London has become notorious for a seemingly unending series of fatal stabbings. The perpetrators and victims are mostly black. What is behind this upsurge of violence? By Clayton Goodwin
London – with other major cities in the land – is in the grip of an epidemic of fatal stabbings. This news has become so commonplace that it is no longer news. A young person, almost always a teenaged boy, sustains lethal wounds. Victim, assailant(s) and witnesses are usually black.
The media describe the incident in detail. Specialists – often with no professional training – tell television audiences that ‘something must be done’. Politicians pronounce opinion and judgement, blaming it all on their opponents’ failed policies. Then everybody waits for the next violent incident to come along, which it does with the frequency of the arrival of London buses.
The public regard these deadly assaults by knife and, occasionally, gun, as being black-on-black crime and often gang-related. Why not – that is how they are shown in the media coverage? As far as it goes, the reporting is the truth, frequently nothing but the truth – but, as we shall see, it is not the whole truth of what Sara Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, has referred to as a “national emergency”.
Too many young people from our readership catchment are paying the penalty for – what? No two people, it seems, can quite agree.
Theresa May, present Prime Minister and former Home Secretary with direct responsibility, denied that the reduction in the police numbers has influenced the rise in violence.
Commissioner Cressida Dick, the senior police officer in London, contradicted her. She went further and linked the killings to a cocaine epidemic in which young black lives in the inner-city are being sacrificed to feed the drug habit of middle-class white people living in the “respectable” county countryside.
Boris Johnson, former Mayor of London, weighed in by blaming
the situation on “political correctness” and opposition to the stopping and searching of suspects. Incidentally, contrary to received speculation, I do not know any African/Caribbean person who objects in principle to the policy of “stop and search” – only to the biased manner in which it has been carried out, and to the failure to accept that as many young people carry weapons primarily for their own defence, society must be made safe simultaneously.
Violence has become so normal that few people pay it attention unless they are affected personally or know somebody who is involved. That happened to me on learning that a young man had been stabbed to death in public at the Marcus Lipton Youth Centre in Lambeth.
There was the name for a start. Marcus had been an iconic politician in that area. With the white moustache and bearing associated with an imperial army officer (which he was), Lipton was also one of the first politicians to sympathise with and support the newly arrived Commonwealth immigrants of the immediate post-war decades.
The location was close to Angell Town, where my own grand-
daughters had happily attended Little Angels nursery school. And the person being interviewed about yet another murder on “her pastoral patch” was Pastor Lorraine Jones, who has become a recognised voice for the lost generation of Lambeth youth.
Her family are well-known and respected in the neighbourhood, and they, too, have been touched by tragedy. Some four years or so ago my wife and myself were in the overflowing tearful congregation mourning the untimely passing of her son, Dwayne Simpson, stabbed to death while trying to break up a fight between people he did not know. “This killing must stop,” Lorraine and her father, record producer Errol Jones, had called emotionally then from the church-steps – yet the slaughter of the innocents goes on.
Knife-crime did not start with the arrival of Africans / West Indians. When they did get to London they were initially among the main victims. It is almost the 60th anniversary of the death of the 32-year-old carpenter Kelso Cochrane, who was murdered by a group of white youths in Notting Hill, shortly after midnight on 17 May 1959.
Due to the situation and timing, this attack is linked to the racially-inspired violence of the previous summer, when packs of Teddy Boy hooligans hunted down black immigrants. Some 1,200 local people of all races marched in Cochrane’s funeral procession which is regarded as a landmark in the development of cultural relations.
Teddy Boy violence
The same streets of south-east London, which are now seen as being a centre for black-on-black violence, were previously known equally well for white-on-white murder. Teddy Boys had started harmlessly enough as fashion-conscious young men copying the flamboyant dress-style prevalent in the reign of King Edward VII.
That image changed drastically with the celebrated Teddy Boy Murder on 2 July 1953. A gang of youths dressed in that style assaulted a smaller group on Clapham Common. John Beckles, 17 years old, was dragged from a bus on which he had tried to escape, and murdered in broad evening daylight.
Ronald Coleman, 15 years old, perceived as being the ring-leader, was apparently saved from the rope by his age. Michael John Davies, 20 years old, was less fortunate: he was sentenced to death (but later reprieved). The notoriety attracted other trouble-makers to join the gangs, so that the term ‘Teddy Boy’ has become synonymous with violence.
After the incident at the Marcus Lipton Youth Centre, Pastor Jones told reporters that the only effective way to combat the menace was to provide more youth clubs and restore recreational, educational, mental health and social resources.
Local services have been cut drastically by the government’s austerity measures. Social scientists emphasise, too, the co-incidence between the explosion in violence and an increase in the number of disruptive students excluded from school classes and left to fend for themselves.
Jesus, as the pastor would be aware, warned against casting out one devil if it is not replaced by something more positive. “Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first” (Luke 11:26).
At the same time, in the same vicinity, producer Kwame Kwei-
Armah presented a new, contemporary working of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night at the Young Vic theatre – in which, among several fine professional performances, Gabrielle Brooks was outstanding as Viola.
His initiative, however, was to recruit the dance/song chorus from ordinary women living in the borough. They responded brilliantly and their families supported them by their attendance. These happy, enthusiastic young people cheering their mothers, aunts and sisters, were from the same community (and maybe households) as the victims and perpetrators of the violence – incongruous as it may seem.
Kwame has vindicated the words of the evangelist that a life of activity and purpose is the best way of keeping out the seven devils.
With much of the current political debate harking back to Winston Churchill, I am sure I heard Pastor Jones say words to the effect of “Give us the tools and we will finish the job” in a radio broadcast as she pleaded for the government to cut down on the fine words and provide greater social support so that local people, themselves, can address the problem. Adequate support, self-help, activity, respect and recognition, as well as facilitating aspiration and opportunity: is that the way to win hearts and minds and to save lives?
I suspect very much that it is. NA