Jodie Chesney. Seventeen years old. Dead. Stabbed in the back, having been listening to music in the park, playing with friends.
Yousef Makki. Seventeen years old. Dead. Knifed hours after telling his parents he’d be “home for tea”, having been said to be visiting a friend.
These two young people, blessed with such potential, were murdered just in this past week.
Jaden Moodie, a fourteen-year-old, mercilessly knocked off a moped by a black Mercedes, before being repeatedly stabbed in a thirty-second bloodbath by three male suspects. He is dead. He was the first teenager to lose his life to a blade in 2019.
Nedim Bilgin. Seventeen. Dead. Lajean Richards. Nineteen. Dead. Kamali Gabbidon-Lynck. Nineteen. Dead. Sidali Mohamed. Sixteen. Dead. Abdulllah Muhammad. Sixteen. Dead. Hazrat Umar. Eighteen. Dead. Connor Brown. Eighteen. Dead.
Ten names, ten teenagers, ten teenage deaths from knives in 2019 already. Five in London. Three in Birmingham. One in Manchester. One in Sunderland. Monday, a gang of twelve turned up to a college to confront a rival gang, wielding knives and donning balaclavas. That was in Lancashire. This is a nationwide problem, which only makes it all the more frightening.
And we are barely out of February.
Knife offences in general are up 31% to 42,957 from figures in 2017. There was an 8% increase in hospital admissions for assault by a sharp object from the 2016/17 period to the 2017/18 period. The number of knife murders was at its highest level since 1946, at 285 in 2017/18. That was the year following the end of World War Two, a time of national ruin and rebuilding. The current state of our society does not quite compare.
Something needs to be done.
I, as a young person, am scared. My parents are scared. My friends are scared. Society is scared.
And that is part of the problem. As it turns out, young people are not just the victims of these repugnant crimes – increasingly, they are the perpetrators too. As Dr. Tim Bateman, a reader in youth justice at the University of Bedfordshire, states, “young people carry weapons when they feel that they need to protect themselves”. One of the reasons then, it seems, that youngsters are carrying knives is that they are scared that other young people are doing just the same. As a concept, it is troublesomely logical, and often used as justification for the gun laws in America – if I am likely to encounter someone likely to have a weapon, then it is best that I am armed too, in the off-chance that I do encounter them.
A logical concept, yes, but one that is destroying communities, wrecking lives, and killing people.
“That’s the thing with knife violence – it damages everyone”
The effect such fear has on a community is devastating. I spoke to a Nottingham student (who seeks to remain anonymous), whose little, close-knit village was horridly scarred by a robbery on a local store by someone wielding a machete. Thankfully, no one was harmed, but as they put it, “it’s a small community so it worried everyone”. And that’s the thing with knife violence – it damages everyone. Children and parents alike were petrified. The student said bleakly, “It’s unfortunate that this society forces so many people to have to be careful even in the day because people would do stuff like that”.
We live in a sick world.
Of course, fear of others is not the only reason young people carry knives – for them to be fearful in the first place, there must be youngsters out there willing to use the knives irrespective of any threat – the problem is identifying what spurs these people to see it fit to use a knife in the first place. The answer is complicated, a multifactorial problem that raises issues of culture, race and welfare.
“Poverty, domestic abuse and expulsion from school are all childhood factors that can drive youngsters into dark corners”
Akala, a rapper and author well-informed on the subject, stated in a Channel 4 interview that we need to “work with poverty, worth with domestic abuse” in order to find solutions. Poverty, domestic abuse and expulsion from school are all childhood factors that can drive youngsters into dark corners where desperation fuels criminal deeds. They contribute to financial instability and a disparate family life (many point to inept parenting as an issue) – both factors which drive young people into joining the relative security of a gang.
The fact that joining a toxic brotherhood of violence, drugs and illegalities is considered ‘relatively secure’ indicates just how terrible the circumstances are that some young people find themselves in.
“Some youngsters are born into the gang lifestyle”
Some youngsters are born into the gang lifestyle. It’s part of their area. A family thing. A culture thing. Some may argue, a race thing, especially given the prevalence of young black gang-on-gang crime in areas like London, where the knife offences per 100,000 are twice as high as anywhere else in the country. Many in the black community disagree with this assertion, with Akala stating that “racial explanations are a sort of way out for the powers that be”, and Justin Finlayson, who founded the charity United Borders to attempt to unite gangs in North London, pointing to “institutional racism that has to be dealt with”, speaking in a Good Morning Britain debate.
Others counter that statistically speaking, young black people are the ones who need to be looked at as the most likely to commit knife crime in the capital, and thus that an increased prevalence of black people being stopped in stop-and-searches is an unfortunate consequence of that. The counter to that is that it alienates black youngsters and is another example of a person outside of the black community instructing them on how to act in a situation this outsider cannot truly understand, raising questions of privilege.
What occurs is a messy circle of racial, social and ethical arguments that need to be made, but the reality is as politicians sit at tables debating these things, kids are dying. We need solutions, and we need them now.
Part 2 of 2 can be found here.