How many more Etems must die before we see these people as dead children, not hoodies, gangstas or chavs?

Last updated at 17:14 24 November 2007

The war gets ever closer. Not the war on terror; war on an abstract noun was never going to work. I mean the insane war that some teenagers are having on the streets of our cities.

In London alone, 23 teenagers have been shot or stabbed to death this year; the most recent died last week in his parents' arms after being gunned down not far from where I live.

Perhaps it doesn't mean much to you. Maybe when you hear of a horrible crime, you check the area and breathe a sigh of relief that it's a long way from where you live.

In every sense. I know I do.

It's hardly rational, but we all map our worlds into good places and bad places. Streets where things happen or don't.

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Etem Celebi key-ring

Anyway, I live near a nice gentrified High Street that is full of shops selling overpriced baby clothes.

We have a farmers' market on a Saturday where you can buy any kind of posh sausage you like.

Then it hits another road where it's all pound shops and Somalians offering to unblock your phone, or wired women of indeterminate age queuing up for their methadone. 'Urban' is the estate agents' word for it.

But that's cities for you, London in particular. Haves and have-nots rubbing each other up the wrong way.

I am a 'have' and most of my contact with have-nots is now through my children.

My 16-year-old comes in blase eating chips. But she is numb. 'A boy I know got killed today, Mum.'

Etem Celebi was a popular character, as we are used to saying of these young victims. But it's true. My neighbour's son was devastated, as they played football together.

Etem was 17 and had just got a job as a lifeguard. It was reported he was a friend of The X-Factor winner Leona Lewis, as if that's all that matters, some dubious connection to celebrity.

In Hackney everyone is a friend of local-girl-made-good Leona.

My kids were outraged by this, and then Leona went and said she didn't really know him. You don't really want a No1 single and to be connected with gangs do you?

Was Etem in a gang? There is no evidence to suggest it. Rather, he was, as they keep saying, in the wrong place at the wrong time. The wrong place was just outside his home, on an estate. Hanging out.

As my daughter's mate protested: "When you live on an estate, you just do hang out in the street, it's like your garden."

So there he was at 17, hanging out, until he was shot four times in the back.

According to rumour, the killers were looking for someone else after a fight in a young offenders' institute. They got the wrong boy.

People have been arrested. One is 17 himself. More than one life is ruined by this.

Etem did not deserve to die, we all keep saying as though there might be boys who do.

The shrine grows daily. You can now buy key-rings on the

High Street that say "Etem Celebi 1990-2007 RIP".

His body will be flown back to Cyprus for the funeral and burial in the family graveyard. Funds are being set up for the expenses.

'Hoodies' have been weeping in the streets just like everyone else. The phrase 'senseless murder' doesn't begin to cover it.

Some of these hard boys are not so hard now. They are scared and ashen.

I wrote about this on a blog elsewhere, and many 'liberals' suggested I move. Somewhere safe. 'Antwerp' was one helpful suggestion, as only two bad things have happened there in 20 years, apparently.

Do I want my kids hanging around with kids with knives and guns, they ask? As though anyone in their right mind would say, 'Sure that's just great'.

I have no sons, but I can see that teenage boys are extremely vulnerable right now. More than girls. They carry knives, they say, to defend themselves.

Guns are cheap, flooding in from older wars in the Balkans and Ireland. Some say Etem was killed with a sub-machine gun. Terror, indeed.

Still, one of the reasons I love London is that it is not segregated like the big American cities. The whole world is here. That's what gives it an edge, a vibrancy.

Also, I send my children to State schools where they mix with kids who are not exactly like them, as I think that, too, is part of being an educated person.

That does not mean I want them to know, so young, that their classmates are getting gunned down.

While witnessing the genuine grief over Etem, the reaction of the kids has been strangely uplifting. They are angry.

There is not a teenager I have spoken to who does not want to see much tougher sentences for knife and gun possession. They know, at the moment, they can get away with it, and they do.

They also know that 'gangs' do not exist on another planet, but are part of their lives. The boys in the gangs are not aliens, but kids they went to nursery with.

It is the media, the so-called grown-ups, who 'big up' gang life.

The usual suspects have been blamed: video games, feckless fathers, rap, gangsta culture, Margaret Thatcher, NewLabour. Maybe it is all of the above.

But, as my daughter asked, where do boys get the money to buy these weapons? From selling drugs. Andwho buys drugs?

The drugs trade is not in recession. It is booming, bigger than ever.

The war on drugs was lost long ago. Prohibition pushes up crime. Policemen will say that even if politicians won't.

Right now, though, do we have the political will to get guns off the streets? Yes, it may mean 'stop and search' and it may mean, as I never thought possible here, metal detectors on school gates. But if we don't have a war on guns, we will have a war with guns.

Everyone knows that there are no-go areas and everyone is waiting for the revenge killing.

Isn't 23 kids this year enough? That's more than terrorists have managed.

How high does the number have to be before we act? How close does it have to get to you before you see these people as dead children, not as gangstas, hoodies, chavs, subhuman?

As my 'streetwise' child sobs when she sees Etem's picture on MySpace Etem - that funny, good-looking boy in the year above her - it is already way too close to me.

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