Knives are to Britain what guns are to America. Or at least that is how the debate of knife crime has emerged in the spate of the dozen stabbings that have occurred in the first three months of this year. Only last night (03.04.19), two teenagers were stabbed outside the Tesco in Harrow and Metropolitan Officers were immediately present on scene at Station Road. The police authorities in the early hours tweeted about the "two 15 yr olds - one male/one female - found with stab/slash injuries - neither person has life threatening injuries."
The Home Secretary has invoked section 60 that empowers the police to stop and search people without “reasonable suspicion”. They have also compelled the school teachers to help spotting the “young persons who could be in danger”. The government it seems has finally woken up to the knife crime “disease” and the community has come forward to fight it together. But the question remains, does banning single use kitchen knife, really deal with the root causes of knife crime?
Niharika* works as a part-time waitress at a local pub-restaurant in the Camden borough of London in the after hours of University. Irregular work shifts means that she often travels home alone at odd hours with nothing but a pepper spray and her mobile phone as a defence weapon against drunk or harassing assailants. Although, Camden to Queensbury is a merely thirty minute commute, she stays a further ten minute walk down the tube station, a distance, she says, she is not comfortable walking home especially at odd hours. On most nights, she would message her father right as she nears her destination, so that he is there in time to pick her up.
Defense mechanism: A Pepper spray and a mobile phone
“I used to carry a pocket knife until a few weeks ago but only for my safety. But since my parents came to know about it, they have me carrying a pepper spray now,” she says.
She talks about the fear she had spotted in her mother's eyes when she had discovered about her carrying the weapon and the discussion that followed where she understood the risk of being handcuffed. Ever since, she had taken to these measures of carrying a pepper spray, notifying her father and speaking to her friends on days when she had no choice but to walk home. But she is not the only one who feels that Queensbury has relatively become an insecure area.
“There is a lot of drugs being exchanged just round the corner and this has been happening since the last two years. The Romanian teenager [Florin Pitic] was found bleeding after midnight last week, and it is understood that it was someone from within the gang who hit him,” said Srinivasan*, a local shopkeeper around the area.
Cash and carry: Drugs and anti-social behaviour
Srinivasan has been running the corner shop for over a decade now and he says that substance abuse, harassment and anti-social behaviour has become something of a norm in the area. Two men — both 23 and from North London — have been arrested on suspicion of murder and are being questioned by police. But even local restaurants around the area reported about how “this kind of stuff (gang culture and stabbing) keeps happening and we have become used to dealing with it now,” said Ramesh*, owner of a local restaurant in the area. According to latest reports, criminals have been given “carte blanche” to rob and attack shop-keepers because neither the police nor the courts intervene in such incidents.
The most common perception around knife crime is the claim that race, and “Afro-Caribbean black people” specifically, are inherent to London’s knife crime epidemic. However, local residents around the area believe that class as opposed to race play a critical and a bigger role in street violence and in measures adopted to tackle them.
“Many kids hanging around these areas after hours are white kids, mostly Eastern Europeans -probably Polish or Romanians- but most of them work odd jobs and there is general poverty in their households,” said a local resident who also works at a cafe in Kenton but wished to stay anonymous.
Akala, the famous rapper had recently taken twitter by a storm where in a video he is seen dispelling the misconceptions associated with knife crime. In an interview with Ciaran Thappar for Vice, Akala had said-
“None of that excuses teenagers or makes it okay, but given the link between [a person’s] exposure to domestic violence and [their propensity for] street violence, you’d think we’d have a conversation about that.”
200% to council youth services and operation sceptre
According to Sian Berry’s report 'London’s Lost Youth Services 2019', there is a 46% cut in the budget for tackling knife crime since 2011-12. This report was prepared by analysing data supplied through Freedom of Information by 26 of the 32 boroughs of London. According, to the same report Harrow has allocated the largest budget to council youth services from £474,186 in 2011-12 to £1,028,214 in 2018-19 which is over 200% funds allocated for fighting knife crime.
Councillor Krishna Suresh, is the Lead Member for Crime and Community Safety at Harrow Council. Last year he supported the Harrow Police together with Brent and Barnet Police as part of a knife crime campaign, Operation Sceptre, which aimed to reduce the number of people – especially young people, carrying knives. However, he remained unavailable to comment on the subject.
But the question that remains is, whether allocation of funds and deployment of necessary police officials for midnight patrols enough to curb what is a “deep-seated” problem?
Support system: Youth clubs, communities and charities
Dr. Mark Prince OBE is the founder of the Kiyan Prince Foundation (KPF). Mark has shared his experience of carrying a knife when he felt threatened in the 1980s and using it as a defense mechanism against any potential assault. However, in 1998 he lost his son Kiyan who was stabbed to death by Hannad Hasan after standing up to him against his bullying. The 16-year-old who killed him used a Swiss Army knife.
Kiyan Prince never carried a knife, but the loss of his son led to the foundation of KPF in Finchley. The charity provides support to the young and vulnerable by holding regular sessions on motivational speaking, training, education and even providing boxing lessons as an alternate channelisation of anger. He has been running the KPF for 12 years, mostly in isolation and has only recently received funds for the cause.
“Banning knives, doesn't solve the root problem. And education is not enough either, we need to understand the deeper causes and communicate with these vulnerable people,” he said to the Asian Voice in December when he had received the Queen's honorary award in December.
Condemning the role that bigger organisations such as Nike play in unconsciously promoting the gang culture, through their advertisements, he said-
“Nike came out with an advertisement featuring a young black model, I think it was promoting Balaclava but they need to be more careful about the social implications of such advertisements.”
Having received heavy social media backlash Nike had withdrawn the £69 balaclava, which was part of the Nikelab x MMW range. The company came out with a statement where it said- “These products were part of a wider Nike Training collection, styled on different models and available in multiple markets around the world.
“However, we must do more to help protect our children from harm. Incoming regulation under the Digital Economy Act will require the use of age-gates on adult-only websites. There is no reason why this approach cannot be replicated across websites that sell age-restricted goods,” said Alastair Graham, CEO of AgeChecked.
AgeChecked is a company that provides systems that can be integrated into websites that provide age-restricted goods and services to ensure that underage individuals cannot access them.
Over the last few years the Mayor of London has often blamed Tory austerity for the cuts on the funds allocated to the police forces to curb knife crime. Furthermore, according to Sian Berry’s report the councils are proposing a £1.2 million cut in the coming year. According to the data supplied by the Home Office there were 39,818 knife crime offences in the 12 months ending September 2018 and in a city of 7 million people. Amidst such heightened tensions, local communities, charities and youth clubs have pitched in volunteers and youth workers working in “postcodes” to ensure that prevention is better than cure.
While the government has come up with the proposal of asking the doctors and nurses to report the “young persons who could be in danger”. But, at the same time Berry's report highlights that out of 234 youth clubs that existed in 2011-12, 104 of them have closed down in 2018-19.
So, while Asda might ban the sale of single use kitchen knife after emerging reports that these were the most stolen, there are concerns among communities that this might encourage a parallel black market that feeds into the gang culture.
And most importantly, temples and other places of worship are on full alert following the New Zealand Mosque attacks and the vandalism of the Birmingham Mosques. With last year being London's bloodiest in almost a decade, as the number of homicides reached 135, the plague of knife crime doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon.
Controversy surrounding Kirpan and faith
The kirpan is carried by Sikhs as a symbol of their faith. British Sikhs can continue to buy and possess kirpans without fear of being sent to jail after amendments in the Offensive Weapons were passed by the UK Parliament only recently.
Knife crime incidents as of 2nd April:
On January 1, two people were fatally stabbed in separate knife attacks in the capital,.
On February 8, Aliny Mendes, 39, was stabbed to death outside a school in Cheam, Surrey, Greater London.
On February 18 a man died at The Wesley Hotel, near Euston Station after being knifed.
On February 21, a 23-year-old-man was stabbed in Lambeth.
On March 2, a 17-year old girl was founded knifed to death in a playground in Romford.
On March, 7, 17-year-old Ayub Hassan was knifed multiple times outside a Waitrose supermarket near West Kensington Tube station.
On March 9, a 19-year-old was in a critical condition after he was stabbed in the chest on the 134 bus at Colney Hatch Lane, Muswell Hill.
On March 10, a 19-year-old was stabbed in East Dulwich in south east London.
On March 12, a 20-year-old died after being hit and left bleeding at Queensbury Station.
On March 22, a 17-year-old boy was stabbed to death in Isleworth, West London after being chased by two attackers.
On March 23, four people were stabbed - three teens and man in his 20s – in three separate attacks.
On March 24, a man in his 40s in Hackney was stabbed.
On March 25, a 54-year-old Ravi Katharkamar was stabbed to death "for a few pounds" while opening his newsagents in Pinner, North West London.
On March 28, a 17-year-old was repeatedly stabbed in Markhouse Road, in Walthamstow, East London.
On March 29, a 24-year-old Zahir Visiter was stabbed to death for a £60,000 watch before the knifemen fled into a mosque near Regent's Park.
On the same day a man in his 40s and named locally as dad-of-three Gavin Garraway, was knifed to death in Clapham, South London.
On March 31, four attacks took place in the space of 14 hours on the streets of North London.
On April 2, fifth attack with a man in his 30s, was left with life-threatening injuries when he was stabbed in Aberdeen Road, Enfield, north London at about 5am on Tuesday.