrest any of the young people involved.

Lambeth Council continues to dither about what precisely its role should be in tackling this issue other than sacking youth workers and closing youth projects, and despite the Mayor of London ’s high profile promise in 2008 to make youth violence his number one priority, the killings and the violence continue.

Youth violence in Lambeth is up 20% this year compared to this time last year. Murder rates are up whopping 67% and serious woundings are up 18% and that trend is reflected across London.

Worryingly by March 2011 there were 25 gun killings in London and increase of nine on the same period last year. Knife crimes increased by 5.7% and over 7000 young people were victims of serious youth violence. These figures do not take into account the huge numbers of young people who present themselves to hospitals with serious wounds but refuse to report these matters to the police.

This hides the true extent of the scale of violence in London. What we are witnessing in our inner city London boroughs such as Lambeth is a dangerous slide into mayhem.

With no clear policies or overarching strategy, no resources currently to maintain crime prevention, diversion projects, the closure of community projects, cuts to policing budgets, increasing youth and adult unemployment are all conspiring to create a toxic petri dish that will see further growth in violent youth crime.

Londoners are paying for this acute political failure to tackle youth violence quite literally with their lives. The awful gut churning grim reality is that these violent armed criminals feel free to violate churches and shoot children. This can’t go on.

Lee Jasper is a leading community activist and organiser. He blogs at http://leejasper.com

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