Knife crime – Are we living on edge??
Article written by Yasmin Khan
Scrolling through the pictures of the deceased – the victims of brutal knife attacks is haunting, eerie and brings a real sense of sadness. Not only for the victim – but for their surviving families, friends, colleagues, siblings and the community in which they once thrived in. It’s hard to imagine that such heinous crimes has left a void in the lives of their loved ones , as their photos are placed on the shelves, bedside cabinets, or even the shrines built to remember them, the room that is left untouched, the certain capture of their scent; or the person across the road for whom the survivors mistakenly identify them as their lost loved one – again it’s hard to imagine but to experience it is devastating. Disappointingly, there seems to be less shock waves sent within the entire nation – unless the deceased was directly related to the survivors or the community in which they grew up in. It’s heart rendering to see the photo shots of such individuals posing ‘life’ have now become the symbol of forlorn. There may have been a time, where we may have crossed paths with them, had a banter with, even spoke to them – now have had their lives tragically ceased by the blow of a knife.
This generates an amalgamation of questions as to the reason for the escalation of knives being carried in the first place, why and how has the trend emerged so rapidly amongst the generation of this century; and to how many lives have to be taken in knife related attacks for robust measures to be put in place to tackle the reoccurring problem head on. It seems that human lives are positioned in the format of statistical data – that once it has reached its peak of deaths in numerical form, then one would react to initiate plans to prevent such attacks taking place in the masses – common sense would encourage us to become more proactive rather reactive to tackle this particular crime. The genesis of the increase of the knife crime may be correlation to the termination of the youth services that once provided rich resources to the upcoming generations, whether it was providing them extra curricular activities, life skills, prospective job opportunities via apprenticeships, or the shaping of how certain services are delivered to the hard to reach youth have all become a relic of the past.
As a former Youth Practitioner, it is suffice to suggest that one of the major resource in our society is to revive the ‘safe platform’ discussion again, where our youths are able to voice their concerns, grievances, or even to participate in civic dialogue in a ‘non- criminal space’ . What is more crucial, is that our young people need to be heard about the current daily challenges and struggles they are faced with and to facilitate the outcome of these key discussion could improve dialogues and better engagement for young people to be involved in civic engagement.
Such platforms are becoming rare, and are only delivered by a scarce number of charity based youth organisations, religious institutions or an NGO. The disappearance of the many Youth Centres has become catastrophic in the increase of drug related crimes, anti-social behaviour which often leads to violence. I do not intend to stigmatise the youths, as there are many unsung community champions out there, who don’t get recognised enough through the mainstream media, but my focus is on the ones that are troubled, struggling to even stay in their secondary post -secondary education, experiencing social deprivation, isolation and hence struggle to find alternative routes to better their circumstances.
The re-opening and preserving of the Youth Centre is a logical suggestion especially as it vital to resource ‘detached’ and ‘out reach’ projects which tailors to operate around 5pm – 12am ( not the typical office hours). To add further, these services should accommodate 18+ years – 24years where such individuals who are neither in employment or education are empowered with alternative solutions such as entrepreneurship, civic engagement, decision making panels – in order to protect their minds from being exploited or manipulated to criminal activities.
As a Strategy Development Officer, for a Youth based organisation, our organisation depended on ‘dribs’ and ‘drabs’ of the funding, hence resulting to some the youth related projects only lasting a few months, and by the time the next pot of funding was received, the project had lost contact with many of the participants due to the delayed timeline of when the funding was actually received.
One of our successes was to organise a pilot event ‘Gangs, Guns and Crime – A new generation game?’ which attracted 50 young people attendees aged from 15years and upwards whether they were at the pre-criminal stage in their life or not, the success of this event attracted youth from Pan London faced with similar issues such as social marginalisation; familial dynamics, absent fathers, mothers, economic deprivation, identity issues, boredom, disengaged from their educational institutions, but it brought young people together to discuss issues in a ‘Safe Platform’ environment in a non-criminal space. The event entailed the opportunity for young people to connect with former Far-Right and Criminal Gang members (via Skype) who are now working to tackle deprivation, isolation, barriers by enhancing community cohesion to develop a more sustainable , tolerant and a thriving community focused merely on young people to inspire them to become the lead ambassadors of their community.
A first of its kind, here the three former criminal gang members and far- right activists from the US were able to share their compelling stories of how they had endured abuse, social marginalisation, or perceived their race being under threat during their childhood/late teens hence pushing them to join such groups/gangs in the first place. All of the three Guest speakers looked for a purpose and a drive to survive – to fight their circumstances by joining causes or groups that were seeking to exploit young minds, this captivated the young audience, where generated questions one after the other and engaging in dialogue with them. The conversation was thought provoking, but what made the young audience realise was that the three key speakers had experienced the dark pits of the moments in their lives and now they had managed to resolute to a positive outlook on life; whether it was through the kindness from a stranger for whom they had once perceived them to be their enemy, or that wake up call in the prison cell, but what was ground breaking was transformation made by such figures who at one point would have been deemed to be the outcasts of society.
Individuals such as these are also the vehicles and initiatives to create opportunities for dialogues, and to challenge the very mindset that perceives violent crime to be the norm.
But the damning outcome of the two inspirational figures of whom I had met in my Youth Practitioner days, were the two grass roots youth empowerment workers, both situated in different boroughs but working to the needs of the young people within the vicinity of their residence. These were young individuals who were on the verge of marginalisation, isolation and social deprivation or even those that were involved in turf wars, drug related activities were now engaging with these Youth Practitioners who were working diligently to engage and to provide them with alternative practical solutions.
Their roles also entailed reconnecting them with the relevant resources provided by the Youth Services – such as 1-2-1 Intervention, Counselling and Mentoring something which is becoming a rare commodity for young individuals considered to be susceptible to drug related or criminal behaviours in the contemporary era. Such assets were a Beacon for our society as it helped these individuals with their ‘responsible’ and ‘transformative’ thinking to progress into making positive choices and hence changing their mindsets to become better citizens in their community/society.
Trust, time, space, feeling valued and a part of their community with the skills and talents they had was something these practitioners had empowered within these individuals. Recalling my very first shadowing experience was with Jamerson – a Detach and Out Reach Manager based at the local Youth Services, an eye opening insight for me to comprehend the post dark reality of the night life and the kind of activities that our youths were engaging in. Their reasons as explained by Jamerson was to escape domestic issues at home, fulfil their boredom, or even just to hang around with their peers outside – but the initial reason was that there were no extra curricular activities in which they could have participated in order to build a more prosperous future.
Being offered a lift by Jamerson during the dark winter night of November 2008, I was able to learn about the kind of life these young people were embracing on a remote estate, where the main local amenities was a bus ride away. Jamerson an amiable, cheery yet determined young man was hopeful that he was able to develop dialogues with the young people who were on the staircase of the estate – his odd banters had calmed my nerves as I had found my interaction with the young people on the estate pretty daunting – but one had to become resilient and I did just that.
Admittingly, walking around the estate during the cold winter night at 8pm was a daunting experience, especially as I should have been home with my 8 month old child, – especially not knowing the type of response you’ll receive when interacting with the young people – it’s almost as if I was invading their territorial space . The walk around the estate eventually led us to our first encounter with a group of 14 year olds either they were the same height or taller than myself, just breaking the ice was a challenging yet doable task for Jamerson – but at least he was making himself known to the young people who felt their lives was a waste. In the next session of the detached work, my manager and co workers were present and the local community hall was accessible situated on the estate – previously disused was brought to life with youth based projects.
This experience was just a tip of the iceberg for me to understand the necessary initiatives to be implemented to keep our young people deterred from the streets – more importantly preventing them from becoming exploited by the drug dealers or gangs who were fulfilling the needs of these targeted individuals for exploitation purpose.
Another one of the unsung hero was a man named Cipher – aka KC, I met him at a conference in Stockholm, eventually conversing about our field of work. KC explained that he had worked around the young people’s time schedule which was from 5pm – 9pm, here, he spoke of an innovative project called the Night University , whereby they were able to reach out to the young people to encourage them to engage in workshops or even educational sessions tailored around their proximity, time and thematic topics – the aim here was to provide these individuals with social, survival and interpersonal skills for which was lacking in the main stream education .
Sadly, both Jamerson and KC’s work had come to a devastating end due to the lack of funding, and now having such cuts to these services that initially would have educated, engaged and empowered these young people to reach their full potential has become a rare asset in this era. Such cuts to a fundamental need has developed a vacuum for the potential dealers to recruit our young people, more so the absence of these services have escalated into knife crimes and other crime related behaviours especially as this is becoming a common phenomenon resulting into societal concerns.
The upcoming generations, especially those involved in these crimes have a ‘push button’ outlook on life, our whole behaviour of reacting or wanting things now is pursued through a ‘send’ button on our phones, even if it means seeking revenge resulting into seizing sacred life of another. The process of reflecting on consequences of such action is absent within such minds purely because they are born into a ‘push button world’ and hence the skill of negotiating a resolution or even creating dialogues to overcome their differences with whom they consider as their ‘enemy’ is beyond (currently) doable.
As a society, we need to have a harder stance against such crimes that seizes life and life is sacred, do we have to wait for the statistics to rise in order for us to take heed of the problem which is endemic in our era?? Should there be a re-think within the ivory towers of how youth services need to be revived again and tackling such issues from a grass roots level head on, let’s face it , if boundaries are not strengthened to protect human lives then regrettably knife crimes would be categorised sooner or later as ‘petty’ but with devastating consequences more so for the families and the loved ones being left being behind.
But hope of a positive future could be restored if our Youth Services were returned tailoring to the needs of our young people – providing out of hours workshop, intervention, 1-2-1 to instil the life skills required such as critical thinking skills, transformative behaviour, civic engagement , responsible citizenship and more importantly building young entrepreneurs. We need to realise that our young people have become savvy when it comes to social media, phone devices, the virtual world of games and this needs to be curbed in a more constructive way. There needs to a rethink of how projects needs to be devised around the needs and the challenges that they are faced with, more importantly our upcoming generations need to revaluate the ‘beliefs’ and ‘values’ system to protect and nurture human life; and this can only be measured by analysing the current trends and beliefs they hold about their perspective on life.
Furthermore, in order to tackle such barriers, more needs to be done to take these young people out of their ‘comfort zones’ such as travelling to open their ‘cognitive thinking’ and to have the mutual respect for their fellow beings that are different from them to identify more on the commonness rather than the differences. Dialogues and Safe platform discussions should be a regular activity by default and not affected by the interim funding but permanent socio-economic solution to resource and invest in our current young generation.
If one wants to appreciate the value of life and prosper further, then visit the grave yards to reflect on those who have ceased to exist , and are reluctantly buried with their dreams.
Reflection, contemplation, realisation and connection is the process that needs to be taught to our upcoming generation with great role models and dedicated mentors who have a passion to help, support and guide our young ones. Instead of living on the edge due to knife crime, we could live on the human values and work for a community that seeks to thrive and foster the positive elements of human compassion, tolerance and harmony.
So my message to our young people is – ‘become the ‘Agents’ of ‘Change’ and make Humanity great again’!!