by Mohamed Ibrahim
Monday, January 20, 2020
According to the Greater London Authority (the London Mayor’s Office) knife crime has been defined as an “offence of homicide, attempted murder, and assault with intent to cause harm, where a knife or sharp instrument has been used to injure or use as a threat”. The issue knife crime murders in London have reached epidemic levels. In 2018 there were recorded 133 knife crime murders and this alarming trend has continued into 2019 with figures reaching 149 deaths in December 2019. One wonders (in fear) what 2020 has in store for us all in London? As I write this tonight, my ink has yet to dry when three fatalities from knife crime have been reported in 2020. On current trends, one thing is clear. Doing same measures/business as usual won’t change much. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-51171184
This alarming trend is disproportionally impacting on the lives of BAME communities across London. Since 2017 to November 2019 we have lost (approximately) 26 British/Somali youths to knife crime, devastating families and their place in the world and beyond. One can look at this matter as a BAME problem and (dis-functional families) leading to high level of knife crime and deviations. This is relevant, but is too simplistic.
At grass-root level, I have found that some of the key factors underpinning the problem of knife crime stem from the knock on effects of austerity, schools exclusions, family breakdown, and complex hostile environments resulting in youths resorting to violence as means of solution.
The problem is multi-faceted and complex in nature as it touches upon all forms of public policy such as welfare, education, National Health Service (NHS), law enforcement and Social Services. Combinations of parental failures, rise of post code gangs and - political choices made by government to opt for austerity has affected policing resources and interventionist measures intended to reduce crime - central causes that are attributed to knife crime deaths.
Efforts by the authorities to prevent knife offenders from committing knife crime and different strategies developed so far to deter them becoming involved in this criminal acts has proven to be ineffective, including measures targeting the online sale of knives to young people, which has not yielded the desired outcome as underage youth gangs/groups are able to buy and carry out knife attacks on their targeted victims.
This substantial matter is affecting young people, their families and wider communities in London with no end in sight. To highlight the challenging complexities of the subject, there is a case in point, which underscores the upheavals and suffering of families affected by the issue. In a recent tragic case, a young person informed his mother he was not willing to go to college on the day he was to be killed by a gang. His mother failed to comprehend/ understand the concerns her son was communicating – and further encouraged him to attend college that day, citing how education is critical to his prospects. Having reluctantly listened to his mother respectively, he left for college and unfortunately was killed in the afternoon of 12th September 2019 near his college in Edgware, North West London by a gang of youths wielding knifes. This case was reported well by the London Evening Standard newspaper.
One cannot imagine the pain and suffering the mother of the pupil is going through. The case is still being investigated, but what it underscores is a level of misunderstanding, disconnect and parental gap between parents and their children, which is widespread today. The first critical agency that needs to be empowered urgently is the parents who have failed or misunderstand the gang culture and the modern dynamics faced by young people today. https://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/edgware-road-murder-stabbing-victim-didn-t-want-to-go-to-college-on-day-he-was-killed-a4235051.html
I have found that the Metropolitan Police Service can no longer rely on community policing or intelligence led policing due to scarce resources, forcing the police to prioritise which crimes to prevent, often left to attend the scene of the crime after the criminal act has taken place. This is a politically sensitive area and the Police Service cannot actually comment on this. So their hands are tied behind their back, unable to comment but work and prioritise with the resources they have been allocated to.
Our experience has found that gangs and drug lords now have the confidence to get away with their crimes or have no respect/fear for authority/law. Drug dealing/postcode violence has been marketed for profit/business as part of a normal market activity in parts of inner London, now reaching the Home Counties. Some do not even care about the consequences of their crimes for others or to themselves. For some, the matter touches upon health policy because their menace requires a medical intervention through the use of Mental Health Act. This issue now borders the threshold for national security matter because such incident terrorises and leaves communities in fear for their place in society and beyond. It takes the oxygen out of communities and the safety of London as a global vibrant city.
The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has recently taken a lead on the issue of serious youth violence in UK. Their initial enquiry carried out between 2017 and 2019 has identified the following issues and recommendations to government:
· No clear government focus on keeping people save from rising levels of violence
· Government Failing to intervene in serious organised gang crime
· The need to find additional funding for policing
· The need for far greater intelligence led stop and search measures
· Investment in Neighbourhood policing in the next Treasury’s Spending Review 2020
In response to these recommendations, the government has acknowledged the rise in serious violence across UK, particularly knife crime in London. There is now a greater political consensus across all parties to act quickly.
However, it is not clear whether this renewed emphasis will translate into political action/policies at central and local level to stem the level of serious violence and knife crime in London.
In the era of Brexit where all the political debates/discussions have been consumed by Brexit, which has (potentially) adversely affected all areas of government policy making, taking political capital, energy and attention from other critical issues of governing UK, we wait to see what the new UK government administration does to tackle this epidemic, which is devastating families, hindering our common safety and confidence from our London streets.
At community level, we are rightly engaged in community work (in good faith). However, good faith only is not good enough. While the issue of youth violence is complex in nature, our foresight and approach to community development is not effective, disjoined and most often leaves us chasing our own shadows, losing sight of the bigger picture at grassroots and policy level.
Considering our acute finite resources and capacities, one does not expect us to move heaven and earth to realise change, but at administrative level, we have not even given evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee (to put) to record the number of British Somali youths that have lost their lives to youth violence between 2017 -2019. This is a monumental collective failure, which questions whether we are fit for purpose as community stakeholders. This is the least we could have done to do justice to the (roughly) 26 young lives lost to youth violence between 2017 and 2019 https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/serious-violence-inquiry-17-19/.
Going ford-ward, we now have a new government administration with a clear political purpose and vigour. As a youth activists we would like to advice/urge our government to urgently fully implement the recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee in full at the next Treasury’s Spending Review 2020.
In the final analysis, the level of violence we are witnessing in our great city of London is no longer a community problem only but a government policy and policing problem. Doing the same measures (in good faith) is not no longer working or conducive to public safety and safer London streets and beyond.
Mohamed Ibrahim: Director of London Somali Youth Forum