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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.

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