A harrowing documentary by Channel Wallace investigated knife crime and its impact on people growing up in communities where carrying a knife is normal. She shows the streets of London where it feels unsafe to leave the house, particularly without a knife, and where young families feel stuck inside their homes.
It led me to further investigate what is happening with our youth on the streets today. In general, younger people are responsible for, and the victims of, the majority of knife crime. As you can imagine, there’s no simple explanation, nor easy fix. The number of teenagers stabbed to death in London has reached its highest level since 2008 with Mohammed Usman Mirza being the 23rd teenager to be fatally stabbed in the capital this year.
Knife crime is on the rise and detecting any trends or patterns behind the 2018 or 2019 homicides is as arduous as it is to solve. The study published by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies identifies drivers of violence to be under the familiar themes of ‘gangs’ and illegal drug markets. Although not all stabbings are due to this market, it certainly opens up the doors to a variety of risks, dangers and attacks. Deeper influences include fundamental social relationships - inequality, deprivation and social trust - as well as mental health.
The Serious Violence Strategy represents a significant programme of work involving a range of Government Departments and partners; in the public, voluntary and private sectors. It points to evidence that the vulnerable population, in terms of children in care, children excluded from school and homeless adults, has increased since 2014.
Criminologist Simon Harding explained,
“What we are seeing with gang killings is more of a stab-on-sight mentality which has seemingly unnerved members of the public. There is also a doughnut effect - a ring around inner London boroughs where poverty and inequality are more prominent.”
At the societal level, a meta-analysis of 34 studies analysing the relationship between poverty, income inequality and various types of violent crime across a range of geographical levels found a 97% positive correlation. The findings aren’t quite rocket science and doesn’t really make clear why it is that inequalities in wealth correlate to crime and homicides. But, societal trust has been highlighted as a key mediator through which inequality and violence are linked. Essentially, a breakdown of trust between young people and public services has impacted the mindset of the youth and society.
One study attempts to address the links and, though a weak study, it showed statistical significance. The ‘strain theory’ shines some light on the way that violence and inequality may be linked. It proposed that people are pressured into achieving socially accepted goals, but lack the means to achieve them. This leads to strain which can push individuals into committing crimes.
Conversely, or perhaps complementary, to the Strain theory is the Economic theory which posits that people decide to commit crime after weighing up the different returns of illegal and legal economic activity. Both theories pose issues and opportunities which can be worked with in order to try and reduce overall ‘gang violence’, knife crime and homicides.
In November 2018, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, warned London’s violent crime problem could take a generation to solve.
If all that was too saddening, stay tuned for the second part of the article where we explore how there is hope for a decrease in violent activity and improvement in society.