‘It’s easier to get a knife than it is to get a pair of Nike trainers’ – Why is knife crime on the rise in London?

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A new claim by UK media suggests that this month the crime rate in London has overtaken that of New York City.

Statistics in the Sunday Times last week comparing knife and gun crime in both, almost equally populated capital cities suggested that February was the first month more murders took place in London than New York.

Fifteen people were murdered in London in February compared to fourteen people in New York.

6 people have been fatally shot or stabbed in London in the last seven days, and 8 more have been wounded.  

London also saw 22 fatal stabbings in March, 1 more than than New York according to the Sunday Times.

The two major cities are often compared and on the surface they are relatively similar. Both have diverse populations of around 8 million people and are known for being cosmopolitan and having divisive economies.

The huge difference between the two cities has always been their crime rates, with the prevalence of easily attainable firearms in the US always giving New York the vast edge.

The crime rate in New York has been steadily falling, decreasing by 87% percent since the 1990’s, a fact many attribute to the specific ‘get-tough’ policies carried out by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration.

The crime rate in London however, has increased by nearly 40% in the last 3 years alone. Fatal stabbings in England and Wales are now at their highest levels since 2011, growing by 12% in the year ending December 2017.

52 people have been killed in London in less than 100 days. Photo BBC

The last two months have left London reeling, with many feeling like the crime rate in their city has reached an untenable peak. The rising crime and murder rate is certainly indicative of a complex network of issues that must be addressed however, comparing statistics with other capital cities will do nothing but generate more fear.

Many have suggested that the statistics for the last 2 months are anomalies. In January, for example, the London Metropolitan Police investigated only 8 murders, while the NYPD looked in to 18 killings. It is possible however, that with this recent surge in murders, the numbers will continue to increase for a time due to a likely spate of ‘revenge’ attacks.

What has been happening?

In only 94 days, 50 people have been killed in London.

Last week an unidentified 20 year old man was stabbed in Wandsworth, Tanesha Melbourne-Blake 17, died in a drive-by shooting in Tottenham, 16 year-old Amaan Shakoor was shot in the face in Walthamstow, Henry Vincent was stabbed in Lewisham and died in hospital, a 53-year-old man died after being stabbed outside a betting shop in Upper Clapton, and 18 year-old Israel Ogunsola was stabbed to death in Hackney.

On Thursday 5 April, 8 people were stabbed in London, including 6 teenagers.

Why is this happening?

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan cites budget cuts as one of the primary reasons for a rise in crime in the city. He claims London has lost much of it’s funding over the last 7 years – funding from police, youth and education services and promises to pump a new £45 million back in to youth and education services, £11 million of which has been ‘ring fenced for knife crime and the Commissioner of the Met Police has announced a violent crime task force, and this will be 120 officers whose task will be to work in crime hotspot areas to target known criminals, increase use of covert surveillance to grapple with those individuals who think it’s ok to carry a gun or a knife and get involved with criminality.’

While more money for the police and youth services is essential in this issue, it feels as though Khan is missing a key point.

Children are killing children, sometimes over something as trivial as a postcode. This is not because they are young, black, Asian or white, it is because they are angry, ignored and underrepresented.

Happy fulfilled people do not commit murder, and London needs to ask itself the question why it has so many teenagers whose anger is so profound that they are capable of murder.

Patrick Boyce, father of now 19 year old stab victim Jamel, blames absent parents for the anger felt by many of these children. ‘They come from dysfunctional families. Most of them come from single parents…mothers might be working 14 or 16 hours a day, he’s coming home there’s no one there, so the streets become his family.’

Jamel was left in a vegetative state and blind after the attack in 2016, he was not in a gang or carrying any weapon.  

Boyce also mentions drugs as a major influencing factor. ‘We need to get these children into a position where they can see a future, an option. Rather than ‘I’m going to pick up a knife and sell drugs’. Because that’s what it comes down to is drugs. It’s a drug war.’

A point reiterated by MP for Tottenham David Lammy who spoke to the Today Show on Radio 4.

‘What drives the gangs and the turf wars is a £11 billion cocaine drugs market. We are the drugs market of Europe and I’m hearing nothing about what we’re going to do about that rising drugs market.’ Lammy also blames an amount of ‘political football’ and a disjointed government, arguing that due to a lack of ‘political consensus’, preventative measures have not been taken and the crime rate has been allowed to rise unchecked.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd dismissed claims on Sunday that cuts to the police forces of London are to blame for the rise in violent crime, despite a leaked Home Office document witnessed by the BBC which suggests a fall in police numbers is likely to have affected the rise of serious crime.

The document states that; ‘Resources dedicated to serious violence have come under pressure and charge rates have dropped. This may have encouraged offenders.’ It concludes that while a reduction of resources is not the ‘main driver’ that triggered the shift in serious violence’, it has ‘likely contributed.’

Former South London gang leader turned youth worker Nequela Whittaker spoke to BBC 5 LIVE recently, and blamed a glamorisation and focus on ‘fast living and quick money’ for attracting her to the lifestyle.

She also cites stress in her youth and a well meaning yet overworked single parent household, ‘A lot of parents don’t know what the pressures are when your child leaves that front door and travels to school or travels to a friends house.’

‘I’m very well educated…and my mums done right by me but she just didn’t understand the world or the environment I was caught up amongst or I was drawn to.’

‘I was angry, and with that anger I didn’t have any love, self love and that’s where I had no remorse for anything or anybody.’

She also mentions the ease at which young people can acquire a weapon, a prominent factor in the gun debate in the US; ‘It’s easier to get a knife than it is to get a pair of Nike trainers.’

John Flatley from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) says; ‘We judge that there have been genuine increases in crime – particularly in some of the low incidence but more harmful categories.’

It is very clear that London’s youth have very few outlets for their unchecked anger, exacerbated by the closure of many youth centers throughout the city and a lack of action within schools. This is a inexorably complicated issue and whatever the solution may be, it must start with an understanding of the people, the children, who are caught up in it, whether they want to be or not.

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