Politicians have failed in Peckham, not the people

Please allow me to return to the issue of Damilola Taylor. As I write, a large number of police have been unable to find any one of the perpetrators. I have been down to the estate, and found little difficulty in soliciting information from all sorts, all ages and sizes.

There is a general scepticism about murder. No one appears to know any kid who would use a knife on a ten-year-old. I was introduced to bad kids, naughty kids, and all of them seemed genuinely perplexed about this Damilola matter. I see that the police have explored the possibility that it was an accident. The first post-mortem revealed nothing except a clean wound, and a second has been ordered.

All of these new details serve to warn the public com-mentators of the folly of instantly demonising West Indians. The Daily Mail dived in first. It sent journalists to Nigeria, to wind up Damilola's father about West Indian racism against Africans. The old arguments for the retention of slavery, put forward 150 years ago, still hold in every nook and cranny of the Daily Mail. Feckless, violent, prone to breeding in large numbers, irresponsible (post-emancipation) in their parenting - these are the negatives about Caribbeans that come to mind.

The evidence so far in the Damilola case points to a boy in a hurry. He was charging along to the library, hotfooting it back home. Why all this speed? Was he late in getting home, perhaps expecting the wrath of his granny? Did he fall over and puncture his artery with all that debris around? That may well be the case. Nothing can be ruled out. We were told by the local MP, Harriet Harman, that black boys carry knives. I carried out spot searches on 18 young boys, and not one of them was tooled up. They allowed me to search them because I was "that man on television" who stood up for them. None of them has been searched by the police since Damilola died.

So much has been spouted with so little evidence. So much, if not all of it, is sociological gobbledegook. African minicab drivers, we are told, have degrees. It follows that young blacks have no incentive to get degrees. They can drive minicabs without ever going to school. Oh dear!

Then we are told that police should be made to live on the estate. Always the authoritarian solution; always the Stalinist diktat. Is it that officers should be working 24 hours a day? Who would want to live in that mess? The stench of decay is everywhere. It seems to have penetrated the minds of local and national leaders. Some are getting hysterical when a more sombre and soul-searching tone is required. Paul Boateng, the Home Office minister, ranted and raved at the memorial service. It was deeply embarrassing, a crude attempt at playing the revolutionary Martin Luther King over the dead body of the child. I could summon only a single word from my vocabulary: "vulgar". And why this posse of politicians - Jack Straw, Trevor Phillips, Harman and Boateng - in any case? If they had to be present, they should have taken a back seat and listened to what the locals had to say.

The reporting and analysis of Damilola's murder - all about law and order - has barely touched the real issues in Peckham. The area hustles and bustles with perfectly lawful activity. There are large numbers of professionals, from black and other immigrant groups, as well as a solid working-class population. Places of entertainment abound. The huge failure is that of government, local and national, to provide the infrastructure through which a healthy community thrives. The schools are crap, the public housing is more so. The streets and estates are filthy. Immigrants and blacks in Southwark are treated as though they live in a seriously impoverished town somewhere in the third world. This failure of local and national government has turned Peckham, in south London parlance, into "a place you pass through".

Damilola's death, whether by the blade or by some sharp-edged piece of debris left lying around, was a tragedy waiting to happen.

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.