Do Young People Need 'Zero Tolerance' For the Behaviour That Leads to Knife Crime?
In the new VICE film 'On a Knife Edge', we explore the 'code of silence' that perpetuates London's deadly knife crime crisis.
Still from the new VICE documentary London's Knife Crime Emergency: ON A KNIFE EDGE
London saw 76 fatal stabbings in 2018.
This number, while shocking in itself, represents just a fraction of the victims of knife violence in the capital overall. According to the most recent annual statistics from the Metropolitan Police, the total number of recorded offences involving knives from April 2017 to March 2018 was 1,299, a 16 percent increase on the previous year. Nationwide, within the same 12 month period, there were 40,147 knife-related offences, marking a shameful seven-year high.
Since then, this number has only continued to rise, as young people in London and throughout the UK continue to get wrapped up in the country’s knife crime epidemic. Labour MP and founder of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, Sarah Jones, has labelled it a “public health emergency”.
Much has been said about the causes of this crisis, with various official figures blaming a multitude of factors, such as drug dealing, social media, a lack of funding to police, and drastic cuts to the nation’s youth services – all of which have undoubtedly played a role, to varying degrees. But in its essence, this uptake in violent crime is a product of the extremely aggressive youth culture that exists today.
Watch: London’s Knife Crime Emergency: ON A KNIFE EDGE
Instead of being anti-establishment and channeling their energies into improving their circumstances as a group, the people involved in this kind of culture seem set on being as anti-each other as they possibly can be. The staggering frequency of these crimes doesn't just illustrate how ineffective attempts have been to find a solution to the problem, it also desensitises us from the tragic and senseless deaths of these mostly young people.
Cressida Dick was appointed chief of the Met Police just over one year ago. She promised the nation – and me personally when I sat down with her for an interview during her first few months in the position – that “youth violence is a top priority”. Her first and only noticeable attempt at tackling knife crime was Operation Sceptre. Its priority goal is the removal of knives on the city’s streets by increasing stop and searches, and carrying out random police raids of areas known to be affected by knife crime, and the youths who live there.
On paper this scheme appears to be remarkably successful. According to statistics from the Met, during their "week of action" for Operation Sceptre in February they seized a total of "265 knives, six firearms, and 45 other offensive weapons." But when you compare it to the latest statistics around knife crime and youth violence, it’s clear that the apparent triumphs have had no effect on the problem as a whole: one year after appointing a new police chief, crime has risen by 24 percent and relationships between the communities affected and the police are as strained as ever.
Of course, that’s not to say that the police alone aren’t doing enough; many argue that government cuts have left them stretched, and that the government itself must play a more integral role in finding a solution. The possession of a firearm comes with a minimal custodial sentence of five years and an additional five years for each bullet. Given that the levels of knife crime dwarf those of firearms for both the number of victims affected in the last two years and by the number of fatalities, isn’t it time that our knife crime laws were reformed?
Prevention needs to be our priority when dealing with the risk posed to any life, but we also have a duty as a nation to exercise foresight when it concerns our most vulnerable. Youth services have been contracted to a collection of small independent charities as a result of those same government budget cuts – which, between 2010 to 2017, add up to a total of £387 million, some of which would have been used to keep our youth clubs open.
These important spaces gave our otherwise neglected youth an alternative to a life on the streets, and multiple experts have pointed directly to a lack of these services as playing a role in the increase of street violence.
It stands to reason then, that we need to channel more money into preventative work, thereby reducing the strain on our already depleted public services. Yes, this would require a substantially larger amount of money being put into youth development, but the benefits will be reaped through the knowledge that our children are safer and better prepared for the world, as well as resulting in some much needed relief for both the police and the NHS.
At its core, this is a community issue, and it is vital that the government and local authorities play a supportive role, empowering community leaders and youth workers and giving them the resources needed to guide their youth. It takes a village to raise a child and one village idiot to take that’s child’s life away.
Why waste time removing knives from young people who intend to use them for harm, knowing that they need travel no further than their parents kitchen in order to replace it. Instead, as a society, we need to tackle the intent. In the same way a generation of youths have created a culture that encourages interpersonal violence, we need to create a culture that no longer tolerates that behaviour or those negative viewpoints. We need to treat youth violence in the same way we treat homophobia and racism – with zero tolerance.
Watch Josh in VICE's new film:"London's Knife Crime Emergency: ON A KNIFE EDGE".