Righting wrongs and saving a failed generation: A debate on London’s knife crime

Hey, so it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Bit late but Happy new year! I’ve been busy with mothering, managing a home, writing and just…life. By writing, I mean:

I should take this opportunity to say how grateful I am for Left Foot Forward (aimed at political progressives) and Black Ballad (features and champions inspiring content from Black British women) for giving me the chance to add my voice to their great platforms and excellent platforms they are. Please check them out.

In this my first post of the year, I’d like to touch on the topic of Knife Crime that is happening in many pockets of London – a city I call my home. With 40 knife related crimes occurring everyday in the city, it is safe to say we have a problem. It’s not a new problem and that is what is most frustrating. Because it’s not new, I believe the government know exactly how to tackle the problem but simply don’t want to invest enough money in the right areas. If the government could see to the end of the reign of the notorious East End gangs such as The Krays, then it is ridiculous that there is a sense that the Met and other government agencies are at their wits end.

The “problem” as a matter of fact, is largely one concerning African and Caribbean people, namely young African and Caribbean Black British children, particularly boys. I’m not alone in believing that if it concerned White British children (of any socio-economic group) and if it were this group of children engaged in vicious gang life, the matter would be dealt with swiftly without the need for a well-meaning BBC programme such as London’s Knife Wars. If there was such a programme about an issue prevalent in the White community, I’d also hedge my bets that it wouldn’t be referred to as “wars” either. Whilst important, the programme failed to give members of the audience enough time to articulate and provide robust solutions towards tackling the problem and was ultimately a series of frustrated voices each using 20 seconds or less to share their insights.

A few weeks ago I got to see firsthand how MPs debate on matters as pressing as this. Just after Christmas, I got fed up, came up with some ideas on eradicating part of the problem via reducing school exclusion rates and I got in touch with the office of my local MP, relayed my ideas and have since started an important dialogue about the various disadvantages faced by some young people which makes them susceptible to exploitation by organised crime.

As a result, I was asked to come along to the Westminster Hall debate on Knife Crime on Thursday 24th January 2019 – the following outlines the most salient points raised in the chamber during the three-hour debate chaired by Karen Buck MP:

  • John Cryer, MP for Leyton and Wanstead:
    o His constituency has the sixth highest prevalence of schoolchildren involved in gang violence
    o The Waltham Forest borough has lost £100m in much-needed funding
    o Social workers are now afraid to work because their roles are so dangerous and don’t seem worth doing due to pay freezes
    o Cuts in mental health services is also a factor and Cryer stressed the need for more preventive causes
    o He urged for: a joined up approach, a select committee inquiry as per the Tribunals Act and even a public inquiry to hear from young people touched by gang violence and knife crime, and called for it to be led by someone who “really understands the situation”.


  • Julia Lopez, MP for Upminster:
    o Called for an increased budget in the Met for a more visible approach
    o Need for Youth Rehabilitation interventions
    o A crackdown on international drug operations in London


  • Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Woodford Green:
    o He called for joint-activity policing and implementation of a public health model – an approach which “cannot be patchy”


  • Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow:
    o Discussed the lost contribution of the young people we have lost
    o In her constituency alone, approximately 230 people were involved in gang life and 12 serious gangs were in operation which only seems to be increasing as the GLA (Greater London Assembly) predict a 15% rise in young people joining gangs
    o The borough of Waltham Forest has lost around 200 police officers
    o She discussed the business ethos of drug dealing as well as middle-class drug users fuelling the problem
    o Touched on the need for more funding in schools with 41 pupils a day being excluded permanently and pupil numbers at Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) steadily increasing
    o Urged for a preventable health approach where different departments could join up and work together


  • David Lammy, MP for Tottenham:
    o Gave a rousing speech where he spoke candidly about the disproportionate exclusion rates of Black and minority ethnic children and so much more. It’s best if watched in full (see here, starts at 1:50:32)


  • Sarah Jones, MP for Croydon Central:
    o said that in the face of significant cuts, the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) had reduced the prevalence of knife crime
    o children in PRUs are most at-risk because they finish school much earlier than mainstream educated children and walk right into the hands of gang operatives
    o told the chamber the upsetting story of a five year old Black boy in Croydon, who’s school were aware he had a high chance of being Autistic, but excluded him anyway for being upset in class

This being my first time at a parliamentary debate I’d not chosen an easy one to witness as I was seated closely by the family of a young bright and talented East London teenager, Jayden Moodie, who was viciously killed on 8th January 2019.

I had to hold back my own tears, as a mother, as Stella Creasy MP spoke movingly about the loss of such a young member of the community in such tragic circumstances. With his mother stoically seated just three chairs on from me, I couldn’t help but admire her as she listened to politicians practically begging the government to get it together on an issue that, I’m certain, has irrevocably changed her life.

Ultimately, there was a lot of agreement in the Chamber about what should be done and the issues being faced. I hope these weren’t empty words. The young, young lives lost deserve so much more than that. I look forward to seeing how the government deal with the comments shared at this debate.
The main takeaways for me were the need to:
– explore alternatives to school exclusion practices
– have a greater understanding of adverse childhood experiences and how such experiences dramatically increase chances of a life of crime
– support calls for a full inquiry
– advocate for a bespoke public health model to be implemented across London, similar to the Glasgow model, but one that focuses on the role race plays in the capitals knife crime epidemic

And that is all from me, for now.



Author: jacquicourtenay

Mum. Wife. Writer. Poet. Curator. City Worker

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