Author: Adaeze Chikwe
This is the fourth of several pieces arising from the ARM 2019, explaining our positions on the debates which occurred there.
The Broad Left supported this motion which passed unanimously.
Knife crime is an ever-growing epidemic in the UK, with rates reaching record level during 2018. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of killings due to knife crime in 2018 were 732, one of the highest rates ever recorded in the UK(1). Unfortunately, the response to this epidemic by both the government and the Home Office so far fails to combat the issue by only focusing on reactionary policing and criminalisation, rather than preventative measures.
The solution we see unsuccessfully rehashed year upon year by the government is the use of ‘stop and search’, where pedestrians are stopped by the police at random on the streets, often on the basis of preconceptions and stereotypes about the race and gender of supposed perpetrators of knife crime. According to the Home Office, black people are 40 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched(2). Official responses and rhetoric reinforce the ignorant and damaging stereotypes already placed on the heads of black people, such as that black people are criminals and more likely to partake in violent behaviour.
Although stop and searches may be successful in the short-term, this solution does nothing to stop offenders carrying knives on the street again at a later date, and instead increases the frustration and lack of belief in the police force from particular groups of people wrongly targeted for stop and searches repeatedly.
Knife crime is a public health issue.
We recognise that to truly make a dent in this rising wall of knife crime, a more grassroots approach needs to be undertaken where organisations and charities go directly into communities to find out why some people (often young adults) feel that carrying knives on the street is their only option, and intervene in the early stages before attacks can be carried out. Furthermore, these organisations have a variety of functions such as providing positive guidance to young people who might not have had this guidance earlier on in life, providing first aid sessions that teach young people how to stem blood loss from a knife wound and helping young offenders find employment and further education when coming out of prison to prevent them from re-offending.
The motion called on the BMA, as a trade union for doctors, to recognise the role that healthcare has to play in combatting knife crime. Instead of taking a no-questions-asked approach whilst treating victims of knife crime and ushering them immediately out of the hospital doors once treated in order to free-up beds in our already over-stretched NHS, healthcare workers need the training to be able to sign-post victims towards services that can break the cycle of violence that often leads to re-attendance.
Additionally, we need further implementation of youth workers in trauma centres all around the country, such as those from the organisation ‘Redthread’ that work side by side with clinicians in hospitals to engage victims of knife crime directly from their hospital beds. Organisations like this take advantage of this time when victims are at their most vulnerable and reflective in order to have a greater effect and prevent re-attendance(3).
There is evidence that a grassroots approach to combatting knife crime is effective, as shown in Scotland. The Scottish ‘Violence Reduction Unit’ (VRU) implemented a variety of programmes that aimed to educate rather than castigate both the victims of knife crime and those at risk of partaking in knife crime. They launched a mentorship project in schools designed to educate young people about how to challenge offensive behaviour without using violence(4). The VRU have outreach teams in hospital emergency rooms to sign-post victims to services that can help them move on and rebuild their lives regardless of their circumstances. As a result of the efforts of these organisations, there has been a 39% decrease in homicides over the last decade.
If Scotland can reduce their knife crime levels, we can absolutely do the same in England and Wales.
Collectively bringing attention to this issue by promoting outreach and grassroots services will enable those at risk of partaking in knife crime to see that these programmes are available. We need to continue to pressure the government into prioritising the public health approach rather than rely solely on stop and searches. We can do this through the BMA and independently, by writing to MPs and starting petitions to have a greater proportion of money used to combat knife crime funnelled towards grassroots organisations and outreach services. Furthermore, we can raise awareness that these services are available in our communities and invite grassroots organisations to schools and youth clubs.
The knife crime epidemic, although experienced by few, needs to be acknowledged as a public health problem by all, whether you are from a community directly impacted by the effects of knife crime or not at all.