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Camden News - by SIMON WROE
Published: 7 August 2008

Nakuja Guyan ‘on patrol’ in Camden: ‘You’ve got to be careful about how you label kids. Once you start labelling, the kids feed off that’
‘A lot of your friends from gangs are six feet under and you start to wonder if it’s worth it’

He ran with the notorious Bloods gang in LA – now Nakuja Guyan is working to turn Camden’s youths away from crime

MOST of Nakuja Guyan’s friends are dead. Of the 40 or so guys he grew up with in West Covina, Los Angeles, he can count those still living on his two hands; those not in prison he can count on one.
Mr Guyan, like his friends, was a member of LA’s notorious Bloods gang during the 1980s and 90s. But while his peers fell victim one by one to territorial killings and drive-by shootings, Mr Guyan got out.
Now, aged 40, he has been hired by Camden Council and patrols the streets and estates, trying to impress the weight of his experiences on youths who have become entangled in gang life.
While most people would walk the other way, he and his colleague Scott Fry search the borough’s youth crime hot-spots for 13 to 21-year-olds who, as Guyan puts it, “don’t always know their options”, talking to them and mediating in their disputes.
The pair, active since December last year, go by the title of the Youth Disorder Engagement Team.
“Being on both sides of the fence I can talk to these kids on the level. I know what’s going on,” says Mr Guyan when we meet on Monday evening.
“I have battle scars on my body – I’ve been shot at many a time, I’ve been stabbed. I’ve seen my life flash in front of my eyes a couple of times. And unfortunately, if you live by the sword you die by the sword.
“Like these kids here, I used to arm myself. The difference is we didn’t have local authorities engaging young people. We had no one to say ‘It’s not too late’.”
The Frampton Court estate in Agar Grove is the first port of call on Monday’s walkabout. According to Police Constable Rhos Cox, whose team are accompanying us, the buildings’ sheltered arches are a common haunt for TMS (The Money Squad), a teenage gang of Ethiopians, Somalians and Eritreans.
Mr Guyan and PC Cox both reckon them to be the largest gang in Camden; the murdered Sharma’arke Hassan was an affiliate, and the name has been linked to several subsequent shootings.
Today, however, the arches are deserted. Three youth shootings in less than four months have changed the mood on Camden’s streets. Some parents have sent their children back to Ethiopia or Somalia for the summer holidays to keep them out of trouble, says PC Cox.
“It’s the calm before the storm,” says Mr Guyan. In addition to liaising with housing patrols, street wardens and school officers, he and Mr Fry have begun home visits to known gang members and their parents with the police in response to the shootings.
Mr Guyan stresses the importance of these visits. His own parents, who were both teachers, knew nothing about his gang involvement until years later.
“My parents worked hard; they didn’t know what was going on, like a lot of these parents. If someone came to my house and told them, I think it would have been a different story,” he says.
When Mr Guyan speaks it is with the measured conviction of a man who knows his mind. He does not look like a former gangster. He stands apart from smokers and dresses without flair or “bling”.
Only his cap, emblazoned with the red letter ‘B’, gives his Bloods past away. He wears it every day, he tells me, “as a constant reminder of where I was and why I wouldn’t go back”.
There are close to 100 Bloods gangs in LA; almost every neighbourhood has one.
“Association and location” drew a 14-year-old Guyan into the West Covina Mob in 1984. He spent 10 years “running the streets in all forms of activities” during the worst era of gang violence in American history.
“Before the truce in 1992 it was really bad. There were a lot of people around me dying,” he says.
“At one point, every day you heard about a shooting or drive-by. Gangs would come and just spray whole family parties, killing innocent people, kids, without remorse. When you left your house you were always looking over your shoulder, worrying if there’s a police car behind you, or if a rival gang is following you. That’s not the life you want to live.”
As we continue down to Somers Town, Guyan greets youths from the passenger window. Some say “Hi” back, some don’t.
In Gray’s Inn Road, they see a group known for stealing scooters. The kids scatter when they see the cops. “That happens a lot,” says Mr Fry. “You can’t just walk up to any group and talk to them. A lot of them don’t want to hear it.”
Guyan agrees but insists the “kids here are very saveable” compared to LA. He says: “[In LA] the gangs were all ages. We dealt with 14-year-olds up to 50-year-old men. And we went in armed. Here it’s the youth, and you can work with them. Our role is not a police role: we don’t arrest or enforce, we chat with them. I think the key is patience and persistence.”
The police method takes centre stage when our convoy enters the Borne estate in Bloomsbury, an area rife with drug dealing.
They stop the squad van and talk to three Asian youths on the corner, known to police for gang-related fighting south of Euston Road. Then they search another teenager nearby for a concealed weapon.
By now a group of kids has gathered to watch the action. Guyan keeps his distance.
“This is where perception comes in,” he tells me. “If you were to come up the street now and see this you’d think this was a gang. You’ve got these police vans around them. You’ve got to be careful about how you label kids. Once you start labelling, the kids feed off that.
“I listen to kids here who tell me they’re wearing these gang colours or that they’re trying to compare themselves to gangs in LA. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing, to try and wake people up and tell them ‘You know what, this is not a glorious life to live’.”
The birth of his daughter Taylor in 1993 was Guyan’s wake-up call. A year later he enrolled on a business degree course at the University of Augusta, Georgia, three thousand miles away from home.
After working in a juvenile detention centre and a children’s home in Compton, he came to England on holiday in 2003 and ended up staying. Now he is applying to do a masters in criminology and social care.
He adds: “What the youths don’t realise is it’s not just them it’s affecting. We tend to look at ourselves and think ‘It’s a money game and this is what I want to do’, but get in trouble and the same people we neglect are the ones we’re running back to.
As you get older you realise it’s a serious game. You don’t have the freedom you thought you would, a lot of your friends are six feet under – it makes you wonder if it’s worth it. And it’s not.”

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