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We can only solve knife crime as one big community

Jamal Simon, Member of Youth Parliament for Lambeth

“But what I can do?” Whenever there’s a problem, there’s a tendency to look towards government for a solution. That’s what politicians are for, after all. But is this working?

In May I met with other newly elected Members of Youth Parliament for London to discuss what issue we wanted to tackle over the next year. Without great deliberation, ‘Knife Crime’ came out as the most important.

It was striking how critical each Youth Parliament Member was with the status quo. “What can we do about it?” became “What do we do?”, then “When are we doing this?”. It was only after picking our topic that we found out 14,680 of the 40,100 crimes involving knives in England and Wales in 2017-18 were in London (an increase of 21% on the previous year).

First, raising awareness. We put our motion forward to the British Youth Council, and ensured it was debated at the BYC’s Annual Sitting in Parliament. This was undoubtedly a win: for the first time, the BYC’s Make Your Mark Campaign received over one million votes, with “Combatting Knife Crime” chosen as Britain’s top priority.

Second, we worked with the Youth Violence Commission, chaired by Lewisham Deptford MP Vicky Foxcroft, in discussing the YVC report advocating for a public health approach to combat violence, and how to ensure the government would listen.

The public health approach is a concept of dealing with an issue holistically and engaging with the different policy areas which affects it: a great example is with car accidents, where deaths dropped 16% between 2005-2012 following policy changes.

Vicky Foxcroft secured a government debate on the public health approach, having asked nearly a dozen times. Frustratingly, despite Sadiq Khan and Sajid Javid both committing to the public health approach to tackle knife crime, they have failed to be transparent about what it would look like – thereby misunderstanding what the approach is about.

On Friday 7th December at the Damilola Taylor Trust Memorial lecture, what I understood of the public health approach was reaffirmed. What its pioneers have done in Scotland wasn’t about policing or about government legislation: it was about community. It’s about bridging the gap between those who feel so isolated that they don’t care for society’s rules. It treats violence – not just street violence, but all violence including that against the self – as a physical disease, and it rebuilds the trust in institutions that, over time, has become so eroded.

“What can I do?” – the answer is engaging with those around you. Representative democracy never can be automatically representative. We can’t just expect our politicians to know what to do – it takes a community. So be active somehow; anyhow. Talk to your local councillor, volunteer, challenge hateful language. That’s the most valuable lesson I’ve learned and my mantra for living.

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