Within 24 hours of entering the New Year, there were 4 fatal stabbings across London. Incidents like this are not new to the city, but knife crime has admittedly been on an upward rise; in 2017, there were 80 fatal stabbings in London and a 24% rise in knife crimes from 2016-2017. It is easy to pore through heaps of numbers and reduce these lost lives to a mere statistic, but what is evident is that knife crime is becoming inexorably prevalent in the capital.
People often call for harsher punishments regarding knife crime and this tends to come from a place of outrage. What people fail to acknowledge is that harsher sentences for possession of a knife don’t act as a deterrent, because the reason why that person felt the need to carry a knife has not been addressed. A child steals food because they were hungry, so you lock them in a room as punishment hoping they don’t steal food again, but have you addressed why they’re hungry?
Across a span of six years, approximately £400M has been slashed from youth services across the country and this has consequently translated to a rise in crime amongst young people. The fact of the matter is that these youth clubs gave young people an opportunity to stay out of trouble and be productive with their time outside of school. Now that they have nowhere to go, they are more susceptible to straying onto a path of knife crime.
Knife crime is an extremely convoluted issue, simply because there are too many contributing factors. The most over-looked factor is the socio-political climate within black and minority ethnic communities. Funding cuts to public schools have been cloaked under Tories’ purported educational reforms, as the money they intend to allocate to public schools essentially comes down to nothing, when you factor in the current rate of inflation. In the worst case scenario, this cut in funding could potentially equate to youths coming out of education with less credentials than their predecessors and therefore decreasing their access to employment. No access to jobs means no money and no money means no house or food. People will turn to alternative methods to survive, even if it means crime.
Knife crime in London disproportionately affects black men because the fact of the matter is that they don’t have access to the help they need. Stories are constantly published in newspapers depicting black youths as feral criminals who know nothing more than to stab each other; but has anyone ever stopped to think why black men are affected by knife crime disproportionately in London, when BME citizens are approximately 41% of London’s population?
The only way London will see a decrease in knife crime is when initiatives are introduced to prevent youths from feeling the need to carry knives. Youths who carry knives in the name of protection do so because they can’t confide in the police to protect them. There is a disconnect between the police and youths, not just because of the archaic ‘fuck the police’ mentality, but because police have not found a way to gain the trust of young people. The average teenager in London will have their first interaction with a police officer in a negative light, whether it be a stop and search or questionable dialogue derived from racial profiling.
By addressing the reasons why young people feel the need to carry knives, the problem will fix itself. Sending a 16 year-old to jail for 25 years for possession will not stop them from doing so again once they get out because they are returning to the same malevolent environment that caused them to carry in the first place. As an individual who knows the people that carry and even some of which have been stabbed themselves, it is clear as day that harsher punishments will do nothing.
Rather than criminalizing the youths that pick up knives, we should look at the criminals in parliament that perpetuate the conditions for young people to continue killing each other.