“It makes me so angry I’m shaking,” said Luke Wellings, as he paid his respects to 14-year-old Dea-John Reid, who was stabbed to death in Birmingham on on Bank Holiday Monday.
A large collection of flowers, candles and prayers had been placed at the site in Kingstanding where Dea-John lost his life after apparently being chased by a group following an incident nearby.
“It’s getting worse. More kids fighting and weapons getting involved. Kids have always got into scuffles, but they’re seen more as adults now, aren’t they?” said Wellings. “The sad thing is, people are getting used to it.”
Although he did not know Dea-John personally, 21-year-old Wellings said he had seen the teenager in the area on a number of occasions, one time hanging out with his friends at the nearby chip shop. “He seemed like a good kid,” said Wellings. “I hope other kids … get out of this situation.”
While nearby residents said they were appalled by what had happened, many also said they were not surprised, and that violent incidents in the area, and across the city more broadly, were becoming commonplace.
“It’s serious that somebody died – that doesn’t happen here every day. But it’s the way that it is around here. It’s terrible,” said Patrick, a father of three teenage boys. “We’ve had the house broken into, we’ve had the kids’ bikes stolen from the back garden twice, and we’ve only been here two years. I don’t let my kids mix with the kids around here. If you keep yourself to yourself, it’s OK, but if you mix, then kids argue and it escalates.”
Others were keen to stress that there were many people working hard to make the area a positive place, and that they did not want to let one tragic incident overshadow that. “I just hope the community can rally together and some good can come out of it,” said one woman who was dropping flowers off at the tribute. “But it’s a vicious cycle. It’s worrying that they’re so young – but social media means we don’t have kids any more. They see stuff online and grow up so quickly.”
Another local resident said: “It’s worrying that adults may have been involved as well, they’re supposed to be leaders. It was the first sunny weekend we’ve had, and the fact he went out and lost his life like that … I feel for his mother.”
On Wednesday, police said they believed Dea-John and his friends had been subject to racist abuse in an incident which escalated, leading to the killing, although detectives are understood not be convinced that the incident can be classed as a hate crime.
The owner of a nearby Jamaican takeaway said he had been subject to racist abuse on multiple occasions in the area. “I’ve lived here for 20-odd years now, and you name it, whatever name you can think to call a black person, I’ve had it,” he said, adding that he had sent his teenage son to stay elsewhere following the attack on Monday for his own safety. “But nothing will change. Life will go on. Racism is a big problem in this country. Kids have to grow up with that risk.”
A customer at the restaurant said he had been subject to racist abuse at school nearby and in the 40 years since he said he did not feel much had changed: “There’s still lots of racism in this area.”
While the details of the case have yet to emerge, the community has been shaken by the killing of someone so young, in broad daylight in a busy street, and are heartbroken for the family he has left behind. “From one mother to another, I am so sorry for your loss and the pain your are suffering,” one card left at the scene read.