Monday, 30 November 2009

Lessons in Citizenship

My daughter has  homework to do for her Citizenship  class.  She described it as 'a project about knife crime.' In fact, it is about challenging media stereotypes which label young people as 'thugs' or 'yobs'.
It's a worthy project I suppose, aimed at getting kids to analyse truth and distortion in the media. They also have to look at crime statistics in Haringey, and work out which crimes are most likely in different parts of the borough.
But today I'd much rather they were looking at a true story of three teenagers in the neighbouring borough of Hackney.
I've written before about the killing of Jahmal Mason-Blair, stabbed to death as he tried to break up a fight in Hackney. Today his killer was named and sentenced to six years in detention.
Michael Ematuwo was only 14, just 5ft tall when he went with Jahmal to try and retrieve his bike from an older boy. He was hit over the head with a stick by the boy, and pulled out a large flick knife. Lashing out he accidentally slashed Jahmal's throat. Jahmal had been trying to shield him and stop the fight.
Jahmal's family told the court: “The impact has been overwhelming. We have been physically, emotionally and spiritually drained for what seems like forever.
“The knowledge that such a loving, kind and talented young man will never fulfil his wonderful potential is almost too much to bear.
“We want the boy responsible, and the community as a whole, to realise the long-lasting and appalling effect caused by one boy choosing to carry a knife.
“Only by our communities looking out for one another will we be able to put an end to the needless deaths of our sons and brothers.”
Michael Ematuwo burst into tears when he was sentenced to six years for manslaughter. His counsel asked the judge to show mercy, due to his age and the impact that a sentence will have on him.
She said: “He had no intention of causing any harm to anyone on that night.”
This story makes me shiver. First because it feels so close to home -  Jahmal was a friend of someone I know from my son's school. Second because the story is so horribly similar to some of the events I've imagined in When I Was Joe.
But most of all because of the pointless loss of so much potential -  beautiful Jahmal, a talented young footballer - described by the judge as  'a bright star in the lives of  his family.' His former friend and killer, Michael Ematuwo, who will spend his adolesence in prison and forever have to live with what he's done.

I hope that citizenship classes in the future will teach teenagers about Jahmal and Michael, and encourage them to imagine themselves in Michael's place, crying in court as he contemplates the huge price paid for his stupid thoughtlessness.


  1. So sad. One of our biggest problems as a society is the way we raise our children. I am not blaming parents - I'm blaming the society. We've turned into a country where kids have no respect for adults and parents don't know how or have no means of FORCING respect. Every child needs to fear the consequences of their actions and many no longer do. Why? Because you can't smack their arse, you can't discipline them in schools (teachers are so vulnerable/helpless these days) etc etc.

  2. I think it's all about working out why they feel it necessary to arm themselves with knives when they go out. I suppose that's what the Citizenship project is trying to make them see - that some of the perceived danger is blown up by the media.
    Not sure it'll work myself...more police on the street might make them feel less vulnerable, and they need to know the penalties for knife-carrying and for being involved in any way with a stabbing.

  3. These were tragic consequences of a chain of events. I feel for Jahmal's family, and all the people whose lives will not be enriched by knowing him.

  4. It may be interesting for you to look at the website This is a charitable project which works with young people to create a film about a community issue which is relevant to them. There are films on all sorts of subjects including knife crime, stereotyping etc - a positive way to engage young people and give them a voice.I have worked on this project on the PR side if you would like to know more!


    Hope this is of use,

  5. Thanks Sara, will take a look, sounds very interesting.

  6. A very thought provoking post. What a terrible chain of events. Did the bigger lad who took Michael's bike get away Scott free for hitting Michael with a stick? He's the real villain here.

  7. Good point - I think he would be tried separately, and I imagine he was not named in court for fear of prejudicing that trial. Of course we have not heard his side of the story. He will probably be charged with theft and assault. I think - not sure - that his case may be heard without Jahmal's death being mentioned.

  8. What a tragedy...and it perpetuates the idea that people should stand by and not try to help others. A 14 yr old girl in the US was sexually assualted by dozens of boys for over 2 hours while a crowd of onlookers watched.

    I would want my son to intervene but at the cost of his life like Jahmal....frightening.

  9. For our citizen project we had to do a film on knife crime. A week later my partner was stabbed. I was so shocked, it really hit home that this can happen to anyone.

    I don't understand why people would want to carry knives around. But the truth is that people think that knives will protect them, and studies shows that if you carry a knife- you are more likely to be hurt by one!

  10. Amna that's terrible - were they OK? What happened to the attacker?
    I think what you say is absolutely spot on, and it goes to the heart of the story I've written.

  11. Thankfully, the person was okay.

    I think the Attacker is being sentenced.

    Thank god. But I still think that the law is not strict enough on knife crimes...

  12. While I am sure that your "story" brings up relevant crimes that should be known, I dislike the way you wrote this. Your child is learning about the very things you are preaching in a broader sense and hopefully becoming a better person for it. If you have a personal agenda that you wish to teach your daughter, that is your right as a parent. Current events are not something normally taught in school, so I don't see why you would expect the school to do so.
    I do agree with you that children are not taught relevant morals enough today, that is usually a result of parental negligence and not that of a school curriculum. Many of the horrible racist and hateful ideology that people have is passed down through parents, but common courtesy and true goodness are not. If anyone is to blame for the current downfall of moral society, it is parents.
    Again, wonderfully worded speech on a tragedy and thank you for the information on it, but please don't word it as if somehow schools are to blame for not informing children about gruesome events.