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What will stop the killings?
Kids stabbing kids is not sexy but media outlets, politicians and the police could be accused of thinking differently.
It makes for great news, great policies and great sound bites. It also makes it easier to gather support for increasing controversial tactics like stop-and-search. But these establishments all fail to provide solutions, real solutions, to ending street violence.
Last Tuesday, armed with my video camera and notebook, this intrepid 21st century journalist joined a march against gun and knife crime led by Gladesmore School. I say Gladesmore School, rather than young people from Gladesmore School, because I suspect it was the teachers and not the students who were the driving force.
Yes, the teenagers smiled and waved with unparalleled levels of youthful exuberance - but it was also the start of summer, a glorious day while a Choice FM DJ played hot tunes on the decks.
Speaking to young people it became far too obvious that to them stabbings were just another part of everyday life. Hoping to secure some decent quotes from teenagers to reinforce my story (that marches like theirs could change the world) I asked for their thoughts on the issue.
The feedback was disheartening but provided a sharp dose of reality nonetheless.
Many of them had friends who had been killed or carried knives. News of a stabbing provoked little more than a dismissive shrug of the shoulders. Turf wars really do exist - young men really cannot leave their immediate area for fear of getting into a fight. In their eyes, the Government doesn’t care; the police are out to get them; youth clubs are uncool; nobody understands.
And what can be more disheartening than not having anyone to understand you?
I was told that most young people carry knives for protection. That those who carry out the stabbings do so to ensure it’s not them lying on the ground with a knife in their side. Many who were stabbed were the ones who couldn’t get their weapon to hand quickly enough, they said. It’s a dog eat dog world, “shank or be shanked”. That’s “stab” to those who aren’t in the know.
Our young people are clearly trying to say something — they are scared on the streets. Some of these young people live in the most desperate and deprived areas in our country: on council estates, in 20-storey blocks of poverty where prostitutes sell sexual favours from the pram sheds (I did a story on it). And this is all they’ve got.
Their schools are in catchment areas where expectations are low, disillusionment is infectious, and academic success is limited. Those who make it out, are faced with an unforgiving class-conscious society that will judge them on where they came from.
So if we really want to help, how can we? By locking up those who carry knives? By marching? Forcing them into national service? I think not.
Young people need someone who will listen and understand their reality. They need a government which doesn’t just want to win votes by saying the things that will slate the opposition and right-wing media outlets baying for blood. They need a police service that won’t treat them as suspects before they have committed a crime. And they need more avenues to help them see beyond their grim reality. Most importantly, they need something to aspire to and help getting there.
These are my thoughts anyway. So I posed the question to the young people and what did they ask for? Something to do.