From the front of a south London local weekly, the face of a young black boy stares out. A headline calls it the "face of pure evil". Not, please note, diluted evil, not evil mitigated by even a half-ounce of humanity, just the pure stuff.
His name is Dwaine "Sharkey" Williams who, after a highly publicised carjacking in which a 25-year-old driver of an Audi Quattro was stabbed to death, was convicted of murder at the Old Bailey this month. I do not accept this "pure evil" nonsense; it is a medieval concept. And I was thinking: I had never met anyone who would do such a thing.
But there was something familiar about that face. Then my daughter reminded me. "Dad, do you remember Dwaine?" she cried, pointing to the picture. I did. He lived in a block of flats on Brixton's Railton Road. Somebody, his stepfather I think, would beat him in front of his friends, cracking his skin with belt buckles, punching him in the stomach.
I came into contact with Dwaine when he turned savagely on the black girls around him, and my daughter was within range. Once, I was walking down Railton Road when Dwaine made some resentful remark to the effect that I was rich. I just kept walking.
He and his friends were into joyriding with scooters. Two of them from the flats where he lived got into a collision and died. Dwaine and the rest were shattered for weeks, months even.
A few days ago, a friend of my son's - I shall call him Mark - visited and we talked about Dwaine. Mark is into graffiti and writes DJ lyrics; he is beautifully artistic in both. He revealed that his mother beats him badly, with belt buckles, drawing blood. If he gets home a minute after ten, he must sleep on the steps outside, whatever the season. And he chanted the lyrics of a piece he had written about his mother, whom I shall call Madge: "Oh Madge, here comes the gravedigger/to bury your corpse in the river/Oh shiver me timbers". A chill went through my soul. He confirmed that he wished her dead. His elder brother had retaliated against the punishment and moved out.
I won't let him slip through our fingers as easily as Dwaine did. I am not surprised by the "pure evil" headline from the local paper. Every vulgar instinct cultivated since the days of slavery is given full rein. Black parents follow blindly that old plantation lyric: "Niggers cannot learn without blows." But they can and they will.