Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2109

Stop the demonisation of Britain’s young people

This article is over 13 years, 6 months old
The media and politicians’ calls for a crackdown to end the killings of young people are no solution to the problem, writes Esme Choonara
Issue 2109
Police are stepping up stop and searches of young people (Pic:» Guy Smallman )
Police are stepping up stop and searches of young people (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

The Tories and the tabloid press have waded into the debate on knife crime with demands for mandatory and longer prison sentences for those found carrying knives.

The Sun, the Mirror and the News of the World all now have their own online petitions calling for more government crackdowns over knife crime.

The News of the World is even running a roadshow to garner support for longer sentencing, more police and the building of more prisons.

Labour has responded by announcing a review into sentencing.

It has also publicised the appointment of a new lord chief justice, Sir Igor Judge.

He is writing to every magistrate in England and Wales to warn them that they should apply tougher sentences to deal with knife crime.

But simply pouring more police onto the streets or locking people up for longer will not address the problem – it will make the situation worse.

Britain’s jails are already overflowing and more young people are locked up here than anywhere in western Europe.

There is already a huge police crackdown underway. The London Metropolitan Police force launched its latest operation in May.

Known as Operation Blunt 2, the high profile operation has led to an astonishing 27,000 people being searched since May.

This uncovered only 500 knives – from less than 2 percent of those searched.

But as children’s commissioner Al Aynsley-Green has pointed out, policies like this simply antagonise and further alienate young people.

Stop and search is also disproportionately used against black and Asian people and increases the racist harassment that young black people face.


Underlying New Labour’s approach is the assumption that there is something fundamentally wrong with young people, that they are a threat to society.

Policing minister Tony McNulty made this clear last week when he said that knife crime among young people “is apparently a generational, almost cultural thing that’s getting into the collective DNA”.

There is no serious attempt to understand why young people may carry knives – to consider the fear, poverty, alienation, anger and frustration that may lead to violence or crime.

Worrying statistics show that while overall deaths from stabbings have remained fairly consistent at around 200-250 a year for the past decade, the victims of knife crime are getting younger.

Knife injuries also seem to be rising. The number of children admitted to hospitals in England and Wales with wounds from a knife or other sharp instrument has risen 62 percent in just three years.

Racism is one of the issues connected to knife crime. Yet politicians ignore this.

In London, for example, 19 teenagers have been stabbed or beaten to death this year – 16 of those are black or Asian.

Young black men are disproportionately excluded from schools, discriminated against in jobs and training, more likely to be stopped or arrested by the police or to end up in prison.

There is a worrying development in the reporting of those killed by knives.

There is a growing division between those (usually white people) who are depicted as innocent victims and those (predominantly black people) who are portrayed as being gang members and violent thugs and therefore partly to blame for their own death.

We should reject this division. The rising number of young people carrying knives is a damning indictment of a society that demonises and alienates the majority of young people instead of listening to them and offering them a decent future.

Labour may grab headlines with its increasingly punitive policies, but it is badly failing young people.

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