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When will Moss Side get a chance to mourn?
‘If you’ve not experienced it, you’ll never understand.’
By Jack Dulhanty
Jayvon Morgan knows it will happen again.
He’s numb to it. “It is what it is” — that’s something he says a lot. I ask if he ever feels anger towards the people who killed his friends, he says no. If not anger, then what? “I don’t know, it is what it is.”
“It feels natural. Normal.” We sit in silence for several seconds, which feels much longer. “Being shot and killed around here is the same as someone dying from cancer, you know what I mean?”
I say that I do, but we both know I don’t. I know he’s saying it’s indiscriminate, like it could happen to anybody, and it’s just rotten luck if it’s you or someone close to you. But that doesn’t mean I truly get it. “You can listen to people talk and tell stories all day, but if you've not experienced it, you'll never understand.”
Jayvon was born in Moss Side and has lost friends to violent crime. Some were victims, others were perpetrators. Some are having their cases appealed, others he may never see outside of a prison’s visitor centre.
Jayvon is 24, and like many in Moss Side he’s fast grown; an old head on young shoulders. For the past five years, he has been trying to process the loss of his friends, but faces a cruel dilemma: before he can grieve for one, he loses another.
It's something Akemia Minott calls perpetual traumatic stress syndrome. Akemia is the director of 84Youth, a youth organisation focusing on serious youth violence, which Jayvon co-founded and works for. She believes Moss Side as a community suffers from this syndrome — a cycle of tragedy.
One day in mid-May, I get into a very warm Mini Cooper with Akemia. There’s nothing in the sky but a few scribbles of cloud, and the steel tanks above the Moss Side Heineken factory glow like separate suns. We’re heading out to the sites where Jayvon lost his friends.
This piece isn’t about scrutiny. I didn’t come to Moss Side to investigate the details of the crimes Jayvon and Akemia tell me about, there’s been plenty of that already. I came to Moss Side to listen to what it is like for people here to process this much trauma. This is a story told through their eyes.
We drive over Claremont Road, Moss Side’s high street, toward Bowes Street. Akemia points out a patch of grass that’s balding at the edges. “That’s where the event was,” she says. We roll slowly toward an apartment complex and take a right into its car park. “This is where they shot him.” We sit silently in the Mini.
In June 2020, Jayvon and his friend Cheriff Tall went out to a community event, arranged as a Black Lives Matter event, but it was more a kind of family fun day. It was unremarkable. “We have family fun days in Moss Side all the time,” says Jayvon. There was a bouncy castle, a barbecue, music.
That finished in the evening, and someone suggested they go to the car park on Bowes Street for the afterparty. A couple of hundred people went, it was good. Cheriff and Jayvon didn’t talk about much. They were drinking, and Jayvon’s memory is hazy bordering on non-existent. “I remember the day. No, I remember the morning,” he says, but the night itself: almost nothing.
Police believe the gun used was supplied on the night to someone up from Birmingham who was anxious for their safety (the shooter is known to the community in Moss Side, their name is spoken casually, they are yet to be arrested). They took the gun into the carpark, where they met Cheriff. There are multiple stories surrounding what happened next, here’s two I’ve heard.
One: the shooter was showing the gun off while there were still children present. Cheriff, who had a lot of younger siblings, approached them and asked them to put it away. They felt disrespected, and as Cheriff turned to walk away, they shot him in the back of the head.
Two: the person who had supplied the gun asked Cheriff to get it back, he tried. They felt disrespected, and as Cheriff turned to walk away, they shot him in the back of the head.
Neither of these stories have been proven to be true, they remain rumours that friends and loved ones are left to grasp at. Nor were either of them told to me by Jayvon, because he doesn’t remember anything. Even though, when it happened, he was so close to Cheriff that their forearms were touching. In his telling, the trauma erased his memory of immediately before and after the event, like the crater left by a bomb.
When the gunshot sounded the entire carpark fell into a frenzy. Jayvon ran. Another man, a community worker named Abayomi Ajose, tried to intervene. Two more shots were fired, one killing Abayomi.
Jayvon ran without realising he had left Cheriff on the floor behind him. People were screaming his name, knowing he was going to run back in when he realised what had happened. They were screaming his name so much someone told them to shut up. Before Jayvon could get back into the car park, someone had grabbed him, put him in the back of a van, and drove him home.
Akemia and I pull out of the car park and drive towards The Estate, where Jayvon grew up. Moss Side is split into three. There’s The Estate, which is the central part of the area; to the east and Fallowfield is M14; to the west and Whalley Range is Gooch.
The Gooch Close Gang was an organised crime group whose name was borrowed from a street in west Moss Side. Such infamy was attached to Gooch Close that when the area was redeveloped in the ‘90s, it was renamed Westerling Way. Regardless, the name lives on.
“We just call that Gooch, like, that’s just what it’s called,” says Jayvon. He’s sat side on to me in the shipping container that houses 84Youth, where they hold workshops for victims of violent crime.
Jayvon is very laid back, not easily excited. His voice is so gravelly and drawn he sounds like he’s permanently rising from a deep sleep. He’s tall, retains the same physique he had back when he played more football, and wears a gold ring in each of his ears.
Jayvon lived down the road from Cheriff and they played together as kids, they grew up together. They went to different high schools, Cheriff to one where the bulk of the kids from The Estate were going, Jayvon to one where he would be in a different environment, with different kids.
“Basically my mum said to me, something like: why would you go to school with all your friends then come home and be outside with all your friends again?” Jayvon went to school in Urmston, where the community was whiter than his community in Moss Side: “It sounds weird but, we're a group of black boys,” he says. “And, I made a lot of white friends while I was there. So I used to do stuff with white boys as well. Like, go camping and stuff, whereas a lot of my black friends would never think of that. Even going to a pub and drinking beer. When I do that, my friends will laugh at me saying: what you doing?”
Their friendship ebbed and flowed like any other. They’d fall out, not speak for a while sometimes. “He was annoying,” says Jayvon of Cheriff, with a resonance that says he’d do anything to have him annoy him again. “He was my closest friend.”
Akemia and I go by Cheriff’s house. Opposite is Cherry’s tree — they called Cheriff Cherry — nominated as Cheriff’s because it happens to be opposite his house. Fairy lights are wrapped around it like butcher’s twine, and someone has painted “RIP Cherry” on an adjacent wall. We continue to where Sait Mboob, another of Jayvon’s friends, was killed.
On the 8th of August 2017, 10 men and one 14-year-old boy were charged over the death of Abdul Hadifah – seven of murder and four of manslaughter. Only one of those 11 delivered the stab wounds that killed him.
They were charged under controversial joint enterprise laws, which allow two or more defendants to be convicted of the same criminal offence in relation to the same incident, regardless of their level of direct involvement in the offence itself.
A Guardian long read on the case suggested that a gang narrative had been imposed on a few overlapping sets of friends to achieve the conviction:
While youth violence is a very real problem, the “gang” framework is shaped primarily by police wishing to impose order on a situation that is fundamentally chaotic. This imposed order creates the narrative clarity that enables joint enterprise convictions.
Parents felt their children had been lied about, friends felt their friends had been stolen from them. Four of Jayvon’s friends were convicted and sentenced to up to twenty years in prison. There was a gathering in their memory, to grieve for them as if they were dead. It was there that Sait was attacked.
Jayvon had arrived at the gathering with Cheriff, and had only been there about ten minutes when the cars carrying the attackers arrived. He remembers that night fell very quickly, as if the cars had brought it with them. The crowd scattered in every direction, turned from mourning the lives of their friends to running for their own.
Jayvon jumped through people’s gardens, Cheriff went another way. Akemia and I follow the route that Sait ran. In broad daylight it’s hard to imagine the fear he would have felt as he ran into the dead end where he was stabbed. He died the next morning from his injuries.
The day Sait died, Jayvon left his house early, still not knowing whether he was okay. Moss Side has long been the kind of community where, to find out what is going on, you simply have to take a walk around the estate. You can mind your business and come home knowing everyone else’s. As Jayvon walked up the road, he saw Cheriff walking towards him, looking to find out what had happened too.
“Sait was stubborn, very stubborn,” says Jayvon. Sait could argue about anything, and so could Cheriff. To imagine the friendship the three shared is to imagine Cheriff and Sait in the throes of one of their “loud discussions”, scrabbling for the last word, with Jayvon in the middle telling them to chill.
When Sait died, Jayvon was working at Manchester Airport, handling baggage. He liked that job, there was a sense of completion to it. You were either stacking, unloading, or you weren’t doing much of anything, just lying in the holds waiting for the baggage to arrive.
One day, in the weeks after Sait’s murder, Jayvon went into the office on a break and saw Sait’s face on the TV screen. Reports on his murder and his case. “I would hear, like, little comments and stuff like that. No one knew that was my friend. Or I was there when it happened.” The comments were about Moss Side and the young people from there.
Jayvon wouldn’t go into much detail beyond that, but it isn’t hard to work out. Moss Side’s reputation for violence is a legacy of the ‘80s and ‘90s — and people here feel that, in a perverse way, it contributes to the area’s current rate of violent crime. Sait and Cheriff’s killers were all from outside of Moss Side: “people treat it like the Wild West,” says Akemia.
In our analysis of Greater Manchester's homicide rates, we found that Manchester had the highest rate of homicide in GM in 2020-21. The two Manchester communities with the highest homicide rates were Baguley (20.4 per 100,000 people) and Moss Side (19.2).
Sometimes, that high rate of violence can cause the broader community to be dehumanised in the eyes of others. This is reflected in media reports, where deaths are sometimes described in cartoonish, irreverent ways, as though the people involved were fictional characters (in one covering the deaths of Cheriff and Abayomi, the men were not shot but “blasted in the head”).
“We do have lives outside of this,” says Akemia, “you know, going to work, putting the washing on. We don’t just sit around waiting for something violent to happen.” Violence in Moss Side can be thought of as a constant, settled presence, like fog. The reality is it invades the lives of the people living here the same as it would anywhere else, suddenly and sharply cruel.
And, as far as Jayvon is concerned, it will happen again. When we met, his cousin had just been imprisoned on a conspiracy charge, something many in Moss Side believe to be an echo of the joint enterprise cases that vanished so many young people, so many of Jayvon’s friends, from their community.
He still dreams of them sometimes: Cheriff, Sait, Delroy, Reano, Remekell. In the bad ones, he’s in prison with them. But there are good ones too. He dreamt he was at a birthday party for Sait, who was being stubborn about the cake and how he wanted two. He dreams of Cheriff and the others being here, and just walking around the estate with them, planning the weekend. When they were last out, they were just kids. Now they’d have grown up, and things would be different.