Knife crime is on the rise again, with 37,000 reported offences in England and Wales. Most revealingly, in 2016 59% of the cases in England and Wales were committed by people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
In an exciting instalment of The Discourse, ABN Radio spoke to Pastor Grant, Author Onyi Ayando and Pray for Youth representative, Junior Spence, about the causes, solutions and preventative actions that communities could take to eradicate knife-crime. These were the main points raised on the matter:
“I didn’t know my purpose” No Direction
Onyi Ayando is the author of ‘Hitting the Target: a 12-month guide to Distinction’ and, ‘The Doorway to Distinction’, two personal-development manuals that help individuals reign in their life goals and passions. Onyi believes that a lack of purpose in young people can make them more predisposed to the frustration, insecurities and boredom commonly ascribed to street violence.
“I didn’t know my purpose”, says Onyi Anyando, who joined a gang after dropping out of university. His revelation came following the murder of six of his friends and a near death experience. The Discourse addressed the community’s failure to be open-minded and supportive of young people, ensuring that they can follow their own creative ambitions, whatever they may be. “Unfortunately, the education system does not teach us purpose and leadership, it just teaches us one level: geography, history…things that are not relevant in the 21st century. You are a leader and the way to manifest your leadership is by finding your gifts, your talents and your passion”. Ayando’s organisation does exactly that. It endeavours to inspire young people by offering the fresh start in life that they need. “We give opportunities to start a business [by giving] start-up funding”.
“Leadership, legacy and love”
Onyi believes that the problem lies with youngsters being raised in abject poverty. In such cases, individuals are only drawn to the quick lucrative gains, glory and status that the street-life purportedly brings. “When I was a growing up my dream was to be footballer”, says Sonny, a former gang-member, in an interview with the BBC. However, Sonny lost this vision after making friends with the wrong people, and his quest for greatness was translated in the glory of gang-life: “I wanted pride’”, he states.
Onyi Ayando rejects the glamourised gang culture that celebrities like 50 cent rap about, and affirms that a definitive “purpose” in life was the only way to bring long-lasting meaning and satisfaction, both emotionally and financially. “I call it the three L’s: Leadership, legacy and love”, states Ayando. According to this philosophy, every young person has a leader in him or her to drive their own success, a positive legacy to leave behind, and love to give to the community. “I am not talking about overnight success, I have been doing this for six or seven years, and it is only [in] the last two years that I’ve been making money. [I was] evicted from my own house, I had to live in my mother’s house at this age, but I never lost my vision, my legacy, my leadership or my love, because I saw the bigger picture”. Even if it is not just about money, Ayando believes that if you do something you love, you will be rewarded financially as well: “money is a by-product of finding your purpose…before you can be valued, you have to find your value”.
“Children have to know that […] whatever your parent says goes”
Discipline, Family Education and Emotional Support are Vital
No parental boundaries in the home was also diagnosed as a common cause of hedonistic lifestyles. “I think that it is critically important…that the children have to know that when you are in your parents’ house, whatever your parent says goes”, stated Ayando.
“We have a generation [where] unfortunately the parents don’t understand discipline, and the children aren’t going to necessarily listen to their parents, so we’ve got children who after school, they’re out […] on the streets. That whole family community has been ripped away from our culture. So now the streets are raising many of our young people”.
“One of the main issues is the absent father”
But discipline is only one part of the work: emotional support and an active interest in the child’s future is also key.
Junior Spence works for the Pray for Youth Network, an initiative that helps young people in gangs rebuild their lives and believes that absent fathers and a lack of emotional support in the home have detrimental psychological effects on children: “one of the main issues is the absent father. I spoke to young people who were very cold, and at the route was their dads. They had no leadership, no father figure, no stability, no love or care, and no role model. [And] when you are born in that environment where there is no positive role model, there’s no discipline, there’s no accountability [and] there is nothing that really inspires you, you are just going to go with the flow”. Spence’s analysis echoes similar arguments made by Ian Duncan Smith in 2010. Mr Duncan Smith had said that seven out of ten offenders came from broken homes, making them ‘nine times more likely to commit crimes’, than those from stable families. In turn, families of one parent were also seen to struggle much more financially, and less likely to sustain discipline and education in the home.
Pastor Grant Bulmuo of Fountain Gate Chapel and former vice-principal emphasised the importance of an early education: “If I set homework, and I don’t get any response from a parent, it just shows that parents don’t really show much interest. It takes [more] effort to repair a child rather than to mould a child. The child’s perspective is formed after 14 years [after which] it becomes more difficult to influence a child. That is why we need to do a lot right from birth to when they are about 14”.
Ultimately, people long for solidarity and support, and Junior Spence’s concern is that if families fail to provide the emotional support, education, discipline and positive influence that young people seek, they may look for it elsewhere. “Gangs become their family”, Spence noted.
“It takes [more] effort to repair a child than to mould a child”
Negative External Influences
People are a product of their environment and those they surround themselves with will shape the person they become: “with young people, whoever has their ears will determine who they become” Onyi Ayando affirms. “No young person was born a criminal”, and an individual is highly likely to fall into criminal activity if his only form of education is from other criminals. In an interview the BBC, an former gang-member who chose to remain anonymous, explained how he was just following in the footsteps of good friends: “my friend gave me a knife”, stated the adolescent, “[Then] I started hanging out with bad people who were selling drugs on the streets”.
It was concluded, therefore, that to prevent a child from going down a criminal path, positive influences and role models are vital. Spence’s Pray for Youth initiative endeavours to give young this support: “someone they can look up to [and] that they know is there for them, consistently, genuinely, lovingly.” Spence further comments, “it may not take the place of their real father, but it is something that they really, really attach themselves to”.
“No young person was born a criminal”
Fear and Self-Protection
Toughness and aggression are a mark of gang culture. Gangs can offer physical protection to those surrounded by violence, either at school or in their neighbourhood. Just as bullying materialises from a fear of being bullied, the threat of violence is such in certain communities, that belonging to a gang can be the difference between life or death. “[it’s] kill or be killed”, states Onyi Ayando. Ben, an adolescent from London, is one example of how this ‘dog-eat-dog world’ plays out: “when I was growing up my best friend died aged 12 from being stabbed. It changed my perspective of what the world was about, and I started carrying a knife for protection”. Ben only stopped carrying a knife after a near fatal stabbing.
Studies have shown that young people are pushed by anxiety and fear for their lives to join a gang or to carry a knife. The gang and the weapon are purportedly ways to ward off attacks from others. However, in reality they can provoke or intimidate others to act out violently on you, sometimes fatally. Spence urges parents to ensure consistent discipline and education in the home, as well as emotional support from the family.
Mothers worried about their child should contact Pray for Youth, where the charity can put you in touch with different mentors.
‘[it’s] kill or be killed’
Government to spend £1m towards #knifefree campaign
Last week, the government announced plans to invest £1m in an advertising campaign to combat the UK’s knife and gang problem. The advertisements will run on social media and digital channels like Facebook and a website that offers advice and support services called #knifefree has also been set up.
When asked what he thought of the initiative, Onyi Ayando dismissed it, calling the campaign “a waste of time, effort and money”. Ayando believes that the money should have been spent funding more grassroots initiatives that encourage young people to find their passion and purpose in life. There are many cases of where grassroots organisations have been more successful than government in reducing gang crime.
This includes the famous Harlem Children’s Zone Project, a non-profit organisation pioneered by Geoffrey Canada in 1997. The programme provides thousands of children from poverty-stricken and broken families in Harlem, New York, with the family support services, private schools, and after-school programmes they need to deter them from crime. The project has seen thousands of young people attending university and has led to a decrease in crime and gang violence in the area since 1997.
Pastor Grant spoke of how the black community had to lead if the UK is ever going to reduce street violence. “I think we need to talk to black communities about what we need to do. We need to own it, we need to have a voice, we need to come out.
“Back in Africa we say chale’s born into a community, you don’t need to have a father or a mother to have somebody correcting you, we need to have that [black] community spirit back”.
Credit: Lavinia Butt