Lead item on newscasts and front pages of newspapers are currently dominated by knife crime. Politicians are falling over themselves to declare that a 50% increase is an emergency that needs to be addressed swiftly ad on a par with terrorism. Prime Minister May and Chief Constable Cressida Dick fall out over whether this is related to falling police numbers or not. And everyone—quite rightly—bemoans a senseless loss of young lives because almost all victims are under 20 years of age.
While the outrage may be understandable, neither the context nor any broader remedy seems to attract much attention. Knife crime and deaths relating to it have been growing for some time. But, until it spilled out of poorer inner city areas inhabited largely by black people, it seldom made the front page. Even when it did, the fact that almost al victims wee young black males was suppressed for fear of appearing racist. But when incidents in one weekend involved females and non-blacks and occurred in suburban Bromley and Manchester, the media and politicians were all over it like a rash.
But the debate has been entirely a bun fight about policing. While Theresa May is wrong to play down, if not deny any correlation between declining police numbers and increased knife crime, this is like arguing how best to bandage a knife wound when we should be discussing how to avoid any such wound happening in the first place. You only have to examine what lies behind the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the USA to realise that having (largely white) police trying to keep the peace in largely black ghettos where both sides carry not knives but guns results in escalating alienation which leads to a fragmenting society.
As long as we talk of solving knife crime solely in terms of policing, we are learning nothing from our American cousins. Seventy yeas ago, Britain was a class-ridden, but racially homogeneous society. WE have made much progress in disarming the class war. But the influx of Commonwealth citizens that made us as racially mixed as America has created a different set of social fault lines. And while well intentioned equality laws may have resulted in a racial mix of faces appearing at all levels of civic life, urban tracts in London and post-industrial cities further north are no more integrated than Harlem, South Chicago or Watts, People living thee are only tangentially involved in the mainstream. Those who find a way to leave do so—and seldom come back.
“What we have here” as George Kennedy’s character said to Cool Hand Luke “is a failure to communicate”. Young black guys in Tower Hamlets ate given no more role models to follow locally than Boyz N the ‘Hood. Despite the best efforts of school or church or single parent, teenage testosterone is a powerful drug when you’re trying to find yourself. And if the model you are presented with is a hard man gang member carrying a knife who deals some drugs on the side so he always has stash and cash, that’s where testosterone will most likely lead them.
What seems to stand in the way of addressing the root of all this is the societal shift that we must engage professionals trained in psychology and social work to do so. Without meaning any slight to those dedicated to providing such services, if farming or industry operated with the same success rate, we would all be starving and out of a job. To be fair, austerity cuts and people’s reluctance to pay any more taxes mean they will be seriously under-resourced anyway. The average social worker case load over 50 means. This is stretching them so thin they might as well be using Elastoplasts to cure brain haemhorrhage.
Our grandparents may have been tough and self-reliant but a side-effect of modern life and its booming service industry that we think in terms of rights and entitlements. Just as we expect mechanics to fix our cars, we expect the NHS to fix our bodies and politicians to fix our social problems. The complexity of fuel injection is put in the shade by the intricacies of eye surgery. But both are a doddle, compared to fixing society..
So, while media and politicians collude to give the impression that a ‘silver bullet’ sound bite can solve major societal problems, the reality is that a disjointed society, whether by race, class or affluence (and Britain suffers from all thee) can’t. They will not only be unable to benefit from the talents of all its people. The disaffected segments who do not feel they have access to and inclusion in opportunities of the mainstream will create their own, under-resourced and less sophisticated subculture, and most likely will involve weapons.
As we have let this develop over decades, it will take comparable time to address. We should not have let the Windrush generation simply fend for themselves; we should not have let Harlesden or Brixton become mostly black or Salford or Ealing become mostly South Asian. The genius of America a century ago (recently lost) was that it swiftly moved immigrants on from their initial ghettos by making them all feel American and their children indistinguishable from Mayflower descendants, other than by surname.
Not only will it take time but real town planning around community, not just drawing circles for developers to exploit. It will take the British (especially the English) to become more inclusive and outward-looking. It will take moving people (as well as investment and jobs. It will take councils not treating social/affordable housing as other than a branch of social work. It will take politicians to be more honest, pragmatic about the issues and not exploit them like some publicity bandwagon to jump on. And it will take the media to stop dumbing-down the stories to a blizzard of sound bites, forgotten as soon as next week’s sensation surfaces.
Otherwise, fragmented local societies will continue on the paths they are on, the media spotlight will move to the next story and young people of similar background will continue to die in unacceptable numbers.