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A Sign of the Times: UK’s Knife Crime Problem

Updated: 1 day ago

A couple weeks ago, I watched a YouTube clip of UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s recent appearance on This Morning, a daytime television show. He spoke about many things including his solution to the growing problem of knife crime in the UK and I found it to be rather plain. He vaguely spoke of having more policemen on streets, increasing their stop and search powers that included entering homes and confiscating knives that appear out of place, and investment in youth centres. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect Sunak to provide a detailed step by step plan on the government initiatives to tackle the problem of youth violence, especially on daytime TV. But the lack of clarity in his propositions are alarming. For instance, I’m not sure how policemen having the ability to confiscate knives whilst in homes, “on reasonable grounds” could reduce knife crime given that knives are staple kitchen utensils: back in 2008, Scotland Yard found the most common knife used, particularly by teenagers, in such crimes was the kitchen knife

And indeed knife crime is a young person problem: more precisely, a problem among young men. Although the presenters of This Morning, Rylan Clark and Rochelle Humes understandably dismissed the statistics (a young person losing their life to violence is tragic), statistics do give insight into problems. 

For example, the Metropolitan Police reported in 2017 that in London “50% of knife crime offenders were BAME”, with half being under the age of 25 and 90% being men. Generally, knife crime in the UK has increased by 75% from 2012/13, shown in the murders of teenage boys in Bristol (one of them being the 16 year old boy Darrian Williams), and the Nottingham attacks, perpetrated by the man Valdo Calocane

Personally, the solutions proposed by Sunak do strike me as potemkin. The idea of having more policemen on the streets sounds effective but it ignores the fact that young people, especially young ethnic minorities, don’t view police positively. Rylan and Rochelle do discuss this reality to some extent in the interview, but they are hardly part of the demographic that have frequent encounters with police. The Black Lives Matter movement during the summer of 2020 that mobilised a lot of young people politically championed the refrain “all cops are bastards”, with radicals endorsing the abolishment of the force altogether. Having a policeman on every street corner may make one feel that we’re living in a surveillance state rather than being protected. 

The increased stop and search powers as well has the potential to stoke BAME hostility: members of the BAME population in Bristol have expressed their reservations for that initiative because they’re not convinced that the police won’t abuse their power by stopping people “willy-nilly” like how they were when they were much younger. Ironically this could make the streets of the UK more violent and leave policemen more vulnerable to that violence. 

The strongest idea is the investment in youth centres and clubs because it’s a solution that creates opportunities for young people to be empowered in this growing dark age we live in. But I’m not too keen on the common, implicit assumption that young people, men especially, left with inordinate free time will inevitably turn to violence. It’s a very Hobbesian perspective. Male violence can be caused by many different things (lack of socio-economic mobility, parental abuse, isolation) and I don’t believe youth clubs are friendly-leviathans sufficient in curbing knife crime alone. There is something to be said of the potential for youth clubs to build fraternities. Men do need to be rooted in a fraternity to develop a sense of place and belonging: gangs provide this in a perverted sense. But then there’s the obvious question: where will the money come from? 

I can’t help feeling that the increase in knife crime in the UK is another indicator of the difficult times we’re living in today. The solutions are not potemkin just because they have limited potential effectiveness: the solutions simply don’t recognise the root problems. Admittedly, I don’t blame Sunak for not understanding this: most people would be willing to recognise that in a time with economic instability, possible world war on the horizon, and increasing atomisation and alienation among young people, inner city violence of this sort is expected. I think most people aren’t willing to recognise we’re going through a massive transitioning phase in the West (Russia and China primed to be the world superpowers) and it’s going to be an ugly, bumpy ride downwards, with the signs of the breakdown of our civilisation bearing itself slowly but surely. 

It’s not to disparage the ambition to limit knife crime and potentially save lives, but we’re living in a time when the average zoomer has no hope of owning a home, when male loneliness is becoming more and more prevalent, and when there is an almost universal youth mental health crisis. I’d argue it’s more accurate to characterise the knife crime problem in the UK as a reaction to a loss of faith in our future. We may have to accept that things will get worse before they get better, before we figure out a way to reorganise society. 

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