Stabbings in London have risen by a quarter in just a year – to understand why, we speak to five young people from east London
“As a 16-year-old it’s difficult to watch one of your closest friends bleed out and die in front of you,” says 21-year-old Rayhan, whose eyes still tear up at the memory of his friend Ali. We’re sat in a chapel on a quiet street in Hackney, after an urgent community meeting about youth violence in the area. Ali was stabbed to death by a group of young boys on pedal bikes while him and Rayhan walked through an unfamiliar area of London in 2012. Rayhan continues: “A lot of young people, they feel scared to get out of their own house, to step out of their own estate, because of these postcode wars.”
In recent weeks, there’s been a lot of news about knife crime, with cases across the country having risen by 23 per cent in just a year. This amounts to almost 13,000 incidents annually. The number of children aged 16 and under being treated for knife injuries has soared more than 60 per cent in the last five years. Instances of knife crime offenses in schools have risen too; there are now over 200 cases of possession in London schools per year. To put it bluntly, young people are dying. But for some reason, rather than asking them about what needs to be done, many in the media are just guessing.
The Evening Standard and other out-of-touch outlets have blamed the spike in knife crime on everything from drill music, to the clampdown on discriminatory stop-and-search tactics. Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, says social media is to blame. It’s not exactly a new issue – recently, Young Poet Laureate Caleb Femi, 28, spoke to Dazed about a poem he wrote about growing up in the middle of youth violence in south east London. “I’ve lost many other friends to youth violence”, he said. “It’s been part of the fabric of my teenage years, and my early 20s unfortunately.”
Over the last month, the places most affected by this violence have held protests, vigils, and community meetings to work out how to solve the issue of knife crime. Citizens UK organises communities to act together for power and social justice at meetings between locals and council members. It was at one such meeting that I met a new generation of teens who are passionate about holding power to account. Teenagers growing up in the middle of this crime wave, and those working with them, feel like the police and the media have thought of everything but the obvious: engaging with youth.
“People say that kids are the future, but whenever we have something to say, nobody wants to listen to us,” Naomi, 16, who grew up in east London tells me. She’s passionate and ambitious, but uncomfortably aware of her limits in life. Her friend Eden interrupts: “I think everyone’s just mad. I’m mad about how oppressed I feel.” I spoke to five east London-based young people who are desperate to have their voices heard, to get their thoughts on what’s driving the rise in stabbings.
EDEN, 16, HACKNEY
“What makes me mad is when people say it’s only ‘black on black crime.’ You don't walk around saying ‘white on white crime.’ At the end of the day, it's not always just black on black crime. The government has pushed us so far into the ghettos and into poverty, this is only choice we have. People are only going out selling drugs so they can get money for their family. It's really terrifying and sad to know that we can be walking around and we can be a victim.
“I live on an estate and there was literally a stabbing a couple months ago, and the person didn't even live on our estate, they were just running through. It gave our estate a bad name. I know a boy that has been stabbed twice.
“Postcode wars, that is so stupid, I'm sorry, but how can you be born into an estate and then claim that you’re fighting for it. You might as well go to war. Be productive and go to the army. I don't know. I just know that blaming it on our music – sorry, but have you heard rock? All that emo you know: ‘I'm going to kill myself and everybody else.’
“What makes people mad is – look at this pizza place (across the road). It is probably £20 for a pizza. A black hair shop was probably there. They want us out of here. We need opportunities.”
CANDICE, 17, HACKNEY
“When I read a newspaper, it’s always older people saying what young people believe in. But, I think we need to get young people to talk to other young people because that will have a better effect. (It’s helpful to) hear advice from someone your own age who can understand your situation and what it is like growing up now.
“A lot of my friends know people that have been affected, classmates or family members that have been stabbed and killed. It has a big toll on their mental health. My nephew lost his father and it has had a devastating effect on his, he has been left with no father figure in his life. He is 14 now and he has no one there to show him how to grow up and avoid that kind of life.
“It drives itself. If one person is stabbed then other people feel the need to carry knives to feel protected, and then there is an increase in the chances of someone being stabbed if a certain situation escalates really quickly. It just spirals.”
“There isn’t much to do – I don't personally know about any youth clubs. My friends and I will go to the park and just listen to music, but then things end up happening, sometimes fights, so we can't stay in that environment. It's not much of a surprise anymore, which is really sad. If someone gets stabbed it’s like: ‘oh, someone else?’. Me and my friend were on the way to the cinema the other day and we just went past a blocked off area and we were like, ‘oh, another person has been stabbed’. It's not much of a big deal anymore which is sad. It does anger me and my friends, and we always say we wanna do something and make a change, but, we don't have the opportunity do something or change anything.
“My siblings who were my age in the 90s told me they would have so many opportunities at youth clubs, because there were more back then. But beyond somewhere safe to hang out it (should be) a chance to find out about our opportunities for the future, outreach programmes and stuff like that. That’s why I want to go into politics because I can see the effects it has had in Hackney. The conversation about knife crime needs to become: how do we make teenagers feel optimistic about the future?”
RAYHAN, 21, HACKNEY
“In 2012, a group of boys on pedal bikes asked me and my friend Ali what area we were from on our way home from college. Our bus was diverted through an area that we weren’t familiar with and we knew we shouldn’t be there so we got off. Ali was scared so he said: ‘I don’t live in these ends, I live in Hackney, this is where I’m from.’ One of the boys replied ‘don’t get mouthy’ and punched him in the face. With one punch he fell to the floor. I just remember having a foot on my face but Ali was taking a serious beating when one of them pulled out a knife – I got stabbed on my knee and Ali got stabbed six times. The way it was happening, it was like it was nothing.
“A lot of young people feel scared to sometimes get out of their own house, to step out of their own estate because of these postcode wars. I live in Clapton and my school was in Fellows, and those two areas have problems. Because of that I’d have to look over my shoulders when I was going to school. It's still carrying on, and that makes people frightened, and so they carry (a weapon) with them – not to go and attack someone, but to protect themselves. It happened to me, but I got past it. But stats won’t show how many people are caught protecting themselves, everyone is demonised.
“I got stabbed on my knee and Ali got stabbed six times, the way it was happening, it was like it was nothing” – Rayhan
“The main issue is that no one listens to us. We feel ignored, neglected, nobody really cares about us. That is what makes a young person automatically think – if no one cares about me, why do I need to care about anyone else? There are issues within families, that go unsolved. Schools aren't really offering the support they crave, I craved, or pushing us to our next step.
“Now, I'm the student president in Hackney College, and work with Citizens UK talking about things like housing, mental health, and youth provision. I had to do it for myself, to try and stop all of this violent stuff that's going on in Hackney because nobody deserves to lose their life at a very young age, to lose their life for nothing, especially when you're walking down an area that you're not supposed to be, it's a very stupid reason.”
SINKZ, 17, HACKNEY
“Knife crime makes me feel bad for black boys. I have this friend, he's white. When he comes outside with me and sees other black boys, he goes on his phone and says, ‘mum where are you?’. It scares him. Because when knife crime is based around black boys, you see other black boys, and you’re going to get scared. But he doesn't want to show he is.
“Then I feel like bad for myself, because, what is he thinking about me? So, for me it's all about how you dress. If I wear a black tracksuit and put my hoodie on people are going to think I am carrying something. So, I have to dress professionally.
“All of this does actually scare me. One time I went through an estate, my friend invited me to a block party, so I said, ‘Is it invitation only, or, is it open to anyone?’ And he said open invite, so I said, ‘I'm not coming.’ Because, the person hosting the party might have an opp (enemy) from another ends. When I was at the party it was calm; after the party, I see a group of boys bashing each other with baseball bats and I just went home after that.
“If I go to some random area, say I go to south London in some random estate and then some roadman comes up to me and asks what area I am from, Hackney is all I’m going to say. I say I don’t live in codes, I live in a city area, that’s what I say. I talk professionally, if a roadman approaches you. If you talk back to them and you say you are in the wrong ends, it is really peak for you. They will basically smack you up or do something to you. It’s really scary but don’t talk over them, you have to hear what they are saying.
“There could be something done, there should be something done, but it’s really hard to say.”
One of my friends from university was tragically stabbed to death outside of his home last night in Forest Gate, East London. His name was Sami Sidhom and he was just like any other first year university student, picking modules and revising for the coming exams.— YoungSinatra (@IshaanTugnait) April 17, 2018
NOUF, 17, WALTHAMSTOW
“There's been an increase in arrests for youths that carry weapons at school. I honestly understand why they do it, if I felt unsafe or if my life was in danger, I’d do everything to stay safe, but it's not the answer. Now some parents won't let their teens out at night because they're afraid that they might get mugged, they don't have the same freedom, everybody's heard the stories.
“Statistics show that there has been a decrease in youth centres across London and that is feeding into the knife crime because young people don't have anywhere to go. And if there is youth centres, (young people) might not know about (them), or they might not appeal to their audience very well, because they don't actually involve (young people) in planning. (We need) to close that gap between young people and the government and the council.
“There’s no point blaming music. Music is a reflection of somebody's reality, so when you have music that's violent, that kind of shows that person's been through something. Not that the music is to blame. Instead of attacking the language or the story, I think we should be digging deeper and asking why. Youth comes with really complicated issues – it's youth provision, it's the government having to work together, it's so many problems and a lack of role models. It has to be an effort from all sides to tackle a big issue like this, because it's really complicated.”