The arrest of rapper Ashley Walters should force the black community to speak out loud about its problemsby Lennie James / April 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
This March, 19-year-old Ashley Walters, aka “Asher D,” from British garage group the So Solid Crew, was told by a judge at Southwark crown court that he would receive a substantial custodial sentence for possessing a converted Brocock air pistol, loaded with live ammunition. Eight months earlier, Ashley and his girlfriend, Natalie Williams, had been involved in an argument with a traffic warden. The gun never left Natalie’s bag, where it was wrapped in a sock, but the warden reported the incident and the police found it when they searched the couple. In court, Ashley pleaded guilty to possession. Immediately, he was plastered over the papers, painted as an arrogant and nihilistic street hood-another symbol of the crisis in Britain’s black community.
Ashley made a grave mistake and will be punished for it. I don’t know why he had a loaded gun, but I need to. Nearly four years ago, he was the 16-year-old lead actor in a film I wrote, called Storm Damage. It was the story of the fight for a young man’s soul. Ashley’s character, Stefan, is given a choice: to take a path into manhood which follows the cynical wisdom of a street don, or to accept the salvation offered by his embattled teacher. In the film, Stefan begins to take the lead of his teacher but is eventually reclaimed by the street. Now, it seems, the street has claimed Ashley too. When did it go so wrong? What did he have to prove that was best proved with a Brocock?
Ashley is an excellent actor. We saw over 600 young people in our search to fill the nine lead roles in Storm Damage. When Ashley walked in to read, I knew he was different. The part of Stefan was not easy. It required a thoughtful and vulnerable performance. Of the young actors, Ashley was the only one who had performed professionally before (including a role in Grange Hill). He worked hard, he listened, he learned. He took risks and he was supportive to the other actors around him. He brought to Storm Damage a weight and thoughtfulness beyond his years.
During the period of filming, he got his GCSE results, passing all ten with good grades. It didn’t seem as if he had anything to prove. He had a confidence that was attractive and welcoming, but never arrogant. His performance was all I had…