Blacks and cops should renew their efforts to tackle London knife crimes

A picture of Big Ben in London
A picture of Big Ben in London (Photo credit: Eva Dang)

With the current trends pointing towards record numbers of people being killed on the streets of London by the end of this year, and two-thirds of the victims so far being Black, once again, the question is being asked, what is to be done? The responses and suggestions to tackle this scourge on the streets of London are numerous and diverse. Perhaps, however, instead of arguing for either tougher measures by the government on the one hand, or more holistic approaches on the other, there is a need for renewed collaboration among the Black communities, other stake holders and the police.

Whereas the city of Glasgow in Scotland was labelled as the ‘murder capital of Europe’ in 2005, by the World Health Organisation, the city seemed to have turned the corner. This, however, is not the case in London. In 2017, (8 Nov 2018) revealed that in London, two thirds of knife offenders under the age of 25 were Black or minority ethnic. The same source points out that across England and Wales, in 2017, 38 per cent of knife possession convictions among under 25 youth were convictions of those who self-defined as an ethnic minority. The Sun Newspaper of 3 June 2021 claimed that in 2020, some 128 people were killed in the capital, with 71 of those in stabbing attacks. Furthermore, ten people on average are caught with blades every day on the streets of London.

Not only is this problem refusing to go away, turning a blind eye, or worse still, making excuses, will not solve the problem. While some say knife crimes have existed in London since the Victorian times, before there was a large-scale Black population in London; or that the problem stems from the inadequate financial and professional support for many Black youth with mental health needs, others take the opposite view. For example, the far right British Democratic Party argue that such crimes serve to demonstrate the failure of Britain’s experiment with the effects of multi-culturalism and mass immigration.

Despite the war of words over this issue and its causes, the number of violent incidents is increasing. The shooting of Sasha Johnson, the Black activist, who, at the time of writing was still battling for her life, demonstrates the seriousness of this situation. Some within the Black community feel the police brutality and discrimination involving stop and search are not helpful and fuel tensions. The Metropolitan Police is clearly aware of the historic distrust between themselves and the Black community. But, as painful as it might sound, the two must collaborate. After all, how was Glasgow able to turn the corner and curb its knife and violent crime problem? It seems they used a more joined up approach. Scotland’s strategy was based largely on the implementation of the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU). The VRU worked with the National Health Service (NHS) as well as social services, youths from poorer backgrounds and those who had been underachieving in the education system. The programme or strategy also involved working with mentors in violence prevention, and also establishing close ties with local businesses to provide young people with jobs and other opportunities. The results after 2010 have been remarkable.

Whilst the approach in Glasgow was more holistic, the approach in England, especially in London, was to target gangs with much harsher penalties. Of course, imposing harsh punishments can be a significant deterrent for some, but so far, it has not significantly solved the problem. The Black community might not be able to do it on their own, nor can the police solve this by themselves. Despite the historic distrust, there will have to be greater collaboration among a wide cross section of stakeholders, similar to the Glasgow method. Only if different sectors buy into this, can we truly expect to see significant reductions in knife crimes on the streets of London.  


Tony Talburt Ph.D. is a senior lecturer in Black Studies at Birmingham City University in  Britain.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *