‘You’re not a snitch’: Ex-Hackney gang member will reassure violent crime witnesses on Silenced helpline
- Credit: Polly Hancock
Two advice lines are launching at the Crib – one set up by an ex-gang member to assure violent crime witnesses they aren’t “snitches”, and another for the bereaved by a mother whose son was murdered. Emma Bartholomew finds out more
Facing jail for GBH having been accused of bottling and punching another girl, Neidealine Da Cruz wasn’t expecting her friends to turn on her when she filed a police statement denying she did it.
“I spoke out and defended myself, but I was called a snitch because I didn’t say ‘no comment’ in the whole interview,” said the 26-year-old former gang member, who was subsequently given six months’ community service for her involvement in the attack.
“I started isolating myself and smoking weed – that’s how paranoid I was, because I knew what my friends were capable of. You start analysing your enemies differently when you know them.
“I analysed and I thought my friends are wrong, and what I’m doing now is clearly right, because I’m at peace and I’m feeling safe.”
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The experience in 2008 made Neidealine realise she needed to turn her life around, having been involved in “high-profile” gangs around Hackney “which committed most of the crimes” since she was 10.
“The depth of involvement was quite deep,” she said. “Thank god I have never been to prison. As young people we don’t class them as gangs, we class them as family. I believe they are seeking affection and love from each other,” added Neidealine, who was in the care system.
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She managed to distance herself by moving to a different borough. But she kept in touch with her mentor of 20 years and Crib youth club founder Janette Collins who encouraged her to follow her dream to launch a phone line to help others in a similar situation to the one she faced.
Silenced will be manned 24/7 from the youth club in Balmes Road, De Beauvoir, and will share the same number as Isaiah’s Rainbow of Hope – founded by murder victim Isaiah Ekpaloba’s mother Grace Aloba for families bereaved through violent crime.
Neidealine wants to advise victims or witnesses of crimes, and hopes to target gang members.
“I want to help other people who are vulnerable, who just need someone to speak to, and who feel alone in a society full of people – to let them know that people actually care,” she said.
“It’s not to say that snitching, or whatever they want to call it, is right. It is to say: ‘We are here to help, and you don’t have to hold on to whatever you have seen or whatever is going on in your life’. I say: ‘No you are not a snitch if you speak out about what your emotions are and what your feelings are, and if you are defending yourself and it’s benefiting you’.”
The Met hopes the line will serve as a conduit between victims and the police, and Pc Tim Williams has helped secure funding from the Mayor’s knife crime initiative fund.
“Silenced is really about breaking down that wall of silence,” Pc Williams told the Gazette. “A stabbing call is a routine call in Hackney, however it always surprises me the number of victims I meet in hospital or on the street who don’t want to talk to us.
“It’s to encourage young people that they can tell us what happened to break the cycle of violence, and to help them understand the justice system, and that when you go to court you don’t have to stand in front of everyone and say what happened. We can protect you and make it anonymous. It’s about reassurance, building confidence and educating people what is there to protect them if they do speak out.”
He hopes the line will be rolled out in other parts of London in future. “The difference between this and a bigger charity is you can phone up and say: ‘I’m from this gang’ and speak to someone who understands the estates, the reasons why young people don’t talk to police, and the issues you will face If you speak out.”
Call 020 7254 4732.