It’s making headlines, often depicting violent young people in need of warning about the dangers of making poor decisions. Knife crime is rising, but we must readdress our focus.
Whether it’s police officers or political leaders, the words ’young people need to understand the consequences of carrying knives’ are often spoken. But they do understand, their choices are informed, and a response to the communities they are in; communities we give little attention to, and deprive of opportunity. Sadly, it’s easier for us to ignore a crisis we created, and forget factors that affect life’s path.
Black young men are frequently victims of knife crime. This month, Sadiq Khan couldn’t answer one question; ‘can you guarantee young black men in London will not be targeted excessively by police?’. When black people experience disproportionate stop and search, and there are concerns about deaths of ethnic minorities in custody, can we blame people for not seeking help from authority? Young people may feel like matters must be taken into their own hands.
Black young men I know do all they can to be defiant against an unequal society. I know one individual with straight A’s and incredible achievements, a perfect candidate, but rejected from Cambridge; education being just one example of institutional inequality. Black men don’t just choose knife crime, it chooses them. Many resist, but when inequality targets you, survival is priority. Society likes to talk gangs, but if a gang pays you more attention or respect than society does, that’s problematic. A gang may finally feel like ‘belonging’.
How do you find protection in a society you struggle to trust, whether it’s because police forces target you, your employment is hard to find, or because it’s allowed your housing to go up in flames? How do you find your power when its legitimate attainment is hard to envision, because people like you do not exist in society’s ‘powerful’ positions? It’s a vicious cycle.
Privileged young people are not stuck for things to do, or sharing responsibility for their family’s survival. They are not depending on foodbanks or supported housing, like many of today’s youth. Not every young person has somewhere to go in the community, or a childhood to do with as they please. Many cannot afford, nor have access to, the things that may be a small part of a privileged young person’s childhood, but a lifeline for another.
Our young people are killing each other, but they are hitmen in the government’s attack on less privileged communities; which cuts working class people and ethnic minorities first. It’s no coincidence that there is no epidemic of knife crime in affluent areas inhabited by middle class white people. Yes, young people make choices to carry knives, but choices influenced by society’s failure to provide equal opportunities.
If your class doesn’t guarantee you a ‘successful’ career or free attempt at one; if your family doesn’t have the employment or financial support they need; if your community doesn’t feel safe, or you feel unable to trust those employed to make it safe – then you may find alternative ways to support and protect. Combine that with the fact that many young people are labelled as lost causes due to where they are from, a sense of hopelessness is inevitable.
A young person said to me ‘my parents did everything right, I had to make choices’. Protecting young people from an environment that doesn’t hold the previously discussed privileges is too big a job for parents alone, and a government claiming to be challenging burning injustices is failing.
Those who believe upbringing is responsible for youth violence must accept that a load is lifted for some parents and not others. That relief can be dependent on the environment that your class, ethnicity or networks place you in. No, I’m not a parent, but I’ve worked with families long enough to challenge the ‘I blame the parents’ judgement, and advocate environment’s significant role in nurture.
If you can parent how you choose, proactively, with a focus on your child’s best interest or ambitions, that is a choice many don’t have. Not everyone can parent by choice, many have to parent by prevention. Preventing your child from being pushed into the same trap that has caught others around them.
I know parents who take their children everywhere for safety, work several jobs for support, make their children their sole focus, and hold strict discipline on education or how to treat authorities. But for many, this is less to support their child’s future ambitions, but to shield them from threat and risk, including knife violence. When you can pick your child up from a party through generosity, as opposed to in fear because someone arrived with a machete, like one case I know, your circumstances are different. When a parent whose child was murdered can hug the parent of the child accused of murder, because they are fighting the same battle; something must change.
This government speaks of supporting the most ‘disadvantaged communities’ like ‘disadvantage’ is an unpredictable, unbiased monster that appears from nowhere. Communities do not choose disadvantage, they are targeted; with an arrow held by our leaders, they strike with inequality.
Inequality is causing knife crime, and killing our young people.
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