Is it too late to stop knife crime?

By - Monday 28th April, 2014

As Croydon recovers from a spate of recent knife-related incidents, Shaniqua Benjamin reflects on how deeply young people are affected by knife culture

Image taken by author and used with permission.

In January, the Croydon community was rocked by the news of six stabbings in just ten days, including that of a 12-year-old boy. This month, two other stabbings have taken place within less than a week. On 19th April, a man in his twenties was stabbed during a fight in Thornton Heath, and on 24th April, a 52-year-old man was murdered after being stabbed by a 23-year-old in South Croydon.

In spite of a decrease in reported knife crime figures, it continues to present itself as a serious threat that need needs to be addressed immediately.

It was a culture shock to hear about the stabbing of a 12-year-old boy, as it confirmed the level of influence we have on the younger generation, as they are easier to manipulate and willing to repeat the mistakes of their elders.

Eliza Rebeiro from the charity, Lives Not Knives, feels that the “sense of caring about others has gone out the window”, which is why young people do not think twice about using a knife. However, they need to recognise that knife crime has a widespread effect, which impacts the lives of the families and friends of both the victim and the offender.

Before it was just a bond of friendship but grief touches you in a different way

I watched my 17-year-old cousin sit in shock and disbelief as she tried to process the news that a friend of hers from school had died from stab wounds. She said, “You hear about knife crime all the time but… you just don’t expect it to happen to someone you know”. However, it had a greater effect on her year group as a whole: “It really brought us all back together… Before it was just a bond of friendship but grief touches you in a different way and you don’t forget who was grieving beside you”.

Rebeiro believes that there should be more of “young people working with young people”, as it works. Kenneth Owusu, a 21-year-old man also from Lives Not Knives, has received positive feedback on his visits to schools, when he speaks to students about gangs and knife- and gun-crime, and conducts activities based on stereotyping. Owusu has learned that knife crime “doesn’t shock them as much as it would have shocked us a while ago”, but he is sometimes surprised by the stereotypes that children give when drawing what they think a gang member would look like.

However, Rebeiro is adamant that change is the key – “there needs to be actual change in [young people’s] lives and everyone’s lives. We’ve become so immune to caring and our own emotions; until that changes what can we really do as people?”

When I’m in my uniform, people look at me like I’m an actual human being

In order for change to take place, we not only need to address why young people insist on carrying and using knives, but our treatment of each other.

Stereotyping is a huge issue in our society, among children, young and older people alike. I spoke to a 19-year-old male named Tyrone and a 21-year-old man named Machaiah – both young men are from Croydon and both young men joined the army. When they are in their uniforms, they say that people look at them differently and Tyrone went even further to say, “When I’m in my uniform, people look at me like I’m an actual human being”.

Respect is also a factor that needs great consideration, as a distorted version of respect seems to have arisen in our society. Some young people carry knives or carry out stabbings in an attempt to demand the respect they believe that they deserve.

Why do young people feel so unsafe?

Rebeiro strongly believes that there should be a greater emphasis on children not only respecting their teachers but respecting each other, as there are too many young people who seem to have lost respect for human life, including their own. Yet it is unlikely for the young people to respect their peers if many of them have lost respect for their elders; however, their elders do not always show the young people the respect that they deserve and prefer to talk down to them rather than talk to them.

There also needs to be a strong focus on the issue of safety, as several young people have said that carrying a knife makes them feel safe, which raises the question: why do young people feel so unsafe? The major factor appears to be the developments in knife crime, but a young person I spoke to thinks that it has a lot to do with the government not doing enough to prevent knife crime and the absence of a father figure in many children’s lives.

Tyrone and Machaiah believe that young people need to keep their minds occupied by finding something constructive to do. Tyrone suggested painting or skydiving, whilst Machaiah recommends working out, because “by the end of the day, you’ll be tired”. More funding needs to be put into supporting the young people and organisations like Lives Not Knives, so that they have a greater opportunity to do something constructive with their time.

I just thought I couldn’t do this for the rest of my life. I couldn’t keep robbing people

“The saddest thing about it is that it’s almost impossible to get rid of knife crime entirely”, said Tyrone. “It’s an ongoing cycle, I don’t know how it’s going to stop to be honest”, were the views of a young female who has lost friends to knife crime. However, there is every possibility that knife crime can be significantly cut down.

Young people can change their lives if they really want to. Both Tyrone and Machaiah did just that and gained valuable life experience from being in the army. “I just thought I couldn’t do this for the rest of my life. I couldn’t keep robbing people”, said Machaiah, in regards to leaving his former life behind. These young men have moved forward with their lives, but they are using their past experiences as a way to help the future generation.

A significant change can take place if we step up to work together, change our attitudes and make a difference. Knife crime does not need to be causing havoc on our streets, but we need to support our young people if we are going to prevent it. A joint impact may not only save countless lives, but also save Croydon.

Shaniqua Benjamin

Shaniqua Benjamin

Shaniqua is a writer and poet, born and raised in Thornton Heath, which she is proud to call her home. She has used her passion for making a difference to found a platform, Young People Insight, which empowers the voices of young people and encourages community engagement. When she’s not writing or trying to cause change, she loves reading, scrapbooking, watching films and listening to music.

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    Education with regard the awareness of ” carrying”, listening to these youngsters instead of forming opinions without knowing the problems and also respect for the youngster. Respect goes both ways, we have to earn our respect from them also.