“After all, when people look at pictures of him, especially the one that’s so famous for him, they just see a victim and I see my partner I’m hanging out with.”
Friday marks exactly 20 years since a 10-year-old boy named Damilola Taylor was killed in a public housing complex in south London. Damilola died 10 weeks after moving to Britain from Nigeria when he was stabbed with a broken glass bottle on his way home to the suburb of Peckham. A couple of brothers – aged only 12 and 13 at the time of the incident – were later sentenced to death.
Damilola’s senseless murder is one of the most high-profile murders in the UK and is sending shockwaves to the black community abroad, especially in Nigeria, from where the Taylor family emigrated in hopes of giving their children a better life.
Two decades later, one of his best friends, radio host Inca Bokini, set out to tell the story of Damilola through the perspectives of the people who grew up with him. The result is a documentary Damilola Taylor: The boy next door, shown in the UK on Channel 4.
In her film, Bokini, now 31, reveals her friendship with Damilola and tells people about his death for the first time. She returns to the closed mansion where Damilola was killed to retell his story in her own words. The film is ultimately a touching look not only at the death of her friend, but also at their upbringing in one of Britain’s forgotten places.
“I know it’s a sad story. I mean, I’ve experienced it, I’ve experienced it all my life,” Boccini told BuzzFeed News via Zoom. “I know it’s not one we’re going to watch, laugh and joke about, and it’s not an easy watch. I know it’s heavy. But I don’t want the tragedy and the damn cockroaches and the destruction of the mansion to happen in Peckham’s story. and the fact that it’s a dynamic place and the fact that I’m not a diamond in the dirt. “
Damilola and Boccini were close friends. They played together, and Damilola often hung out at Boccini’s house. She saw him as her brother. star Wars actor John Boyega was also a close friend of the young boy and was one of the last people to see him alive.
Shortly after Damilola’s death, Boccini and her family were interviewed as part of a special BBC Panorama murder investigation. “If you read all the magazines and everything, you would think that he is really gentle and everything else, but he is not,” young Boccini told Panorama. “He was like my little brother, rude, and didn’t really care what he did, but if he hurt you, he’d say sorry and apologize.”
In the archive footage, Bokini’s late mother also spoke to the presenter. Boquini had completely forgotten that her mother was involved in the episode, and hearing her voice made her feel emotional. “When I put on the DVD, I just cried because that was the seriousness of the situation,” Boccini said.
Bocchini never had a conversation about Damilola’s death with his mother as an adult. There were so many things she wished she could say now. “I was unable to talk to her about the circumstances and the state of the environment in which we grew up,” she said.
Hearing his mother again in his own words and seeing how much he was trying to make a better life for her, Bokini was sad. But now she feels satisfied that her documentary can show people the reality of her upbringing – and perhaps make her mother proud.
Boccini said she was discouraged to learn while filming the documentary that none of her childhood had ever sought professional help for the trauma they experienced growing up. “It’s so crazy because when I talk to other people, if they had to tell me my story and that was their point of view, I would advise them to talk to someone,” she said. “I would advise them to set things out and develop tools to deal with this.”
Although the loss of Damilola has deeply affected her, it has also suppressed traumatic feelings over the past two decades. Making the film proved to be a terrifying opportunity to understand how to deal with his past. “Almost like my childhood, because of the trauma, it was like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces,” she said, “and then slowly, I’m like, Oh no, that makes sense. “
Boccini slowly realized that she had developed a romantic notion of Peckham as she grew up, but making the documentary allowed her to take a step back and look at her childhood home from a more objective perspective. She likened her experience growing up in south London to Lily Allen’s music video, “LDN,” in which Allen examines things around him through pink lenses.
Towards the end of the documentary, Bokini reviews all the articles about his girlfriend’s murder and some about the mansion. One of the stories she read predicted that someone would be killed, as if it were the inevitable fate of growing up in London.. She was also angered by headlines describing how dangerous milk supply officers and police felt visiting the mansion due to the gang’s presence, and yet families were still moving to the area despite well-documented violence. “Some of the things my mother tried to protect us from, like calling us early when people were running around, fighting and all that, a knife crime, the police,” she said. All these things I just didn’t know any differently when I was younger.
The 31-year-old presenter said that in the end she is not sure what impact her documentary will have, but she hopes that she has honored her friend and her neighborhood.
“I just want everyone to know that he matters, that his life – yes, his death – [but] his life matters, “she said.
After all, when people look at pictures of him, especially the one that’s so famous for him, they just see a victim, “she said,” and I see my partner I’m hanging out with, and I saw my friend, whom I I fought and who was 10 years old with me, unlike the inevitability of the sad picture. “
Damilola Taylor: The boy next door is still available for 4OD viewing.