Mur­ders bring fo­cus on knife crime

But the main cause of UK cap­i­tal’s ris­ing vi­o­lence re­mains un­known

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By JONATHAN POW­ELL in Lon­don jonathan@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk.com

The UK cap­i­tal’s soar­ing knife vi­o­lence shows no sign of stop­ping, with sev­eral stab­bings in re­cent days.

Since Oct 31, five men have been stabbed to death on the streets of Lon­don — the youngest vic­tim just 15.

This takes the to­tal num­ber of homi­cides in the city this year to 119, in­clud­ing 74 stab­bings and 12 shoot­ings. This com­pares to 116 for the whole of last year. In to­tal, there were 39,332 knife crimes com­mit­ted in Eng­land and Wales in 2017-18, com­pared to 23,945 in 2013-14 — a 39 per­cent in­crease.

To put homi­cides in per­spec­tive, Ber­lin recorded 91 homi­cides in 2017 and Madrid saw 39, while data from 2016 shows Am­s­ter­dam had 19, and Rome had 21 mur­ders, although the pop­u­la­tions of th­ese Eu­ro­pean cities are smaller than Lon­don’s. Out­side the Eu­ro­pean Union, Venezuela’s cap­i­tal Cara­cas had the most homi­cides in 2017, with 3,387. Be­tween 1990 and 2003, Lon­don’s av­er­age mur­der rate was 173.

Lon­don Mayor Sadiq Khan has said it could take a whole gen­er­a­tion to solve Lon­don’s vi­o­lent crime prob­lem, and that to “re­ally make sig­nif­i­cant progress could take up to 10 years”.

The rea­son be­hind the ris­ing vi­o­lence re­mains un­known. A leaked gov­ern­ment re­port stated that po­lice cuts “likely con­trib­uted” to the prob­lem. How­ever, ex­perts also point to fac­tors in­clud­ing sin­gle par­ent fam­i­lies, men­tal health is­sues, school ex­clu­sions, cuts to youth ser­vices, an in­flux of drugs, so­cial me­dia and even vi­o­lent mu­sic.

Ac­cord­ing to City Hall fig­ures, po­lice cov­er­age in Lon­don is at its low­est rate in 20 years, with 3.3 po­lice of­fi­cers for ev­ery thou­sand Lon­don­ers — the low­est rate since 1998 and 19 per­cent lower than in 2010.

Re­search on peo­ple treated for knife wounds at the Royal Lon­don Hos­pi­tal be­tween 2004 and 2014 shows a sharp in­crease in ca­su­al­ties aged 14-16. The num­ber of all un­der­25s stabbed rose 25 per­cent each year dur­ing that decade, ac­cord­ing to find­ings in the BMJ Open med­i­cal jour­nal.

As vi­o­lence has in­creased, the use of stop and search by po­lice has fallen: from 1.4 mil­lion searches in 2008 to un­der 400,000 in 2016.

But ar­rest­ing young peo­ple won’t stop knife crime, said Labour MP David Lammy, whose Tot­ten­ham con­stituency has seen in­creased blood­shed. Writ­ing in the Guardian, he high­lighted Met­ro­pol­i­tan po­lice files that show half of all deaths in­volv­ing knives are di­rectly linked to the drugs trade and gang turf wars.

“Knife crime is not be­ing driven by youths. It is be­ing driven by a so­phis­ti­cated net­work of vet­eran or­ga­nized crim­i­nals,” Lammy said. “This isn’t about kids in track­suits car­ry­ing knives, it’s about men in suits car­ry­ing brief­cases. It is se­ri­ous crim­i­nal net­works that are ex­ploit­ing our young peo­ple, arm­ing them to the teeth and send­ing them out to fight turf wars.”

Glas­gow unit

In Septem­ber, a Lon­don Vi­o­lence Re­duc­tion Unit was set up mir­ror­ing the ap­proach taken in Glas­gow, where vi­o­lence is treated as a pub­lic health is­sue and “a dis­ease in­fect­ing com­mu­ni­ties”.

Barry Mizen, whose 16-year-old son Jimmy lost his life in an un­pro­voked at­tack in a bak­ery in 2008, said the pub­lic health ap­proach makes sense, but isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the so­lu­tion.

“Glas­gow is com­pletely dif­fer­ent, and the race di­vides there aren’t the same as in Lon­don.

“We’re cur­rently sit­ting be­hind this rhetoric of in­creased pun­ish­ment be­ing the so­lu­tion, but it’s mis­guided. The sen­tences for con­victed mur­ders are get­ting longer, but it doesn’t make a dif­fer­ence.

“We have to change the per­cep­tion that politi­cians and po­lice can solve this. It’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity for all of us. What are we pre­pared to do in our own com­mu­ni­ties to make them safer and con­nected? That’s what we ask young peo­ple when we visit schools with our Safe Havens pro­gram.”

Mizen be­lieves that, ul­ti­mately, curb­ing the drugs sup­ply is the only way to stop the vi­o­lence.

“Hu­man na­ture is this way, if there is money to be made, it will be. If only we could find a way to re­duce or re­move drug prof­its then that might make an im­pact. But we don’t know that le­gal­iz­ing drugs wouldn’t be equally or even more dev­as­tat­ing.”

Key so­lu­tion

Ed­u­ca­tion in schools and stronger com­mu­ni­ties are cited by ex­perts as key.

“The so­cial com­po­nent, and un­der­em­ploy­ment in­clud­ing ‘gig’ em­ploy­ment, in cer­tain bor­oughs, is a ma­jor rea­son for the in­crease in knife crime in Lon­don,” said Zhang Yuxi, a so­cial pol­icy PhD can­di­date at Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity.

Zhang said large-scale vi­o­lence re­duc­tion ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns such as “Lon­don Needs You Alive” and “Drop Your Knife” may be com­pelling, but what is needed for the ef­fec­tive mo­bi­liza­tion of so­cial forces is a fun­da­men­tal change in at­ti­tudes and dis­course, led by gov­ern­ment and me­dia, but also from the gen­eral pub­lic.

All of those con­cerned seem em­phatic in stat­ing a shift in per­spec­tive is re­quired. It re­quires lead­er­ship to cre­ate stronger com­mu­ni­ties, said Mizen.

“Sadiq Khan says we need to work to­gether on this, well he needs to be more spe­cific — how do we in­ter­act more in groups? Sep­a­rate en­ti­ties aren’t build­ing com­mu­ni­ties, and Sadiq can do more to drive com­mu­nity co­he­sion.

“We’re des­per­ate to stop lives be­ing lost now, and that change has to be driven by lead­er­ship, but there must be buy-in from youth as well, and all of us. If we want a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion, what are we pre­pared to do?”

Zou Shuyue in Lon­don con­trib­uted to this story.

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