Knife crime in London has reached scary levels, the figures are shocking: up to the end of September, there have been 110 murders in the capital this year, almost all involving knives and young men. Last year was just as bad. In the first six months of 2018, there were 1,296 stabbings in London, 64 of them fatal and virtually all unsolved by the police.

But the government and even the police who have to deal with it on what is now a daily basis appear to be incapable of finding a solution to stop the violence.

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, recently announced that she was going to extend stop and search powers under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

The Metropolitan Police insist publicly that stop and search powers do yield results and arrests. But in fact, the figures tell a different story. Between April 2017 and March 2018, just 2% of stop and searches carried out under Section 60 led to an arrest of an offensive weapon.  

Most people that have researched knife crime and the victims and perpetrators of it agree that stop and search does nothing to reduce youth violence, but instead discriminates against people on grounds of race and class and therefore further worsens the relationship between communities affected by violence and the police. In turn, this leads to far fewer murders being solved as communities effectively refuse to cooperate with the police in any way.

A recent documentary for Vice, which examined the knife crime epidemic in London up close and personal, found that predominately the victims and perpetrators of knife-related violence were most likely to be young black males under 24 years old.

Josh Osbourne was 12 when he had his first knife and by the age of 16 was already affiliated to a gang. After spending time in prison, Osbourne, now in his 30s, is an anti-knife crime activist and journalist. He admits that the levels of violence among people of a similar background to him have got significantly worse since he was in his teens.

But Osbourne is not looking to blame people, but rather to try and look for the root causes of knife-crime and find possible solutions.

“I grew up in poverty and was always looking for a way of sourcing an income. Joining a gang was a way of achieving some kind of status among my friends,” says Osbourne.

It’s Not All Gang Related

But although a lot of knife violence and other crime are connected to gangs, several young people have been stabbed to death this year who had no relationship of any kind with a gang.

Between 2011 and 2016, a gang element to violence was found in only 5% of cases, according to data from the Metropolitan Police. Some young people can be a target just because they live in a certain area, while others who might be on the edge of a gang or know someone in one, are targeted because they are more vulnerable and less likely to take revenge.

In 2016 Matthew Kitandwe was stabbed in a completely unprovoked attack outside his mother’s home in Battersea, she watched her only child bleed to death in front of her.

“Matthew wasn’t involved in gang activity. He was the only one who told me to stay away from that life. What kills me is that it’s the blacks killing the blacks. We’re meant to be brothers and we’re killing each other, and I don’t know why,” one of Matthew’s friends told Vice.

The problem is made worse by social media where kids as young as 12 are posting their knife wounds on Twitter as a way of trying to prove themselves. Then there is the fact that huge knives that could only be intended as a brutal weapon are almost as easy to buy as a tube of toothpaste. Even if you don’t want to buy one on the street, you can order them online from Amazon with no checks whatsoever.

No Snitching, No Grassing

Another victim, Lewis Elwin was killed in 2016 after an argument over a girl got out of hand. His murder remains one of the vast majority in London that go unsolved by police and unpunished and so the family can never get justice and a sense of closure. But yet Osbourne thinks that at least 75% of the people who attended Elwin’s funeral knew who killed him.

“The ultimate law is that you don’t snitch, you don’t give information, you don’t cooperate with the police, because if you do your community will disown you.” One of Elwin’s friends speaking in balaclava told Vice, adding that even if one person gets locked up it won’t change anything.  

But for the bereaved change can’t come fast enough. In some cases, a serious knife injury can be as bad as death. Jamel Boyce was stabbed in the heart in an unprovoked attack in 2016 and is now a paraplegic who can’t even speak. His father did not mince his words when he explained that things among the black communities in London need to change fast.

“How this no informing [to police] came about was when we were under police brutality. Now we are not under police brutality anymore, we are under black on black brutality. We don’t need the BNP anymore; we don’t need the National Front because a whole generation is being eradicated by black youth.  They’ve ruined my son’s life; they’ve ruined my life and what is the prize? Nothing, they have gained nothing,” said Jamal’s father, Patrick Boyce.

Dr. Martin Griffiths, a trauma surgeon at the Royal London hospital, agrees that to solve this problem, we must look at its causes.

“We see 600 plus stabbings a year and that number is increasing on a month by month basis. They’ve normalised death as part and parcel of growing up and we’ve let them do that,” he said.

Dr. Griffiths believes that instead of seeking out revenge victims of violence must be given an output for their emotional angst that allows them to forgive while developing themselves and empowering them as individuals.

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Poor, Young and Ignored

But it is difficult to provide the services that young people from deprived communities need to develop if youth centres are closed and council’s finances are squeezed hell-bent on saving a few pennies.

Homes, neighbourhoods, and schools can all become toxic environments for children and young adults who are then more likely to become both perpetrators and victims of violence. If the relationships around them do not nurture them, protect them and help them to achieve their potential then gang violence can easily fill that void.

Its well known that knife crime in London is mainly confined to poorer areas and government cuts since 2010 haven’t helped. Since 2010, in the UK, 600 youth centres have closed, 130,000 places in youth centres have been eliminated and there has been a £422.3 million reduction in spending on services for young people since 2013.   

Diverting young people away from toxic environments, investing in services that can have a positive effect on them is one way to try and reverse the number of young people senselessly murdered in London.

Another answer that has had some success is getting influential people in a particular community to speak to gang members and kids who carry knives and try and convince them that it’s not worth it.

One guy that has done this is Faron Alex Paul who frequently appears on social media to tell kids that using a knife or a gun on someone is a form of cowardice and has started a scheme of giving kids vouchers if they hand over their knives.

In terms of acting as a deterrent and catching killers, the police would be better off ending provocative stop and search methods and trying to rebuild trust between the police and poor, ethnic minority neighbourhoods.

But some people in London will live in poverty no matter what government is in power, and some of them will decide to make money by whatever means are available to them even if that means crime and it’s very difficult to tell them to stop.

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Edward Cowley