I write this in April 2018 and I know you like me feel so exhausted.
I can no longer stay silent. I have to speak. As someone who has been working in Youth Justice since 1997, as a Social worker in South London this may shock that I have indeed remained silent. I have been silent because London and the UK is facing the worst gun and knife-crime epidemic ever, for the first time I have had no words, just feelings of anger frustration and hopelessness for this epidemic. Despite the wave of blogs, articles, and wide newspaper coverage of the epidemic occurring in London, this beloved city of mine which is my home town and the city I have lived in most of my life, all I could do is feel.
Now I hope by sharing my thoughts which are mine about the possible causes and the possible solutions to this epidemic which is unprecedented in UK Society, it may provide an antidote to this cancer which has spread like a virus in our society.
I want to reach out to those that are hurting and are feeling hopeless and exhausted and provide them with a private space to explore their feelings and thoughts. I know a lot of individuals affected, including Relatives, Professionals or Volunteers from Health and Social Services, Charities and Voluntary organisations that work with those that harm or are harmed from gun and knife crime are feeling so exhausted and overstretched. Perhaps I live in a vain hope that if these spaces are created, healing can occur. I just feel a lot of the time the deep emotional and psychological wounds that are caused by gun and knife crime remain open, raw and exposed, hardly looked at and explored. I just hope that if these spaces are created then clarity may result among the chaos and perhaps strategies can be developed instead of just reacting to crisis.
As some one working on the front line with those that harm and those that are harmed by gun and knife-crime, I find the disease generated from gun and knife-crime is felt by so many families, neighbourhoods and communities. This disease is leaving people devastated and traumatised. This trauma doesn’t even have a space to express itself or time to heal. It is shared sometimes via social media. But that doesn’t always lessen the pain people are feeling! Facebook Instagram,Twitter and Whatsapp and Snapchat sometimes lessens the grief for those few seconds but often social media can compound grief, loss and fear and fuel paranoia. Little misunderstandings can become major conflicts and conversations started with one intention transform into anger, nihilism and hopelessness and then into bitterness which soon transcends into a desire to enact revenge, hurt and destroy lives. These feelings feed into this vicious cycle of violence we are witnessing. I often see the different players often change roles, a young person starts off as the victim but suddenly becomes the persecutor or the rescuer ends up the victim. The cycle seems never ending, crazy and chaotic, sometimes having no rhyme or reason.
Social media has blurred the lines between what is considered public and what is considered private and I assess that our psyches sometimes cannot distinguish the difference. Some of us do not know where one starts and the other ends, and I believe this is especially true for children and young who really struggle with this.
The Sun reported on 14th April 2018 that London has become more violent than New York! While I love social media and I know we may be the most connected people in history due to being able to communicate to someone on the other side of the world with a touch of a button; paradoxically I feel we are also the most disconnected people ever. Some of us have never known community or live in such fragile and fragmented communities that a death can fragment them even more than strengthening them. Death can indeed bring people together but often death can deepen distances. Some of us are not able to connect with those that live closest to us. Some of us have forgotten how to or we choose not to connect with those nearest to us. This is because they do not share the same faith or political belief or perspective on life. We prefer to interact with communities formed on our phones. I feel sometimes we prefer to live in echo chambers. This leads us to be further distant to those nearest to us.
With eye to eye contact among human beings becoming less and less due to face to face interactions becoming less and less, our energy levels are depleting. We are relying on ourselves more and more or getting locked into co-dependent relationships. We have forgotten how to be interdependent. Eye to eye contact is life enforcing and renews us on an energetic level more so than other forms of communication. Face to face interactions among human beings are the best in quality according to Psychologists because the non -verbal nuances in this interaction enrich and enhance communication leading to less misunderstandings and also re-energize all taking part. I suspect that the popularity of social media leading people to communicate via messaging has contributed to the cycle of violence. This needs to be explored more but I will do that in another blog. This is because the main point of this blog is to highlight the lack of private spaces we currently have to explore the grief and trauma generated from gun and knife-crime. With mental health resources being slashed for children and young people, fewer and fewer spaces remain. It is not surprising then that most people turn to Social media to vent their feelings. It is therefore vital that safe spaces need to be created to facilitate meaningful conversations whether in private or piublic. I sometimes feel like I am watching a late night Police Drama. But NO this is not fiction, this is London 2018 and people are dropping dead like flies. But they are not flies! Some of these are young people, vibrant girls and boys with their whole lives in front of them. On 6th April 2018 the BBC stated that 52 people have died so far to gun and knife crime in separate incidents across London . 52 people dead just like that! Their lives gone!
Last week I have witnessed experienced Police officers and Social workers with decades of experience absolutely distraught and in tears because a young person they had worked with had suddenly been stabbed. Malcolm X words keep replaying in my head because like him I
“never foresaw that the chickens would come to roost so soon”.
I am not going to apologise for my bitterness and it is no comfort to my heavy heart but what do you expect to happen when the following occurs: youth clubs close down, adventure play grounds are closed, massive parts of the city undergo gentrification, thousands are excluded from mainstream school and do not feel part of mainstream society, Blair and Brown declare war on youth in 1990s and Noughties and criminalise a whole generation, schools become academies of excellence and education becomes all about Grades and gaining English and Maths GCSES rather than developing character, council budgets are cut so they can no longer support vulnerable families, Police Forces are cut, Prison and Probation Service are privatised, Mental Health funding is cut, and profit is sought in every single sector! Of course hopelessness and nihilism will result. Chickens will of course come to roost. If children feel they have nothing in a village and they don’t feel anyone cares about them in that village then of course they will burn down the village. Aina Khan puts it powerfully when she quotes the African proverb in her article that appeared on 9th April Al Jazeera English online
“If the youth are not initiated into the tribe, they will burn down the village to feel its warmth.”
Temi Mwale the founding director of Social Enterprise The 4Front Project that works to empower young people and find solutions to prevent youth violence brings the reality home when she was interviewed by Aina Khan and says:
“we’ve got a culture of desensitization, …..If your friend is stabbed and killed, there is no support available to help you come to terms with the loss, in absence of that support, we do not engage with how people are feeling and we actually normalise murder in their lives… ..we have to see after care as prevention… …dealing with the aftermath of a murder especially a youth murder having the adequate support systems in place, we have to see that as prevention, because when we don’t do that, the ripple effect is more violence, more desentisation and more misery”
With all that has happened since the 1990s and its war on youth that Professor Gus John has extensively written about, it is surely not surprising that stabbings in London are at their highest levels in six years and have risen by 23 percent compared to the previous year. But I think statistics just numb us to the reality of what is occurring.
So I am going to list the names of some of those that I have read about that have died in 2018. I apologise if I omit anyone. Names show these people had family and friends and were loved by someone. For me quoting numbers just numb us from the pain.
Seyed Azim Khan
Juan Olmas Saca
Lily- Mai Saint George
Lord Promise Nkenda
Steve Frank Navarez-Jara
Joseph William Torres
Babatunde Akintayo Awofeso
This is NOT an exhaustive list of all those that have died in London in 2018 but there are so many names here and I want to pay tribute to and them and say I feel for their family and friends. If this blog resonates with you then I would urge you to share it with friends and family and so more people start talking about this issue in a different way that it is about names not numbers.
Knife Crime cuts deep and leaves a ripple effect that affects communities far beyond the immediate parties.
It affects everyone both professional and personally.