The reality of gang violence
Sarah tells TheSite.org how her boyfriend got caught up with a dangerous gang in East London.
My boyfriend Raj wasn't the violent type. I'd never known him to get mixed up in anything bad, and certainly not with gangs or knife crime. Then, one evening, he went to get cigarettes while my friend Tom and I were hanging out in the park. He was gone for ages and when he did return he was in a filthy mood. We asked what had happened but he wouldn't say - he just walked off ahead of us, punching bins and then yelling down his phone at someone.
I gave up and headed home and, when Raj came after me, I said he had one last chance to tell me what was wrong. He hesitated and then, finally, told me that he'd been "sparked" by a gang. I'd never heard that term before and had no idea that it meant he'd been assaulted. I tried to give him a hug but suddenly he went limp in my arms and collapsed to the floor.
Tom came running over and together we made Raj as comfortable as we could. He explained that the gang had attacked him with a baseball bat - he was only saved by a shopkeeper chasing them off. We had no idea what injuries he'd got but every time we mentioned going to hospital or getting an ambulance Raj would try to sit up and tell us not to. After about an hour he was able to stand, swaying a little, and soon, with some help, he was able to walk. He wouldn't let me go home with him, but Tom assured me that he would stay with Raj as long as was required.
He refused to get help
At home I searched online and found that Raj had many of the symptoms of a severe head injury. He needed to get medical attention immediately, but when I called to try to persuade him he still refused. In the end I had to settle for making him promise to call me at 9am the next morning so that I'd know he was OK.
"I tried to give him a hug but suddenly he went limp in my arms and collapsed to the floor."
I was awake at seven waiting for his call but it wasn't until nine on the dot that the phone rang. Raj said his head hurt and he couldn't remember much detail from the previous night but, other than that, he was all right. He agreed to go and see a doctor but, first, he said, he needed to tell me something.
Two years ago, Raj said, the same gang that had attacked him with the baseball bat had killed his cousin Kumal. It was retaliation for a fight a few months earlier during which Raj, finding himself and his cousins outnumbered, had stabbed someone with a knife Kumal had put in his bag.
Finding out the truth
I was shocked. I couldn't believe that Raj, this peaceful guy who was my boyfriend, had been involved in this violence. He told me that, fortunately, the person he'd stabbed hadn't died but the gang were obviously still out to get him. I could hear that he was crying. He was ashamed of what he'd done, he said, even though he'd felt it was in self-defence. I couldn't think of anything to say. We just sat there, in silence, on either end of the phone until one of us hung up - I can't even remember if it was him or me.
At least there's a bit of happy ending to the story. A few weeks after Raj was attacked it was reported that the police had arrested a number of members of the gang. Since then, crime in our area has fallen by 65% - although some people, like Raj, are never likely to feel entirely safe on the streets.