Families of victims demand the government finally takes action
“It can happen to anyone at any time, no matter the colour, the creed, the skin. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, you don’t have to live in an estate for this to happen to you, and a very low percentage of people killed were in gangs,” says Elaine Donnellon of Rise Against Violence UK. The families and friends of knife crime victims gathered outside London’s Downing Street yesterday (April 17) to protest the rise in violence on UK streets and demand action. They held up banners and placards paying tributes to their loved ones by name: Tyler Thompson, Lamar Stewart, Alex Leonard, Marcel Addai, Ricky Hayden, Joshua Hanson, Jonathan James McPhillips, and too many more.
The group, Operation Shutdown, was organised by anti-violence charities Rise Against Violence UK and Stop Kids Being Killed On Our Streets to highlight the lack of action parliament has taken to tackle the knife crime epidemic.
Amy Morgan, who lost her son Tyler Thompson to a knife attack in 2015, tells Dazed: “I woke up to the news that another young life had been taken, they’d been shot and stabbed with a machete. I contacted Elaine (Donnellon) and said ‘we have to do something, I can’t cope with it anymore’. I was shaking. This was three years since my son was taken, he was fatally stabbed in 2015. It’s gone on and on and on, there’s no end in it.”
Children as young as nine made heartbreaking speeches about losing family members to senseless violence in the hope of raising awareness to just how devastating – and widespread – the effects of knife crime are.
“It sickens me to see that so many people are getting killed and nothing is being done about it” – Leslie Stewart
At least 10 teenagers were killed in 2019, and 97 people were killed in 2017-2018. Families of the victims feel as though not enough is being done to prevent attacks, and that the justice system has failed them, with some attackers serving just three years for murder. The group demands more support be given to the victims’ families, as in the wake of a loss, families are left to deal with grief with no outside support. Donnellon says: “The families are here today to tell you, it doesn’t matter if it happens two years ago or 12 years ago, they are the people with the real life sentence, they’re the ones left struggling. The reason they all know each other is because they’ve had to build their own support networks because there’s nothing in place.”
Leslie Stewart, who lost his son Lamar Stewart, also tells Dazed: “I’m here because my son got murdered in 2017 and I’m here to make a change. I think the government should do a lot more than they’re doing now, they’re doing nothing at all. It sickens me to see that so many people are getting killed and nothing is being done about it.”
Stewart’s opinion that nothing to prevent knife crime happening is echoed by Tracey Hanson, mother of Joshua Hanson, who says: “I lost my son to an unprovoked knife attack. The last three years, like all the other mothers here, we are fighting for justice on so many different levels. Justice to be heard, justice to make change, justice to get justice, for so many families that haven’t had any justice whatsoever.”
Many family members expressed anger at the leniency of sentences, as well as the lack of police action in other cases. Hanson adds: “My son Josh is with me 24 hours a day. I will grieve until I close my eyes and I’m with him once again. But while I’m doing that, I will fight for him and every other person who has lost their life.”
One element of this fight sees Operation Shutdown demand that the government call a COBRA meeting (a Cabinet meeting to respond to major events or action) within 48 hours of the protest. Declaring knife crime a national emergency, the group wants the government to take the epidemic seriously, and do something before more lives are lost. The group of demonstrators spanned across different ages, genders, races, from all over the UK, but it was the speeches from the very young that were most heartbreaking to hear.
A nine-year-old boy who lost his brother to a knife attack four years ago says: “I feel that we should stop killing each other and start caring about each other. We have got to stop all this crime and killing brothers.” If a young person will stand up and say what needs to happen with such fervency, when will the government listen?