Youth knife crime: the most vicious of vicious circles

Shaniqua BenjaminThe latest, and probably the most serious, scandal to blight Croydon has been this year’s spate of youth stabbings. SHANIQUA BENJAMIN, pictured, investigates what is driving young people to carry weapons

Two teenagers stabbed in the Whitgift Centre.  A 12-year-old boy stabbed outside Tesco Express on Whitehorse Road.  An 18-year-old male found stabbed on Queens Road.  A 16-year-old stabbed in West Croydon and a 21-year-old man stabbed in Thornton Heath.

Six stabbings in Croydon in just 10 days.

Yet according to sources who have been involved in knife crime in the borough, that is not the end of it. “There’s always a stabbing, but newspapers don’t always write about it,” says one 21-year-old who admits to being involved in knife crime in his youth.

Before the spate of stabbings, reported knife crime figures in Croydon were down. Yet there remains a constant threat in the community. Eliza Rebeiro, from the Lives Not Knives charity, says that young people now seem not to hesitate about carrying, and using, a knife. “The sense of caring about others has gone out the window,” Rebeiro says.

Knife crime impacts the victims, their families, friends and the community as a whole. Families can start to break down, some might lash out in anger, while others will go looking for the people who hurt their loved one.

How can you ever get over losing someone close to you?

How can a parent understand someone taking away their baby?

One person I spoke to is Jaden (not his real name), who is 19 years old. He saw his friend stabbed and killed at their own birthday party. It forced him to make some significant changes in his life.

Another 19-year-old interviewee spoke of her feeling of hopelessness when she first heard that a friend of hers had been killed after a stabbing. “It was like I could feel my insides moving. That kind of feeling is awful.”

knives 2I was present when my 17-year-old cousin found out that a school friend had died from stab wounds to the heart. I watched her shock and disbelief. “The day or so before he’d liked one of my photos, so it was like: ‘But you were just here’.”

It had an even greater effect on her whole year group. “It really brought us all back together. Before it was just a bond of friendship. But grief touches you in a different way and you don’t forget who was grieving beside you.”

Those young people who do carry knives, though, do not seem to take these repercussions into consideration.  It’s as if they are determined to make the same mistakes of those before them.

Rebeiro believes strongly that there should be a greater emphasis on children not only respecting their teachers but also respecting each other, so that they view “everyone as authority figures”.  She recommends more education to be taken outside the formal classroom environment, where much that is taught is quite “old school”.

“There needs to be actual change in young people’s lives and everyone’s lives,” she says. “We’ve become so immune to caring and our own emotions; until that changes, what can we really do as people?”

Rebeiro says that the questions that need to be answered are: Why do young people carry knives? Why do they use their knives? Why has violence become so normalised in our society?

From the work Rebeiro and Lives Not Knives has done, it has become clear that many young people carry knives because they want to be popular or have a reputation. Others carry a knife as a “necessity”, when they are going to a fight or other criminal activities, as with my 21-year-old source, Tai (again, not his real name). 

Tai says that many use their knives out of pride. If they lose in a fight, they then pull out a knife to show that they have the upper hand, or as a way of sorting out situations. It is as if they feel immune to violence, because it is seen so often on television, in films and the computer games they play, and heard in the music they listen to.

However, a major element seems to be safety.  Young people say that carrying a knife makes them feel safe. But this raises another big question: why do young people feel so unsafe?

knivesThe main reason appears to be knife crime itself, which young people react to by then carrying a knife.

The whole community needs to work to steer young people away from knife crime. Little things, like less stereotyping and understanding how to talk to each other, can make a big difference. Rebeiro feels that young people need to see outcomes by police, because it takes up so much time and energy for them to report a crime.

Lives Not Knives was established with some government funding, but it is now self-funded as they continue their valuable work. They have the view that there needs to be more funding put into supporting young people, according to one of my sources, to help young people to “find something constructive, whether it’s painting or skydiving”.

There is a sense of disgust about the recent stabbings, with young people referring to it as “madness”, “absurd” and “horrifying”.  They have been especially shocked by the stabbing involving the 12-year-old boy.  My cousin says, “It shows how knife crime has filtered down to the younger generations.”

Rebeiro says, “At 12, you shouldn’t even know what that is or understand being hurt.”

Jaden articulated the viciousness of this vicious circle: “Most people who stab people are those who know people who have been stabbed.

“It’s an ongoing cycle, I don’t know how it’s gonna stop to be honest.”

The fact is that young people can change and escape from a life wrapped up in knife crime. Both Jaden and Tai did just that, learning further discipline from being in the Army. “I just thought I couldn’t do this for the rest of my life.  I couldn’t keep robbing people,” Tai said.

“When I’m in my uniform, people look at me like I’m an actual human being,” he said, indicating that when he is not in his military uniform, he does not receive simple respect, which can hardly be right.

Knife crime does not need to be running rife on our streets, but we need you to stand up and help prevent it.  What will you do?

  • Shaniqua Benjamin is 21, from Thornton Heath and does voluntary work with Lives Not Knives

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3 Responses to Youth knife crime: the most vicious of vicious circles

  1. Reblogged this on Inside My Head and commented:
    I’m so happy that my article on knife crime is finally live! This is an issue that means a lot to me, as I love my fellow young people and I hate to see them wiping themselves out.

  2. Love and prayers to the family members.

  3. mraemiller says:

    There is a deep problem when young people feel as if their town is a war zone and are self perpetuating that perception. This hits that nail on the head quite well.

    Great to see entertainment getting the blame as usual.

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