Tony Dempsey, the murder victim whose body was found in a downtown apartment last week, was one of the lost boys of his generation.
While rowing in Inchicore, Dublin, he had experienced a “terribly messy upbringing”, according to court statements quoted in the press. As a child, he regularly moved between foster homes and was placed in foster care 10 times. As a teenager, he was already well known to the police.
Although not considered a major criminal, he became involved in gangland violence. Perhaps ties offered him a culture of kinship otherwise lacking in his life. But the cost of that kinship was enormous, for him and for the victims he would later target. By his late 20s, he had amassed 50 criminal convictions, including for his involvement in a brutal 2013 stabbing. He had lived most of his life homeless.
The pitiful conclusion of this trajectory; A cascade of early life adversities and trauma that led him down a depressingly predictable path into crime and addiction came to public attention last week after his body was discovered in a downtown Dublin drug den. He died, believed to be from a head injury sustained during a violent attack. His body went unreported for over a week and was only discovered when concerned neighbors alerted police after noticing the smell. He was just 28 years old.
During the days that Tony’s remains were there, scores of people “came and went” from the ground floor apartment at Kevin Barry House, which was managed by Housing First and the Peter McVerry Trust homeless charity. The apartment housed a “vulnerable” tenant who, according to a charity spokesman, had lost control of the apartment and was being exploited by local addicts and drug dealers, who used it as a drug den.
While Tony Dempsey lay there, Trust employees made several visits to the premises, but no one had known Dempsey’s body was inside. It has launched an investigation and said that while he was known to the Trust he was not one of its clients. Gardaí are working on the theory that he may have been mistakenly targeted for a drug guilt.
When asked about the incident, a local resident phrased the question that has since been asked by everyone who has heard the story: “This apartment was a drug den and at the time a number of Gardaí men and women had arrived there. How could they just sit there? It’s just not right.” How could they just sit there?
It was obviously a group of people like Tony who had grown used to disorder, violence and death over the course of their lives. Who, like Tony, were actively trying to numb themselves from these things through drug addiction. Who were so disconnected from the social fabric around them that they avoided or feared calling for help. Based on the circumstances known about the case, we can probably assume that, like Tony, these were people who had been exposed to high levels of violence, whether in the community or in the family, from an early age. They were members of the forgotten class of society.
It is a matter of generally accepted wisdom that violence breeds violence. Charlie Howard, a consulting clinical psychologist working with gang members in the UK, has an explanation for why young men like Tony and the people he associates with are drawn to gangs. “Young people have said to me, ‘I’m going out to look for a fight so I can calm down,’ he said when interviewed for London’s recently Times Newspaper. “Growing up with violence is very scary at first, but over the years that violence becomes comforting. So the cycles of violence continue.”
It is also true that neglect breeds neglect. Finally, the case of Tony Dempsey speaks of the destructive power of neglect.
Norman Lamb is a British Liberal Democrat politician who is conducting an inquiry into childhood trauma. According to him: “People involved in gang violence very often suffer from psychological stress. To think of them only as perpetrators is stupid. They are often victims themselves from childhood. As a society, we hopelessly abandon these children. It’s a terrible neglect.”
Tony Dempsey was undoubtedly one of those “failed kids” Lamb speaks of. The same probably applied to those who continued to use drugs while his lifeless body lay in another room.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/how-one-mans-tragic-end-has-held-up-a-mirror-to-an-entire-lost-generation-41997179.html How one man’s tragic end held up a mirror to a lost generation