Natty, my grandson, can sing. Damilola, alas, can't

I have never in years been so angry, so turned inside out in my soul, as I have in the days following the death of a baby, in life's terms - Damilola Taylor. And I am concerned, too, about his assailants, who can hardly have formed the intent to kill. In short, the classical elements of a tragedy exist here. Yet Jack Straw, Paul Boateng and the rest of the Home Office team, with all their race advisers in tow, can react only with wholly repressive measures. Curfews are to be imposed on black boys as though the blade flashes only after dark.

We are not beasts to be tamed. This grandstanding is aimed at the electorate. Just now, I am on the road, filming a Channel 4 trilogy of documentaries on freedom; and ministers propose to deny rights to 16-year-olds at the very moment when they discover freedom from parental constraint. Remember the lyrics of that popular song: "I believe I can fly/I believe I can touch the sky." It is the privilege of a 16-year-old. These wing-clippers at the Home Office risk setting up another violent confrontation between young blacks and the police.

I have written here before about Peckham, where Damilola died. A friend's son tried to pacify a fight between two hot-blooded contemporaries; he received a blade through his tiny heart and died. I had to cool down his family to prevent a murderous war.

What I said then, and will say now, is informed by experience of that horrible housing estate going back two decades. I am the godfather, and Mrs Howe is the godmother, of young Wayne, who once lived on that estate where the flies and cockroaches seemed chemically resistant. We helped his mother, as was the duty of godparents, to guide him through dungeons dark and grim. After school, his mother would bring him to the offices of Race Today, where he did his homework. Then he would voluntarily, after a first introduction, visit C L R James on the floor above. He returned every time with a sparkle in his eyes. He finally passed his exams and went to university to take a degree in media studies. He is now working on his second documentary.

There are no such influences in Peckham now. There is black and immigrant Peckham and the other Peckham, and never shall the twain meet. The sons of the local Labour MP, Harriet Harman, and her social type will never ever meet the likes of Damilola in a month of schooldays. These parents send their sons and daughters to private school, so denying the Damilolas of this world, and his assailants, the best in middle-class cultural vision and social confidence. Thus denuded, the lower classes plunge into muck and mire. Some say, and it is true, that much more money would have been available to the local schools if the other Peckham had remained on site. The other Peckham wants to exercise political leadership, but at arm's length from the unwashed masses. Therein lies the problem. And there is no solution other than the reformation of that community as one.

When I heard of the death of Damilola, my mind turned at once to my grandson, whom I affectionately call "Natty Dread". I called his granny from my hotel in Leeds, and we shared our fears and hopes that our boy would survive the London estate where he lives - one that is no better than the north Peckham dump. That morning, she told me, police helicopters hovered about, and scores of police - some armed, others with dogs - tore into the estate on a drugs raid.

Natty saw it all on his way to school. No private school for him. He is surrounded by his granny, his gran-papa, his mother, aunts and uncles, who join hands and hearts in guiding him through the mess that surrounds him. He will bring to the community a sensitivity that is denied others, and will learn from the instincts of the dispossessed. I asked granny to put him on the phone and repeated the words of a Jamaican poet: "Hey Natty, Natty don't ever dash way yuh culture." Granny said Natty repeated the lyrics in a saccharine melody as he danced across the room shaking imaginary rastafarian locks. Natty can sing, Natty can dance, Natty is safe. But Damilola died.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.