For several decades, Black communities in parts of London have been experiencing muggings, stabbings and killings, all involving the use of knives. In responding to such crimes, the authorities are often blamed for being too racist in the way they target offenders or engage in stop and search operations. Because of the history of racial discrimination they have been experiencing for decades, such as the police injustice at the Mangrove Café in All Saints Road, and other Black community events, the Black communities claim that some degree of violent protest is understandable. The recent Black Lives Matter protests also demonstrate the extent to which Black groups would protest, even violently, against social injustice. At least the argument could be made that they are engaging in violence in response to the common enemy of social injustice. However, the same cannot be said about the knife crimes of today where the common enemy appears to be Blacks, primarily, attacking other Blacks. Despite decades of debate and conjecture, it is time for the Black communities to address this issue from within, rather than focusing on the external factors such as the police or the authorities.
Knife crimes have become a sad reality in many British cities, especially London. YOUGOV, a British international internet-based market research and data analytics firm, conducted a study in 2021 which revealed that one in six Britons from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (17%) know a victim of knife crime or have been themselves been a victim. This is nearly twice the rate among the wider population, at nine per cent. Among those aged 25 to 49, the difference is more than two-fold, at 18 vs 8 per cent. In a recent report by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) News on total knife offences in England and Wales, there were 43,516 knife crime offences in the 12 months ending March 2019. This represented an 80 per cent increase from the low point in the year, ending March 2014, when there were 23,945 offences. It is the highest number since comparable data was compiled.
In an effort to combat this sharp rise in knife crimes, on 4 February 2021, the government introduced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which seeks to increase minimum sentencing for certain offences, introduce provisions for the management of offenders, including new targeted stop and search powers for the police targeting knife crime offenders. However, the British Youth Council have criticised the government’s effort to combat knife crime as a “punitive approach”. Some also claim the proposals risk “creating a class of people who are treated as ‘permanent criminals’ or who are regularly misidentified as such”. Furthermore, campaign groups such as Liberty Human Rights have highlighted concerns that Black communities are already searched at significantly higher rates, about 8.9 times more than their white peers.
The Black communities, however, cannot have it both ways. They cannot ask for the police to respond to knife crimes, and simultaneously get rid of stop and search policies of some sort based on police intelligence. Moreover, those caught with knives or committing an offence with knives need to be punished. If it is true that Black people make up 13 per cent of the London population, but comprise 44 per cent of the victims murdered in London and 48 per cent of the murder suspects, is it time for the Black communities to accept they might be responsible for at least some of this? Some of the main arguments that focus on the Black communities themselves identify such issues as: poverty in housing, higher levels of unemployment in the Black communities, inadequate resources, lack of father figures and role models for Black boys, and drug dealers. No single act will definitively bring an end to this nemesis, but the Black communities, working in partnership with the authorities need to, with additional funding, address some of these internal issues. To ignore the internal problems while focusing on the external symptoms, will be meaningless.
Tony Talburt Ph.D. is a senior lecturer in Black Studies at Birmingham City University in Britain.