A SURVIVOR of multiple stab wounds was among those who addressed a church-led rally in Trafalgar Square on Saturday, which lamented the violence that has cost the lives of 20 people in fatal stabbings in London this year.
Amani Simpson, who was stabbed seven times at the age of 21, urged the hundreds gathered to hold and raise each other’s hands in a demonstration of solidarity and commitment to bringing about change.
The Standing Together rally was organised by church groups that included the Ascension Trust, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and London City Mission. It was “good bad timing”, Mr Simpson suggested. “We do not want to be talking about it, but we see all these people standing together. . . We cannot save everybody, but we can save one person, and that person will save another person.”
Figures released to the Evening Standard under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a person was knifed to death on average every four days in London in 2017 and 2018. The total number of homicides and stabbings fell slightly across the two-year period, from 4784 stabbings to 4246. The number of homicides fell by 12.
Community leaders testified at the rally to the proximity of violence to their own doorsteps. The Revd Nims Obunge, pastor at Freedom’s Ark Church in Tottenham, and CEO of the Peace Alliance, described how he had narrowly escaped being stabbed two weeks earlier, after intervening when a young man was threatened with a knife.
At a prayer meeting in the hall of St Martin-in-the-Fields before the rally, he spoke of trauma that is not measured in official murder statistics, including that of a young girl who had been slashed across the face.
Mazur/catholicnews.org.ukAmani Simpson addresses the crowd
“What we want to do is not just say let there be no deaths. This is about ‘let the violence stop’,” he said. “We know that if we lift our voices as one, the Holy Spirit will come in and do something supernatural.”
There were loud affirmations as he prayed: “We ask that the city gates be lifted for the king of glory to come in.”
Prayer was passionate. The request by the Bishop of Barking, the Rt Revd Peter Hill, to “raise the roof” was met readily.
“As I walk through Angell Town I can pass the houses, the memorials,” said Canon Rosemarie Mallett, Vicar of St John the Evangelist, Angell Town, who chaired the rally. “I speak to the mothers, the fathers, the cousins, the friends of people who have lost their lives to serious youth violence. It is so much embedded in my community: we feel it in our school, our church and in our lives. . .
“The blood on our streets belongs to the children of our community. . . We need to speak up, and speak out, and let people know that we do care about this issue.”
Churches must act in unity, she said: “If we do that our young people will perhaps see and understand that we love them.”
It was a message echoed by Bishop Lenford Rowe of the Church of God of Prophecy, who chairs the Synergy Network, which is seeking to address a lack of co-ordination among those seeking to tackle violence. Lamenting the “aggressive cancerous spread of violence upon our nation,” he urged the Churches to “stand together, to fight together, and overcome the enemy which is upon us.”
It was a “rally of allies”, the Revd Ade Oomba, co-founder of Christian Concern suggested.
Encouraged to wear clerical clothing “as a visible sign of the cross-section of the Church standing together”, those processing behind a cross to Trafalgar Square made a colourful line on a grey day. Among those in purple were the Bishops of London, Southwark, Croydon, Edmonton, and Barking. The Methodists were out in force behind a giant red banner, and Comfort Amina Fearon, president of the Mothers’ Union in Southwark, walked in the MU’s bright blue.
Mazur/catholicnews.org.ukYoung people present a wreath
Also processing was Robert Dixon, headteacher of Operation Restoration Christian School in Trench Town, Kingston, one of the poorest and most crime-affected areas in Jamaica, which teaches children who fall out of regular education. He had flown to London early in order to be present.
Crowds gathered to the sound of a choir singing “My Change Has Come”. Among those offering opening prayers was Pat White, a lay member of Brixton Baptist Church and trustee of CTBI, who prayed that the Churches would be inspired by God’s “sacrificial love . . . We can together put an end to death and bring new hope, new peace to our city. Shine in light, the light of Christ, through the darkness and the loss.”
The theme was picked up as Graham Kendrick led the crowd singing “Shine, in Jesus Shine”.
With the stage soon to be taken by mothers who had lost their children in the violence, prayers of lament drew on Bible verses about maternal love.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, read from Jeremiah 31: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Pastor Mary McCauley, national director for the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s teenage ministry, read aloud Jesus’s cry in Jerusalem: “How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!”
There were prayers of repentance, too. “Lord, we have sinned, and we have let down our children,” prayed Graham Miller, CEO of London City Mission.
There was silence as families who had lost children in the violence took to the stage to share their stories, including the mother of Quamari Barnes, stabbed to death aged 15 in 2017.
Hannah Bourazza told the story of her son, Nathaniel, who was stabbed to death six-and-a-half years ago at the age of 16. It had been “the most lonely and painful journey, but my faith has kept me going.” The assembled crowd led her to believe “that there will be a difference,” she said. “This is about revival, this is about reclaiming our young people. We have to help them navigate their lives, because they cannot to it on their own. They need safe spaces. They are walking around with their knives because they are fearful.”
The father of Russell “Barty” Brown, who was fatally stabbed aged 26 in 2016, spoke with passion about the “amazing work” of the police, and with anger about the not-guilty verdict delivered in court, which had been “like hearing Barty’s life support machine turned off again. . . The justice system needs to be changed.”
Mazur/catholicnews.org.ukThe Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, speaks to the mother of Russell “Barty” Brown
“Let’s show our youth that the community loves and respects them, and they will love and respect us,” he argued, to applause.
Speaking before the rally, Detective Constable Deborah Akinlawon, a family-liaison officer in the Metropolitan Police, and member of the London Christian Police Family, said that, while prayer was “great”, churches need to take other forms of action.
“I love that churches are getting more involved in street pastors. . . I see them, and think: that is so powerful. Get more involved in youth clubs, talk to young people. Sometimes we are so scared and intimidated by young people [but] they are still young people. See a young person in the street, talk to them, ask ‘How are you doing’? They might be a bit shocked, a bit taken aback, but that’s because generally we don’t. We shout at them, we talk at them, but we don’t talk to them.”
She also asked churches to pray for the police: “It’s not easy for us either. You’ve got kids on the streets traumatised by grief because they are losing people at a rate of knots. Police officers every day, we are dealing with this stuff and then we’ve got to back to our families.”
Poetry was provided by the Darvel Community, a Bruderhof settlement, and a young poet, Donovan Appah. A minute’s silence was kept before a wreath was laid at the foot of the cross before the stage, and daffodils to represent to represent new life beginnings.
“I say to all young people; you are loved and you have enormous potential: use it for good,” the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, told the crowd.
“I regret to say, there are people of ill intent who prey on young people to exploit them and rob them of their tomorrow; and we are all capable of being led astray.”
The work being conducted by the diocese included training materials for youth leaders, lessons on gang involvement to be trialled in church schools, and an exploration of the relationship between exclusion and violence.
“There is a desperate need to expand youth services,” he said. “The cuts in provision have had very serious consequences. . . We must be salt and light, otherwise young people will have their futures taken from them.”
The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said that the rally was not only an opportunity to “bring to the Lord the grief and the sorrow, and, at times, the despair of those whose families have been decimated by knife crime,” but also to “give a great shout of encouragement to young people today to stand up tall and to be deeply rooted in the life of the churches, so that they can realise the potential that God has given to them.”
The key word for priests was “accompany”, he said: “to accompany people on their journey, as people strive to do their best of the children, because they do.”
In St Martin’s Hall, the Revd Les Isaac, the founder of Street Pastors, reminded those about to walk to Trafalgar Square: “The Church is doing some fantastic things, but if we are honest with ourselves, our PR is useless. Today we want to say to London that we, the Church, are very much concerned. . . We want to stand with the families of London. . .
“We are people of hope. God has spoken and is speaking to us. We want to be a prophetic voice in this nation.”
“I’ll conquer my fears and have your power flowing through me”
Watch Amani, a film produced by Amani Simpson about his journey, now viewed more than one million times: