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The Voice host youth knife crime debate

DEBATE: Young people discussed the issue of knife crime last week at a special Voice round table event

FOLLOWING THE worrying rise of knife crime incidents in London, The Voice facilitated a roundtable discussion between the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick and young people to discuss solutions to the issue.

The event, which was held last Thursday at Brixton’s Black Cultural Archives, came a day after London Mayor Sadiq Khan launched a major crackdown on the “scourge of knife crime” and pledged an extra £625,000 to fund anti-knife and gang crime projects in the city.

The main aim of The Voice’s round table event was to create an open and honest dialogue, explore possible solutions and listen to the challenges faced by each party.

Since the start of the year up until June 18, 24 people under the age of 25 have been fatally stabbed across the capital. Concern has been expressed that a significantly high number of these casualties were from black and minority ethnic communities demonstrating that these groups are most at-risk of being victims of knife crime.

It was, therefore, essential for this demographic to be represented at this roundtable discussion. Twelve people aged between 16-25, from a wide cross section of London, were invited to participate. Many of these individuals work with leading community organisations such as Eastside Young Leaders Academy, Lives Not Knives, Manhood Academy and Kickoff@3.

George Ruddock, Managing Editor of The Voice newspaper, gave an introductory address where he welcomed all in attendance and opened the floor.

Paul Reid, director of the Black Cultural Archives, encouraged all the participants to “use this opportunity well and speak your special truth”.

MODERATOR: Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick with singer and activist Jermaine Jackman who chaired the event

The proverbial baton was then handed to 22-year-old political activist, former young parliamentarian and singer Jermaine Jackman, who moderated the afternoon’s proceedings.

A number of key points were keenly debated, the first of which was Met Police strategies in tackling knife crime.

Another issue that was discussed was the need to challenge media images that appeared to glamourise violence and legitimise illegal lifestyles.

The role of parental responsibility in tackling knife crime was also discussed.

When one young man asked those present: ‘How many search their children’s bags for weapons before they leave the house?’ there was what seemed like a long silence.

Observers and campaigners on this issue point to the ongoing issue of distrust between the black community and the Metropolitan police which they say has made the prospect of finding solutions on this issue, solutions that the police and the community can work on together, very difficult.

During the discussion participants informed Ms Dick that, because of their lack of confidence in law enforcement, there were many young people in the capital who decide that they would rather not talk to the police about concerns for their own safety and would rather opt to carry knives for their own protection in a bid to protect themselves against attack from a another young person.

It would appear that this situation was rarely related to membership of a gang; according to a Police and Crime Committee report, gang activity accounted for less than 5 per cent of knife crimes.

One of he debate’s participants admitted: ‘I can’t even remember at what age I learned that it was unacceptable to call the police. I was so young at the time.’

TALKING POINTS: Cressida Dick with some of the young people who took part in the event

The Commissioner, who listened intently to the range of opinions and views being expressed, was both understanding of what the young people present had said about their lack of trust in the police and optimistic about change.

She said: “I genuinely believe that this police service is utterly different to what it was ten years ago. I’ve been a police officer for 34 years and I am not naïve to how things were.”

In all, the 90-minute conversation served to highlight the ongoing work that the police have to do in ridding our communities of knives.

But it also the fact that the government and public sector have a shared responsibility in this matter.

For instance, the closure of youth centres and erasure of safe places for at-risk individuals.

One person said that the minimum wage rate, apprenticeship pay and legal working age of 16, do little to offer a viable alternative to a supposedly more financially gratifying life of crime.

After the meeting’s conclusion, Ms Dick told The Voice exclusively: ‘I learnt a lot. Thank you to The Voice for organising this event.’

PC Yates, of Operation Sceptre said: “I think today went very well. There was a lot of positivity from the audience. This is the audience that we (the police) need to be engaging with – community members, young people - looking at the ages in front of us; these are the people that we need to be speaking to. They understand the issues. They our community reference group, effectively.

COMMITMENT: London Mayor Sadiq Khan launched a major anti-knife crime crackdown

“And, as police officers, we said from the outset, we’re not going to enforce our way out of this. This is not a policing solution. We are part of the team that can come together to make it work, but actually everybody that we’ve been speaking to for the last two hours with the Commissioner, are the individuals that we need to work with, moving forward.

Dr Mohamed Hashi – Co-founder of Brixton Soup Kitchen and Chair at Pan-London Stop and Search Community Monitoring Network – was present at the meeting.

“I think it was really constructive, it was a good mix of people but, again, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. Let’s see how this Commissioner goes forward and let’s see what the outcome will be.”

Youth speaker and educator Onyi Anyado commented: “I thought it was very awesome, it was a great meeting of collective minds, who have a main goal of the development, security and safety of our young people in London and surrounding areas.”

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