How can we address youth violence?

We’re focusing on youth violence at The Kickback next Tuesday, at a time when youth violence and violent crime as a whole in London has been plaguing the headlines.  The reported surge in gun and knife crime is being labelled as an epidemic, which unfortunately isn’t a surprise to me, as I saw it heading in this direction years ago with knife crime increasingly becoming more of a normality.

I hate that it comes as no surprise and it sickens me to continuously hear of young lives being snatched away at the hands of other young people, but this was bound to be the case considering the poor handling of youth violence over the years.

It should never have become such a common occurrence, but the government and the majority of the police simply don’t get it, because they don’t get young people.  Slapping the gang label on them is certainly not helpful, and an increase in ‘stop and search’ is not the solution – young people are not stupid and they will find a way around that.

Mayor Sadiq Khan was right when he attacked the government over cuts to services, as that likely has a large part to play in the rise of youth violence.  However, there are a number of contributing factors, which is what makes addressing and driving down violent crime so complex.

Factors and influences can range from austerity, peer pressure, lack of opportunities, toxic masculinity, postcode wars, trauma from witnessing previous attacks and ineffective policing.  Music and social media may also have a part to play, but that’s the difficult thing – a number of parts make up this problem, meaning that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

Before we can find any solutions though, more needs to be done to get into the root causes of violent crime and address those first, which I think is what the government and police are missing.  Focusing on harsher sentences and ‘stop and search’ are not the answer.

The focus needs to be on young people as individuals, getting to grips with their needs, understanding their struggles and taking notice of who they really are.  Voices of young people also need to be heard, as I don’t hear enough from them in response to an issue directly affecting them.  Has anyone considered that they may have some of the answers?

Working more with community groups and youth organisations should have also been a strong focus from the get-go, because it is these organisations that work with young people on a grassroots level and have an understanding of them that the government or police do not have.  Common ground needs to be found between young people and the police before significant progress can be made.

What is also clear is that scaremongering needs to stop.  Although the headlines have been reporting more murders as a result of stabbings and shootings than we may be used to, it is important to remember that this is a constant all year round.  There are most likely a number of other stabbings or shootings that have taken place in the capital under the radar and not made it into the news.  Why are spates of violent crime reported at chosen times?

Rather than inciting fear into the nation, we need to focus on the root causes and share stories about those working to put a stop to youth violence.  Most importantly, we need to highlight the great things that young people are doing so they don’t feel vilified by society and will consider the options that are out there for them, not giving thought to picking up a gun or a knife.

Join the conversation on ‘Youth Violence’ at The Kickback on April 17th at Project B from 6.30-8.30pm.

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