Andre Brent was killed in a knife crime attack in August 2019. (Family handout)
For many families, the aftermath of losing their loved one to knife crime is too hard to bear. But for Louis Gladstone Annan, the death of his cousin, Andre Bent, sparked the beginning of a new journey to educate others about the epidemic of knife crime.
Annan, a PhD researcher at London South Bank University, turned his pain into a new documentary, The Andre Bent Documentary, which premiered in December as both a tribute to Bent and to raise awareness about the devastating consequences of knife crime. Annan’s cousin was just 21 when he was stabbed outside a nightclub in Maidstone, Kent, in August 2019.
In April, figures published by The Independent showed that Black Londoners were three times more likely to be killed in contrast to other ethnic groups. The research undertaken by Action on Armed Violence concluded that Black people made up nearly half of all murder victims in the capital in 2019, while accounting for just 13 per cent of the city’s population.
The hour-long documentary, which Annan narrates, captures Bent’s upbringing, aspirations and the devastating impact of his death on his family.
“Initially, it was a brainstorm of ideas, trying to think of ways to keep his name alive. He’s got a daughter, and for me, it was about making sure when she grows older, she didn’t have just a murder trial to refer to when she Googles her dad’s name,” Annan told The Big Issue.
An early scene in the documentary features Annan visiting Bent’s gravestone and later South Bank University, where Bent studied Business and Finance. He was one year away from graduating.
“[Bent was] very bright, so ambitious [and] his peers loved him. I personally loved him as one of my students. He was very kind to his peers and used to help others as well as in the classroom,” said Helen Ismael, Bent’s course director at South Bank.
The epidemic of knife crime disproportionately affects young people. Figures published by the Evening Standard in 2019 showed that 41 per cent of those arrested for knife offences in London were aged between 15 and 19.
“I work with a lot of young people that are affected by these issues. I grew up going to school and coming home on a Monday, finding out so-and-so got stabbed. This isn’t like an alien experience for me,” said Annan.
“Naturally, what happens when mainstream media get a hold of these stories, is they tend to take the image of these young men, particularly young Black men, and paint them as if they are justified murder victims.”
“Anyone in this current climate, or anyone’s child, can be a victim of knife crime,” Annan said, describing the moral of the documentary. “Initially, when it started becoming quite rife, it was very much, ‘Oh, that’s their problem’, ‘That’s a problem for those that live in estates’, ‘that’s a problem that are of a certain demographic’. But, with this documentary, I think as people watch it, and certainly the feedback I’ve got, is that it’s an us problem and not a you or they problem.”
Annan added: “Class is the initial problem, not just young people, but people that come from communities where knife crime is an issue are so under-resourced.”
Annan says that positive role models from underrepresented backgrounds can play a role in inspiring young people and help them overcome barriers of social mobility. But progress has been slow.
“The lack of the lack of representation at a higher level in this country doesn’t help,” said the researcher. “If young people don’t see themselves in leadership positions they’re just going be like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone that is Black or Asian. I’m from Peckham. It would have been great for me to see someone that I grew up [seeing] down the high street on BBC and presenting in parliament.”
Annan believes the UK government can combat the issue of knife crime by distributing finances to the right youth organisations to keep young people off the street.
“You often see a recurring theme of the same organisations getting access to the same pots of money,” he said. “Then the smaller organisations doing the work and changing lives, they don’t get a look in.
“There’s this common notion the government will fund a project, but you never see any government representatives down in the estate, youth club, or at the sports centre showing face, getting involved with the kids. If they are, they’ve got the whole press with them and it’s PR stuff. If you care, put your heart and soul into it.”
As well as the documentary, Annan has set up a trust fund for Bent’s daughter. He hopes that the film and other efforts will keep Bent’s name alive and help others who may fall into the cycle of knife crime.
“I find peace in knowing we had a great relationship, something that I carry into developing his legacy,” he says in the documentary. “If you love someone that much, you can’t let it stop when they die.”