‘The loss of Josh destroyed every single element of happiness that I had, and I don’t think I’ll ever be genuinely happy ever again in my life. He was absolutely everything to me.’
Listening to Alison Cope’s words, their palpable rawness is deafening.
Ever since she lost her son, Joshua Ribera aka Depzman, Alison has vigorously campaigned about the devastation of knife crime. Her work has garnered great attention and feedback, however, the pain of her loss is a sharpened double-edged sword.
As Alison Cope, the campaigner, the success of my work and everything that entails is obviously a positive thing. And I’m very proud of that,’ she explains. ‘But when I go home, and I go back into Joshua’s mum mode, the pain, the grief, the loneliness is there all the time. So no amount of success from the campaign will remove the pain of losing Josh.’
Her son’s story is sadly one we’ve heard before: a young person cut down in their prime, their promising life and career abruptly ended in a mindless act of violence. In Josh’s case, the world lost the potential of a promising rap artist, while his family lost a dear loved one.
‘We had a very special bond,’ Alison tells Metro.co.uk. ‘He gave me something that no one else gave me before, that feeling of pride and happiness. You know, it really made me who I was. So to lose him is just sheer devastation. It’s like a bomb going off in your heart and your mind.’
Stabbed outside a venue in Selly Oak, Birmingham, the 18-year-old managed to stagger into a doorway before being taken to hospital. Although the knife pierced his heart, Josh held on for several hours, desperately fighting to stay alive. Sadly, he wasn’t able to fight the immeasurable damage already done.
Even now, after time supposedly heals all wounds, the story is a chilling one to recount. A chill that clings more deeply in light of the latest anti-violence campaign by Alison, a unique music video titled ‘Life Cut Short’.
The reason it’s unique? It stars Josh, as if he were still alive today. Thanks to the power of deepfake technology, the young rapper returns from the grave to share the ugly truth of knife crime, using his most powerful tool: his voice.
To say its impact is powerful is almost an offensive understatement. At only 4:30 minutes long, the video may be short in length, but its legacy will last a lifetime. For viewers, the message is a difficult one to digest, but for Alison it’s gut-wrenching.
‘I was contacted almost three years ago now by [media company] McCann London, and they were very cautious but very respectful about approaching me. They went through the whole idea behind the video and then showed me a demo. I cried and I cried. I knew it was going to be something that would absolutely bring change and have an impact.’
Alison’s tenacity is incredible. Losing a child is a devastating enough loss on its own, but to then see the illusion of them coming back to life is undeniably worse. It has a cruelty to it that offers little comfort.
‘It’s been incredibly painful,’ admits Alison. ‘It hasn’t been a joyous thing. It’s been incredibly difficult because releasing the video has reconfirmed the loss.
‘It just really hurts because it’s like, it’s just reconfirming what was lost? Josh, Depzman, potential life, all of it. It’s been really, really hard to deal with.’
In spite of all the emotions stirred up by the video’s creation and release, Alison says she has still been able to take some positives from it, however small they may be.
‘I’m the kind of person that even if it’s hard, if I think it can be for the right reasons I’ll just go for it,’ she explains. ‘So, it was only a few days ago that it dawned on me actually what that meant; I was just in my flat thinking “Oh, my God, I’ve actually been so brave”.
Still, while she recognizes the bravery she’s shown, Alison admits that campaigning can be a ‘conveyor belt’ of emotions, as she navigates grief alongside the success of initiatives born from that grief.
‘I’m very privileged that I’ve been able to do the work I do because of the impact it has,’ she says. ‘So, positives have come out of it. But the reality is Josh had to lose his life to create this movement.’
Even now, as ‘Life Cut Short’ continues to resonate with viewers around the world, it’s hard to feel positivity on Alison’s behalf. We live in a society where lip service is the first remedy of choice, rather than the action so many desperately ask for; Alison’s years of anti-violence education and work is proof of that. Arguably, it’s why she’s so determined to make Josh’s voice seen and heard, no matter the emotional cost to herself.
‘What is it going to take for the government to realize that their approach is not as effective as it should be? That’s what I find incredibly frustrating,’ Alison adds. ‘I’ve got to try something different. I won’t do any of the bog standard campaigns – I haven’t got the time or energy to waste any more when I have seen how many times we failed with these campaigns.’
She’s not wrong. Over the last several years, the only time knife crime rates decreased was during the height of Covid; millions of pounds have been invested in raising awareness about knife crime, but little of that has dented the statistics.
Our society is still one that sees violence, especially towards and among young people, increasing yet chooses to stand by and watch.
‘We might not be able to control the food prices, the gas, the electricity, but there is something here that we can do,’ Alison explains passionately.
‘And until we actually take a step back, we’ll never be able to move forward with this. So, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, I’m here – talk to me. Prime Minister, I’m here, talk to me.’
The stark truth is, this video isn’t going to go away and nor is Alison – a woman who vows never to go quietly when progress is still needed.
‘We’ll see what happens with the video, but I’m not going anywhere,’ she promises. ‘I think if somebody’s going to crack them, it’ll be me.’
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing Claie.Wilson@metro.co.uk
Share your views in the comments below.
MORE: Latest child to lose their life to knife crime on Britain’s streets named
MORE: Man hiding in woman’s bedroom closet with knife and duct tape arrested
MORE: Arsenal loanee Pablo Mari faces surgery after knife attack but wants to play on Monday night