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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Poverty and the young - search for knife crime solutions part 3

ANOTHER solution area worth exploring is the alleged severe and demonising way we treat young people in Britain. By punishing those who have yet to learn to be an effective part of the country, their community, we make them more dysfunctional - and we fear them more when they don't conform. And then (in the UK) we criminalise them, arresting them for, say, hanging out. In Finland they take a different approach by working in a proactive way, working a system of systematic care for their young... while the UK is pretty roundly condemned across the world for its attitudes to youth.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has remarked on 'the general climate of intolerance and negative attitudes towards children, especially adolescents, which appears to exist in the UK, including in the media, and may be often the underlying cause of further infringements of their rights'. Interesting and thought provoking, possibly indicating poor government rule, poor childrens policies + politics, poor parenting across this nation, poor environments many have to live in, and clear prejudice + resentment among adults towards young people.

Adults seem to be afraid to look in the mirror, transferring their hidden psychological ills and failed lives and communities on to 'the young' for simply walking about. That said, maybe adults are merely a product of their difficult backgrounds as they grew up and this 'dog-eat-dog' work environment that many of us seem to bound up in. Sometimes I think some existence in this country - especially when caught up in drunken violence and street, gang + knife crime - is what is meant when life is described as 'hell on earth'!

A final most noteworthy issue in my reflections on developing solutions to knife crime comes from, among others, the World Health Organisation. Apparently, obvious poverty is not linked to violence; in fact, it's relative deprivation that is the causal link. The WHO reports that rising income inequality in Europe has resulted in an increase in numbers of murders.

And that, bearing in mind the current strong focus on tackling dodgy bankers, bullying businesses and the super-rich, makes one applaud the political and media drive to nail down those corrupt and flawed elements of capitalism that are making everyone's lives worse.

WHO reports: "Overall, good evidence indicates that violence among young people can be prevented through the organised efforts of society... And the evidence base is much stronger for interventions that adopt a public health rather than criminal justice approach, and for those that reduce risk factors and strengthen protective factors among young people early in life than for measures that seek to reduce violent behaviour once it has already emerged."

Interesting - have you noticed there are many medical conditions for young people these days? Maybe an unspoken drive by world medics to manage the murder / violence risk? Very speculative, I guess, but food for thought. 

Anyway... starting to concluding this reflective mini 'essay', good progress has pretty obviously been made highlighting the issues of knife crime and other violence to the country. And there are clearly many individuals and groups (especially those directly affected by knife crime) who have worked in local communities - and are active now - to make a difference for the public good. It is relatively clear that some reductions in knife crime have been made, at least at times. Without doubt, many are motivated to solve the problems of violence.

And so, where to now...? 

Real in-roads must be made to drive down the average violent deaths carried out daily on British streets... from two a day by, say, a third (that would be a reduction in killings of about four or five a week). Can we do that by 2020 or sooner?

That would be a real success measure of initiatives started around the start of this millennium. Don't know to be honest; feels like an ambitious goal - but no politician or government has shown the public courage, commitment or initiative to set it, as far as I have observed, so maybe it's left to the knife crime and anti-violence campaigners to do so. We can but try. Onwards...

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Examining knife crime facts in the UK for solutions - part 2

MOST of this millennium, Government data from the Home Office couldn't tell anyone much about knife crime. Thank goodness this is changing... hopefully.

But as recently as 2008, it was the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown who tried to respond to a rising sense of alarm by holding a knife crime summit while not in full possession of the facts, and David Cameron, Tory opposition party leader as he then was, who described knife crime as an epidemic and Britain as a broken society.

Both politicians were inaccurate to a great extent - or, assuming some public manipulation, do we say 'economic with the truth' - to try to make some political capital, as well as make a bit of real progress maybe, if lucky, from a time of public alarm.

Political leopards don't change their spots, it seems, and here was a classic case. At the time, Gordon Brown's team decided to use NHS statistics - which counted patients discharged from hospital with stab wounds - and claim there had been a 27% drop in numbers of stab victims. Unfortunately, hospitals hadn't finished counting the stab victims and they told the PM so. 

British politics and politicians - and civil servants + the media too - never cease to amaze me at these times with demonstrative unprofessionalism and seeming lack of realism. In this instance they went ahead and published these figures, effectively perpetuating a false myth (and dare I say using infamous spin) by announcing misleading data... and thus causing immense consternation to many, once again, about the way our governing masters operate. These figures did in fact prove to be inaccurate - yet 'don't let the truth get in the way of a good story', eh?

If you can't trust those paid and working full-time to be looking out for the British population's interests, who can you trust? And that's one of the reasons why victims of crime, knife crime or any other, find it so hard to get peace after the death of loved ones... because those supposed to represent them right up to the highest level have too often been shown up to not be in charge of their brief, not effectively helping or supporting them, innocent victims of loved ones violent deaths. Communications between victims and the powers-that-be at these times can often be relatively poor, perhaps mainly due to the immense grief, pain and mourning experienced.

Maybe I'm a little hard on these well-paid bureaucrats? You tell me. 

To be fair on those who have worked for knife crime reductions, knifings apparently dropped about 8% in 2008, probably with police attention and the huge focus and attention at the time given by knife and violent crime campaigners including this blog to make a difference.

From the above, the political process has been shown to be a real detriment to best solving problems in this country. Party politicians, keen to show they are better at law and order than the others, squabble over semantics in the public arena rather than focus time and public resources on solutions.

How much more helpful it would be to have a target to reduce knife and violent crime and all those working on that project aligned and communicating progress on a monthly or quarterly basis to the nation at large. There you would be better able to see the start of a focal point for the bereaved and injured to feel involved, and to affect positive change too possibly.

But no, that's not evident; political and media noise distorts the situation, no-one steps up to be accountable in case of failure, and everyone wonders what exactly is the true picture, who is working on the solution, how solutions will be enacted etc.

Knife crime statistics are still 'challenging' to understand. It is reprehensible of politicians and government that, with blades and other stabbing implements responsible for the largest share of killings, official crime statistics have not ever included a category for knives, right up to the end of the last millennium... How on earth do you overlook this during all that time? Because no-one has truly been accountable - and that must be a failure of government, police and civil servant management, and taxes must have been wasted without that accountability. This must be a fact, else matters would be better run and communicated.

One would feel more confident in our ruling classes if they were in command of the crime brief - but here is yet another example of these people demonstrating, as they frequently do, a high level of amateurish-ness and lack of accountability with regard to understanding and solving crime affecting the nation. It is clear that government departments, political parties and the police are not well informed and connected on issues far too often. Perhaps it keeps them in a job to run things this way? Perish the thought.

I mentioned in part 1 of this mini-essay that in the book 'Britain etc', the journalist Mark Easton (Home Editor at the BBC) reports... "As a rough average, two people are murdered every day in Britain. The most common weapon used is a blade or other sharp instrument. The most likely stab victim is a young man." In fact, a third of all murders are caused by some kind of blade or other stabbing implement.

Ffs - however you might try to rationalise it, that is terrible (although still one of the lowest killing rates recorded in the UK since medieval records were kept apparently - and lower than many other countries in the world today too).

As indicated in Easton's research, after Labour's PM Gordon Brown set up the Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP) in 2008, it was quietly buried less than a year following its formation and the authorities went back, once again, to measuring only the broad category of 'violent crime'.

But then with so many other problems in the country and world, perhaps it's not surprising that time and attention on one ill is not apparently as available (as, say, for war, foreign aid or the Olympics). And can you really knock politicians when they demonstrate natural human concern to solve such a problem?

Well, it's not about knocking them - it's about the fact they are paid full-time to solve this and other important problems. What's their plan? What is being measured regularly to check progress - and how is that effectively communicated so people know it's being done? Where is the accountability?

What do we pay our politicians and civil servants to do? Or rather, where are our taxes going if not to provide clear solutions, providing us with regular evidence that progress is being made? Much of the buck around this must stop with them.

And that completes part 2 of this blog's series looking more closely at how to solve knife crime in this country - and possibly the world. Next time, I'll look at the poverty factor causes knife crime problems and how young people are demonised in Britain leading to misbehaviour and illegal carrying and use of knives.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Solutions to the knife crime menace in the UK: part 1

WHAT progress has been made tackling knife crime in the years since this blog started? I've taken a little time out to reflect on the situation over the summer holidays... hope these reflections and evaluations prove useful.

In the book 'Britain etc', the journalist Mark Easton (Home Editor at the BBC) reports a stark but simple truth about the latest knife crime facts: "As a rough average, two people are murdered every day in Britain. The most common weapon used is a blade or other sharp instrument. The most likely stab victim is a young man." In fact, a third of all murders are caused by some kind of blade or other stabbing implement.

So, in a very clear way, that brings us right up to date with the knife crime statistics - and very terrible they are too.

So, more reflectively, my first blog post was published a few months after the fatal stabbing of Jacky Marshall, a supervisor in a McDonalds restaurant at Chichester, West Sussex, England, on a Saturday lunchtime in April 2005 when children's fun and parties were in full swing.

I was a witness who went to try to help the victim, cradling a fatally injured Jacky in my arms as her life ebbed away. It was most devastating to her family and traumatising for many, not least this anti-knife crime blog writer. The Crown's case against the killer Shane Freer was not yet begun and I had decided to try to make a difference to the wider national debate and deliberations about knife crime by starting a blog that provided focus on forming solutions and gave some kind of coherent outlet for the outpourings and anguish of those affected by this scourge of the nation.

At that time I recall an undercurrent of awareness about quite frequent knife attacks and a powerlessness to address what was sensed as a kind of invisible evil. Media attention was certainly less attentive and highly reactive. High profile cases, for example the horrendous deaths of Stephen LawrenceDamilola Taylor and Ben Kinsella, expressed national as well as local outrage - but there was possibly not the highest appropriate focus on addressing the depraved violence that was, and continues to be, a sickening hallmark of all knife crime across the nation - and of course mostly any kind of violent attack.

The parents of Stephen Lawrence parents pursued justice for their slaughtered son pretty much all the time this blog has run - see Stephen's timeline for justice. Similarly, the parents of Damilola Taylor have campaigned for solutions to problems in inner city communities (see the Damilola Taylor trust website). And then there was the Kinsella family campaigning and the formation of The Ben Kinsella Trust, led by his actress sister Brooke.

In addition to these, there are the many other victims, equally innocent and no less deserving of public attention. Pictures of many (from London) can be seen on this knife crime blog post.

And so, where are we now - really?

I've observed many groups and families affected by such crime; as well as obvious grief and a desire for comfort, they search I've noticed (sometimes unconsciously) for some kind of focal point to best channel their grief to solve the devastation of a killing that has afflicted their lives and lives of friends, relatives and of people within their local communities. They look for some kind of societal and national unity, some kind of common group, banner or standard to rally around. With this, families and friends of victims across the country - perhaps the world - would feel they can make better progress together to deter aggressive, violent, weapon-carrying behaviour. 

I've observed Government clumsily offering a little solace and resource to help. I've seen too that Government, as in many other areas, fail to properly measure, better understand and communicate about the violence issue. And yet, obviously, Government is full of people with concern and good intentions.

So how to stop the killing, the maiming with blades - or indeed with any weapon? How much closer is a solution, or achieving synergy across a variety of suggested solutions and initiatives?

My view is there is now much greater understanding about where solutions could be found. More research and knowledge about the causes of knife crime are available. But I think many campaigners and communities need to work out how to arrive at solutions more quickly. That's not a criticism; it's more about moving towards the common goal of eliminating knife crime, as much as possible, in parallel with all other campaigning. Possibly greater leadership is needed to bring all this together, perhaps more objective leaders who can help bring together all those different anti-violence initiatives, groups and individuals, and national + local officials.

Look for areas where significant differences can be made. For example, most murders are 'male-on-male', confrontational or grudge/revenge killings. 

Confrontational might typically be about a couple of alcohol-fuelled lads not intent on killing the other (initially). So reducing fights and alcohol use on Saturday nights makes sense with many police and pub security staff always involved here providing deterrents most weekends. (More killings occur on Saturdays than Mondays!) If only young men would drink more responsibly, then our streets and drinking holes would not be so fearsome at nights.

Grudge killings however tend to be premeditated and weapons are carried to the scene, frequently linked to gangs with boys and teenaged men aged 10 to 19. Some 13% of these 'gangsters' have carried knives in the previous year, according to research. Killings happen due to being 'dissed' - disrespected, disparaged, or simply feeling treated with such contempt. 

These people really need to 'grow up' in this tough, modern world, take some personal responsibility for their lives and actions - but they can't seem to deal with 'tough' - they prefer silencing problems with weapons; it seems an easier solution.

But you can't say that to them perhaps... it would be likely to make things worse.

And of course, what this country's business and political leaders offer as an alternative to aggressive weapon-carriers doesn't appear that appealing or palatable i.e. hard work with no guarantee of decent wages, pension, reasonable prices, decent home, affordable taxes etc. And not forgetting corrupt banks, greedy psychopathic corporations, bullying workplaces and the like. And not forgetting too, research tells us, the 'dog-eat-dog' work environment as dictated by business, political and local leaders, especially in the UK. It's a world many do not want, do not want to participate in (especially young men). There's little in it for them. Using a knife or a gun with violence brings some control to some people's lives, it seems.

In my next post I reflect on the knife crime statistics in more detail and also examine in a fairly broad sense the causes of knife crime, specifically poverty. Check back here when you get chance. Thanks for reading.