Khulisa’s Youth Advisory Board meets every month to discuss a particular topic. The discussion for this session focussed on knife crime - a subject that’s dominated headlines in recent months, with serious youth violence now being named a 'social emergency' by the UK Government's Home Affairs Committee. In this piece, our Youth Engagement Advisor Joely Harris-Tharp introduces the subject and shares some of the discussions that took place.
It was really important to hear from our members how they feel about a growing issue for young people growing up in London – knife crime. There are many reasons young people become involved in knife crime, but one of the main reasons we hear for carrying a knife is protection. We also hear that you can just be ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ and have nothing to do with the people that are causing trouble. From experience, I’ve heard a lot of people say “if you stab them in the bum it’s not as bad”, and that’s really not true. Many of the young people that joined for this discussion were unaware that even if you haven’t used a knife you are caught carrying, you can still be arrested and charged.
We started the session by sharing some statistics and exploring the group’s reactions to them.
- The peak age for carrying a knife is 15 (The Guardian, April 2019)
- Hospital admissions for under 16's injured by a knife have increased 93% since 2012 (The Guardian)
- Over 70% of young people in the UK are exposed to serious violence in real life at least once a month (Youth Violence Commission, 2018)
- 33% of young people know at least one person who carries a weapon and 7% know more than 10 people who do. (Youth Violence Commission, 2018)
What was scary was that no-one in the group was shocked, having seen and heard the reality behind these statistics in their neighbourhoods and peer groups. We then used ‘sociograms’ – one of Khulisa’s tools for debating topics – sharing opinions and exploring beliefs and attitudes. Here are some of the statements we put to our members and their responses:
Does carrying a knife make people safer?
G: ”I didn’t personally feel safe carrying a knife. It was out of character for me, walking down the road with something on me made me really self-conscious and made me feel like everyone was looking at me. I did it to protect a friend who was terrified . She didn’t want to involve the police so she took it into her own hands. A kind of eye-for-an-eye thing. But what this person didn’t think about was joint enterprise – just because you’re holding a knife for someone else doesn’t mean you’re any less involved. Doing things like this makes the kids from the area feel like they are getting street cred. They’re pressured to do something they may not want to.”
J: “People are living in fear, but we shouldn’t have to live like this. Boys are more predatory. When you live in a loud estate you don’t feel comfortable. Since more people are carrying knives, I’ve seen an evolution of arguments. Now knives are shown during conflicts as a threat or warning. When I go to ends that aren’t mine I get ‘G-checked’ – people ask what ends you’re from to check that you’re a safe enough visitor in their ends. The beef will never be over, nothing gets settled, no one shakes hands.”
G: “People always jump to conclusions. People don’t talk and important conversations don’t happen.”
N: “I’ve seen people chased down the street by groups of people with knives. Your own knife that you’ve bought to protect you can be used against you. People don’t think about their family and how it might affect them. People are stashing knives everywhere.”
J: “In a community, no one will approach a conflict when a knife is there, so there’s never any mediation from strangers anymore. Young boys all share the same mentality, they’re brainwashed by elders in the ‘brotherhood’ and old conflicts are handed down. Once you’re involved you stop going to school, have no GCSE’s and your opportunities to do anything else get smaller and smaller.”
Is fear a sign of weakness?
J: “Yes it is. Fear makes you an underdog. You can’t turn around and do a weak ting. Showing fear makes you a target. This shit is scary but showing fear might make it worse.”
“Fear is human nature. You feel what you feel. Young boys are taught that it is a sign of weakness – 'man up', 'be a man'. I think fear turns into anger if you don’t learn how to manage it.” - G
G: “But people get PTSD. They can’t get help because they’ve been part of a crime. They’re stuck. Then they smoke and drink and become more likely to contribute to a gang because they can’t find that help they need. They’re too far in.”
What do you think needs to happen to tackle knife crime?
G: “Stop cutting funding. They’ve even cut free school meals in primary schools! It makes people more vulnerable to criminal activity to get their needs met!”
J: “We need to learn about this stuff from primary school and help transition into secondary school. Teach kids about knife crime before it’s too late. Every school should have drop down days on stuff like this so they have an understanding.”
G: “I think criminality is a health issue. Don’t criminalise antisocial people, they are often the most traumatised. We need to help these people.