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A death on my road

The murder of Joseph Burke-Monerville in Hackney.

On 16 February, a 19-year old man called Joseph Burke-Monerville was shot in the head about a hundred metres from my house. He was sitting in a car with his two brothers opposite a shop on Clarence Road in Hackney, a focus of the 2011 riots.

For a few days after this latest event, the police put on a kind of pantomime that people who live round here last saw in 2011: Clarence Road was cordoned off; officers in high-visibility jackets patrolled the streets (unusually) on foot, chatting amiably to each other; a helicopter buzzed overhead for an hour a day, pointlessly. Because the incident was so serious, some police patrolled on horseback. It felt like the cavalry had arrived. Unfortunately, as in 2011, it arrived after – not before or during – the event.

Then it all stopped quite abruptly and things have gone back to normal: the police drive around in their cosy cars, sirens wailing, from about 3.30pm.

At first, I didn’t want to tell my young sons what had happened, because it was hard to say that a man had walked up to another man and shot him in the head as casually as topping up his Oyster card. However, a week later, there was a vigil at the site of the killing, organised by the local vicar, and I decided that we should all go.

The vicar put on a good show. He thundered out a psalm; the small crowd of about 30 responded with “Yes!” and “Ay-men!” to the words “justice” and “repentance”. We sang hymns. Joseph’s aunt made a short, quiet speech. What she remembered most about him from when he came to visit her in Nigeria was his innocence.

The local MP, Meg Hillier, who is always harping on about gang culture, failed to make an appearance, as did Jules Pipe, Hackney’s mayor. Most of those present seemed to be parishioners.

The vicar asked us to pray for Joseph, his family and friends, people living in Hackney, young people all over London and the police. I baulked somewhat at this last, but in the few minutes of silence that followed each group, I composed this:

“O Lord, please could Matthew Horne, the Hackney borough police commander, give us his opinion as to the efficacy of CCTV cameras in preventing crime compared to foot patrols by uniformed officers? Then could he explain why no CCTV images of the murderers have been released [there are at least four CCTV cameras on Clarence Road]?

“And finally, Lord, please fashion for us a police force that is part of and cares about the community it is supposed to serve; one that helps people during riots, rather than abandoning them; one that catches and imprisons murderers, rather than just going through the motions.”

After prayers, we lit candles and left them by the bunches of flowers stuck in the railings. In a moment, the candles will blow out; in a few days, the flowers will all be dead. And in a month, it will be like nothing ever happened.


This article first appeared in the 11 March 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The audacity of popes