Are we facing a national emergency? No I don’t mean that proposed event on 29th March. I mean something much more serious, knife crime. This weekend saw two innocent young people stabbed to death and no-one can understand why. Knife crime has spiralled out of control. The number of children, aged 16 years and under, arriving at hospitals with stab wounds has soared by 93% in 5 years, according to new investigations.
The picture of Jodie Chesney, 17 years old, who was stabbed to death in a park in east London could have been one of my daughters. I have two daughters living in London. One lives in Tooting so not exactly central. Up until recently one had a boyfriend living in Dalston and was regularly travelling to that area and not necessarily in daylight hours.
Youssef Makki, also aged 17, died just hours after Jodie Chesney in another unprovoked attack in an affluent suburb area of Manchester. Two families whose lives will never be the same again. Two wasted lives with so much to live for and to give to the world. Youssef wanted to be a heart surgeon and was studying hard to achieve this goal. Jodie was an “amazing young woman”, according to her Scout group, “always had a smile on her face, supporting the younger members where she could.”
What can we do? Do we have to just stand by and watch this growing number of families forced to mourn the sudden loss of a much-loved child?
If, as a country, we cannot come together and agree over Brexit surely we must come together over this. Can we bombard our MPs with requests to focus their attention on this issue? We need to support our police. We need more police. Does this national crisis not justify a COBRA meeting?
Many years ago, out of a rise in house burglaries, came the Neighbourhood Watch scheme. Can someone cleverer than I think up some way that we can help the police in bringing knife crime to an end? However it cannot be left to our politicians, police and teachers to solve this, as was discussed recently on the radio. We all have to help find a way. Communities have to work together to persuade their children not to carry knives. Many only carry them as a means of protection but the carrying of knives will never be solved if our children do not feel safe to walk the streets of their neighbourhood.
We are such a great nation at coming together to raise money for causes, Children in Need, Comic Relief and the very first public fundraiser event, Live Aid. However now is the time we need to come together with our neighbours, and get talking and working together to rid our streets of knives to prevent future deaths.
We need to start by looking at the scheme that was rolled out in Glasgow, Scotland that has had such a huge effect in reducing the numbers of knife crime dramatically.
In 2005 Strathclyde set up the Violence Reduction Unit, (VRU). The VRU is directly funded by the Scottish government and has an arms-length relationship with Police Scotland. It has since been rolled out across Scotland. It has adopted a public health approach to knife crime, in which the police work with those in the health, education and social work sectors to address the problem. The results so far have been dramatic.
They identified those people most likely to offend and asked them to voluntarily attend the sheriff’s court. “They didn’t have to come but they were encouraged to by community police, teachers and social workers and a lot of them did come,” said Christine Goodall. She along with two other surgeons founded Medics Against Violence in 2008, a campaign group which works with health professionals, law enforcement, social services and other bodies to thwart violent behaviour.
“The police had mapped all the gangs and when people got there they saw their own pictures up in the court. The session started off with a warning: ‘We know who you are and if you carry on with this lifestyle we’re going to come down on you really hard. We’re going to arrest you and we’ll arrest the rest of the gang. You will be going to prison if this carries on.’”
But at that point the intervention at the court took a more creative and holistic approach.
“We spoke about the injuries we see as a result of the violence and had a mum talk about losing her son. That really hit home,” explains Goodall. Finally, they were offered a way out. “There was help with housing, relocation, employment and training. They were given a number to call if they wanted to take the offer up. Huge numbers of them did so, were put into the programme, and are no longer in the gang lifestyle.”
Scotland was once considered the most violent country in the developed world and whilst they may not have eradicated knife crime and never will they have achieved a great deal over the last decade. At least they are tackling it and they are not leaving it to the police on their own.
To reduce knife crime, parents and siblings need to help police, social workers, teachers and politicians. It has to be a group effort – we need to bring back community and not just lock our doors and hope it won’t ever happen to one of our children or grandchildren.