It seems discouraging to start the New Year with discussions of the same issues we faced at the end of the last; but as the celebrations fade and January becomes well and truly established, it’s time to start talking again.
Yesterday, I came across an interesting article about the young people who live in close proximity to those involved with the tragic series of stabbings that heralded the New Year. It was at once both good to see the voices of young people piercing the silence, and difficult to read the way in which these events had become normalised in their communities, just around the corner from where I am writing this.
As you will probably know, four fatal stabbings involving young men in London took place in the hours before and after midnight on 31st December. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has responded with the “London Needs You Alive” campaign and an increase on Stop and Search to stop people carrying knives. This has received a lot of criticism, especially from youth workers on the frontline who say that the Mayor’s campaign misses the point; young people believe their lives are at risk before they pick up that knife.
Young people in London are, according to this article, conflicted about the best way to tackle this. They say it seems random, and all at once deliberate. Their neighbours are “not the type” to carry knives and yet end up prime suspects; or they are scared to go to certain places because it might be them next, like Betts Park in Anerley, where homemade posters appealing for information headline “MURDER” in the surrounding area.
The consensus of young people seems to be overall that tougher penalties don’t work. Getting kicked out of school, they say, doesn’t help young people - it turns them towards the wrong path. One girl asks why there is no one there to listen to them and make them feel like their problems are heard: before it’s too late.
This strikes a chord with me. Too often our instinct is to restrict and regulate; it’s not easy to set aside that mob mentality when tragedy strikes. Here at IARS this idea of talking, listening and, indeed, restorative justice runs deep and we hope that we will be able to contribute meaningfully to the discussions on that very theme as 2018 continues, with young people at the helm every step of the way.