Category Archives: Knife Crime

“No Love on the Streets”: Knife Crime in Britain

I started carrying a knife aged 12…when I’ve got this [samurai sword] with me I feel safe, scare tactics init – the bigger [the knife] the better…No one breaks the cycle round here – the cycle never breaks.

A teenager in Liverpool made these statements to the BBC. ‘The cycle’ is an ugly pattern of petty disputes, escalation, violence and revenge, a brutal cycle that is destroying the lives of thousands of young people in Britain.

There is something fundamentally wrong with a society when children feel they have to carry deadly weapons in order to protect themselves.

In the year ending March 2018, according to Government figures, there were 40,100 “offences involving a knife or sharp object” in England and Wales, including 285 deaths – a record number. London has seen the highest levels of knife crime in the country; there were 14,700 attacks and half of all homicides by knife took place in the capital.

Such shocking statistics highlight the crisis, suggest patterns and correlations, but reveal little of the root causes; generalizations are riddled with errors and all too often strategies focus on the effects rather than the impelling causes, which pertain to the psychological environment and the collective atmosphere within which people are living, as well as circumstantial conditions.

Trivial disputes, fatal consequences

Victims and perpetrators of knife crime are overwhelmingly young men under 25, many are children, some as young as 12; they come from disadvantaged, poor backgrounds, with few opportunities and little support; absent Fathers are common and drugs are a factor, selling and using. It is a social issue relating more to class than race, although in London the victims are overwhelmingly black, further muddying the waters for those looking for answers within the sea of statistics.

What makes anyone, let alone a child, carry a knife? What leads him to use it and how can it be stopped?

Fear seems a major factor, fear of being attacked and the need, or perceived need for protection; the danger is if you’re carrying a weapon and you’re confronted, there is a temptation to use it. Awez Khan, 17, the Birmingham representative of the youth parliament, part of the British Youth Council, told The Guardian: “I know a lot of people who carry knives. A lot of it is paranoia and fear for their life…they don’t know when they might die and they have to defend themselves. It’s a kill-or-be-killed situation.” In the past knife crime was often a gang-related issue, but while this persists to a degree, police estimate that now “75% of those caught have no connection to gangs.”

Some attacks are unprovoked random acts of violence, which occasionally lead to death or life changing injuries, lives destroyed, families shattered. In other cases, perhaps the highest percentage, petty arguments escalate and quickly become violent feuds, with neither individual backing down for fear of being seen to be weak, and, whereas in days gone by the result might have been a fist fight, now it can lead to a stabbing. Within this category, “social media plays the biggest part”; insults are posted, taunting, denigrating friends, girlfriends or family members; images of weapons, filmed footage of violence, sometimes as it happens, is shared with friends of the victim; cyber bullying that spills over onto the streets within minutes, leading in some cases to loss of life. “A febrile online atmosphere was among factors responsible for rising knife crime, states Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick in The Times newspaper …“social media sites are driving children to commit violence and murders, within minutes…trivial disputes between young people were escalating into murder and stabbings at unprecedented rates.”

According to the Met Commissioner, many children carrying knives had been excluded from school, and “are people who have suffered some kind of adverse experience of a significant sort when they are young, and/or have limited or problematic family lives and parenting – all things that can lead to other negative outcomes, not just serious violence.” The lack of a positive male role model was a consistent factor; many young men, she said, were simply “looking to be loved”.

The risk of a custodial sentence (average four years) is not a deterrent; the majority don’t get caught and as 15 year old Dontae, from south-east London related to the BBC, “people are not scared of jail, [they] would rather risk it than actually get hurt by the weapon itself.” The police are viewed with suspicion or outright hostility and it’s rare that someone will share information relating to an attack with the police: they don’t trust the authorities, don’t want to be seen as a snitch and have no faith in the judicial system. Justice is seen as payback: “My justice is revenge,” a balaclava wearing teenager in south-east London told Channel 4 documentary, On a KnifesEdge. Anger, hate, retribution is the pattern of the streets, and underlying this madness is fear and mistrust.

Stop and Search tactics are used by the Police to take knives off the streets; figures suggest this approach can be effective, but most weapons go undetected and there are not enough police on the streets. Under the government’s austerity program, which is a cruel ideological attack on the poor, police budgets have been cut by 20% since 2010, resulting in the loss of around 21,000 officers. Adult and child social care has also been dramatically reduced, benefits have been effected and according to the Department of Education spending on youth services, clubs, community centers after-school facilities etc. has been slashed by a third since 2016. Such savage cuts inevitably have the biggest impact on the most disadvantaged families: it is not by chance that increases in knife crime have coincided with the reduction in services.

‘When there is fear there is no love’

Violence of all kinds is a social problem a ‘public health’ issue, not simply a criminal activity; it demands early intervention, identifying children who are potentially at risk of falling into crime and providing them with the support they need to ensure they don’t go down a destructive path, and a unified ‘joined-up’ approach with all services cooperating.

This entails sensitive understanding of a person’s life, his/her home environment, mental health, community and education as well as drug/alcohol use/dependency. “We are all committed to the notion that prevention is better than enforcement,” says Commissioner Dick, “which is, after all, the public health approach.” For such an approach to succeed though, it needs investment, not reductions, in social services, education, housing and health care.

A holistic methodology is essential if knife crime in Britain, like violent crime everywhere, is to be reduced and stopped, but if we are to create lasting harmony within society, nationally and globally, underlying causes and the interconnected nature of life need to be better understood.

Violence is the external expression of internal conflict; the key therefore to establishing peace within our world lies in identifying and removing the factors that feed discord – the psychological/sociological conditioning, false values and divisive ideologies.

Harmony within society rests upon there being a degree of inner contentment within those that make up any given community; ‘peace of mind’, according to the Dalai Lama “comes from warm heartedness, this reduces ill-feeling towards others, and reduces distrust.” ‘Warm heartedness’ is a feeling of affection towards others; like cooperation and tolerance, it is a natural part of our shared humanity and spontaneously arises when we move away from self-centered thinking and concern ourselves with the needs of others. When you “help others you get happiness, inner strength and purpose of life.”

Within the construct of contemporary society there are a variety of elements that work against our innate inclinations for the good, and serve to aggravate adverse tendencies like discontent, greed and fear. There is tremendous social injustice: wealth and income inequality, as well as inequality of opportunity, access to culture and influence. Comparison and competition have infiltrated all areas of society and are major negative factors; as His Holiness says, “society based on competition and material satisfaction cultivates fear, and when there is fear there is no love,” and without love the door is open to all that corrupts and poisons a human being. Perhaps unsurprisingly, love is the key to peace of mind and harmonious living; not sentimental or romantic love, but love as that most vibrant force for good, love expressed as sharing, as tolerance, as cooperation, as friendship; “friendship is essential, with friendship comes trust” and where there is trust community can be built, fear dispelled and peace made manifest.

Sharp Manias: Knife Crime in London

London — A bleak London assailed by daily news about Brexit negotiation, prospects of food shortages and higher prices in the event of a no-deal with the European Union, provides the perfect apocalyptic backdrop for headlines. The city is ailing; the residents are panicked; and the authorities are gloomy.

Such environments are ideal for talk about emergencies.  One doing much filling on London airtime is that of knife crime.  Not that knife crime, in and of, itself is unusual: for years, stabbing implements have made their way into broader law and order issues in the city’s policing scene, a good number featuring errant youth.  These have encouraged a wide array of myths masquerading as solid fact: London, the city of the “no-go” area; Londonistan, city of perpetual, spiralling crime.

In 2008, Britain’s public institutions – political and public – became darkly enraptured with knife crime afflicting inner city areas, with a heavy focus on London.  Stabbings were reported in lurid fashion; threats to urban safety were emphasised.  As Peter Squires noted in a fairly withering examination of the phenomenon in British Politics, “The knife crime ‘epidemic’, as it came to be called, coincided with a series of youth justice policy measures being rolled out by the government, and significantly influenced them.”

Kevin Marsh of the BBC, writing at the same time, wondered how best a news organisation might report such crime figures. “How much does tone and prominence distort the real picture?  Is some coverage self-fulfilling prophecy?  Does it spread fear and anxiety way beyond the rational?”  Marsh would admit that being a victim of a knife crime was “very, very unlikely”; and that young men, in the main, did not carry knives; “most young people are not components of what some politicians are calling the ‘broken society’.”

For all that, Marsh found himself admitting that “it’s part of the purpose of our media to draw things to our attention, however crudely.”  The crude element remains the sticking point, resisting nuance, despite the hope that reporters might help “us citizens really think hard about possible solutions”.

Knife crime has become the bread and butter of lazy reportage, one hitched to the coattails of the broken society argument.  Describing a broken fence is easier fare than describing a mended one; solutions remain dull, academic matters.  The emergency narrative tends to emerge ahead each time; matters of social causes and complexity receive short shrift.  In 2017, Gary Younge turned his noise up at the panic merchants, and deemed teenage knife crime “a tabloid obsession, blamed on feral youth running riot in our cities.”  Such fears speak to an obsession with decay and decline; youth go wrong if society does not go right.

In 2018, knife crime became a meme of terror.  The Express shouted with “London BLOODBATH” in a June headline, and subsequently began using it as a running title for any knife-related crime.  Political parties also capitalised on the atmosphere. In the east London borough of Havering, a local Conservative leaflet, buttering up electors ahead of the March local elections, promised mayhem.  “Mayor Khan and Corbyn’s men are desperate to grab power in our Town Hall, so get ready for… A London crimewave with even less police.”  In Lewisham East, UKIP candidate David Kurten added his bit in a by-election with a leaflet featuring the words “STOP THE KARNAGE” placed across a picture of a knife.

The dreary world of knife crime figures is erratic.  Between 2008 and 2014, offences involving knives or sharp instruments fell from 36,000 recorded offences to 25,000.  Then came an increase in 2015/6 – a nudge to 28,900.  The figures on death occasioned by knife crime are even more inscrutable, prompting Spiked Online to conclude that there was “no huge upsurge in knife violence because society overall is becoming less violent, and crime in general is falling.”  This was not to say that no concern should be felt: the issue is particular in London, and its effects disproportionate on young working-class black men. A possible explanation?  Not just indigence or exclusion, but nihilism and plain susceptibility.

Barely two months into this year, and the rounds of panic are in full swing.  As always, it’s the deceptive field of statistics dragged out to give a picture of clear, bolt-the-doors-and-hide doom.  It began with a spate of violent actions on New Year’s Eve, which saw four young men stabbed to death in London, prompting London Mayor Sadiq Khan to berate the government for its squeeze on youth services, policing and education.

Police statistics, pounced upon by the Evening Standard just in time for the evening commute on Monday, suggest that 41 percent across London’s boroughs involve those between the green years of 15 to 19.  Eight percent range from the even greener 10 to 14.

The Standard’s Martin Bentham sliced and spliced the announcement from the police with maximum, terrifying effect, all assisted by a picture perfect grim background of law enforcement officials at a crime scene on Caledonia Road.  “The new figures came as a Scotland Yard chief warned that attacks in the capital were also becoming ‘more ferocious’ as offenders were ‘more and more young’ tried to kill or injure by ‘getting up close and stabbing someone several times’.

Descriptions on police tactics follow, resembling those of urban battle plans keen on frustrating potential attacks.  Chief Superintendent Ade Adelekan, head of the Met’s Violent Crime Task Force, is quoted as claiming that “some progress” is being made.  There was also a more frequent use of search and “other tactics” including “the deployment of ‘embedded’ plain clothes officers to work with uniformed counterparts” in acts of prevention.

As Younge rightly notes, such realities are “more complex – and we cannot save lives if we do not understand it.”  But understanding is a term absent in times of panic. These are times rich for exploitation.  With Brexit having become the great psychodrama, all else is ripe for distraction and manipulation.