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'We're not to blame for knife crime epidemic'

CONCERN: Members of the public out in force during a recent walk to unite against the plight of violent crime in the capital and across the country

IN A RECENT summit at Downing Street which addressed the issue of serious youth violence including knife crime, Prime Minister Theresa May, along with Home Office Secretary Sajid Javid, announced that frontline workers, such as doctors, nurses and teachers, would be required, by law, to report children feared to have been caught up in a life of violence and be held accountable if they failed to do so.

The announcement, which has come under proposals put forward by the government to tackle the knife crime crisis, has come as an insult to many frontline workers who are already doing all they can to combat knife crime and youth violence within their communities.

Beyond the Blade, The Guardian’s award-winning series on knife crime, contains a video clip of a father, acted by Gbolahan Obisean, reflecting on the loss of his son through knife crime.

PICTURED: Darell J Philip

It is a deeply grim depiction that Dr Mark Prince OBE knows only too well.

He set up The Kiyan Prince Foundation in memory of his son whom he lost to knife crime in 2006.

An author and former boxing champion, Dr Prince remembers how he felt the day he lost his son.

“I never dreamt I would have to watch my first son die in hospital from such a violent act and all from just trying to break up a fight outside his school. It’s the most painful experience any parent can go through and there’s not a day that goes by that I can ever forget him.”

COMMITTED: Dr Mark Prince OBE continues to work in his son’s memory to tackle knife crime

Dr Prince was awarded an OBE earlier this year in recognition of the work his foundation does in empowering young people considered at risk of becoming involved in knife and gang crime.

“Our work is all about inspiring future champions and investing in our young people.

“Knife crime and youth violence is not a race issue but a youth issue which has led to a national crisis.

“By promoting inspiring young people within our communities, we hope to promote an alternative image to the ones portrayed by gangs and those involved in knife crime.”

Dr Prince feels that the onus is on the government to provide good leadership in addressing the problem. “Leadership in this country has led to anarchy. Leaders do not blame team members. Instead, they take responsibility, allocate roles and create fair and realistic strategies – in this instance there has been a failure to do so.”

On receiving his OBE, Dr Prince said: “This award is for my son and for all other families who have lost their children in the same way. We need to do all we can in our homes; schools and youth centres to let children and young people know that their life is precious and that carrying knives is wrong.”

According to Home Office figures, there were 285 deaths recorded between March 2017 and 2018 as a result of knife crime. Many of those deaths have involved young people.

Last year, community organisations, faith groups and local councillors took to the streets in a peaceful march around the London borough of Hackney which let members of the public know how important the lives of young people were in the borough.


Among those leading the Because We Care procession were sisters Jade and Riann Brooks who are members of the Pathfinders Club which is a church based youth group in Hackney.

“Many Pathfinder and drum corps clubs across London have led out in ‘Anti-gun and knife crime’ marches in an effort to promote peace on our streets and let the community know that we care about what is going on around us,” says Riann, age 23.

“We have had the community join us in our marches as well as MPs, anti-knife crime activists and representatives from diverse faith groups who work in the local area. Members from our group have reached out to family members who are grieving their loved ones lost to knife crime.”

Riann’s sister, Jade, 21, who is also a member of the Pathfinders Club adds: “We have also run various community programmes such as the annual summer street fair where young people, their families and the community can socialise, play games and eat good food in a safe setting which creates a positive environment for everyone.”

As a young person herself, Jade is passionate about people her age being given a fair deal, and therefore has strong views regarding the current government proposals on youth violence and knife crime.

She says: “I do not agree with the government proposal of holding frontline workers accountable for the prevention of knife crime. These workers are already doing as much as they can to teach, assist and encourage young people to do something positive with their lives but there is only so much they can do. It’s not a responsibility that should be pushed on to one set of people. A joint effort will be more effective.”

Jade feels that in the current climate, where drastic cuts are being made to services which are of huge benefit to young people’s emotional and social development, the frontline workers who work with and know them best are being unfairly singled out.

“Frontline workers don’t have the same level of authority to prevent such crimes on their own. Instead of holding them accountable, they should be supported. We should all come together to find solutions to tackle this serious problem.”

Deji Adeoshun, a youth leadership programme manager for Hackney Council Voluntary Service (HCVS), is responsible for projects such as Moving On Up (featured in The Guardian’s Bias in Britain series) which works to improve outcomes for men in Hackney by providing employment support while also empowering them to influence policy both at local and national levels.

UNITY: Faith leaders in Hackney concerned about knife crime hold a banner before embarking on a walk

“We provide young people with paid sessional opportunities to impact their community in a positive way,” he says.

“For example, we have inspirational leaders, predominantly young black men, who have been trained up to deliver mentoring and aspiring workshops in schools and youth clubs. By giving the young men a platform to share their experiences, it is a usual tool when advising the younger generation on the dangers of knife crime and its long-term consequences.”

A law graduate, Deji argues that rather than holding frontline workers accountable that instead they should be given training opportunities to enable them to work even more effectively in combatting knife crime and youth violence. He says: “The proposal assumes that frontline workers are not already doing this work.

“From my experience whenever a young person raises red flags, the agencies share intelligence and notify the appropriate services. So frontline workers are doing the work.

“The first issue for me is training, there needs to be a lot more work around training frontline staff to spot the signs early.

“Knife crime and serious violence is a niche area of work which requires specific skills which not all frontline workers have. “The second issue is once identified there are not sufficient programmes to sign post the young people to.

“Finally, it is not just frontline workers, but society as a whole who must take responsibility and chip in.”

Through his work with young people, Deji has also come to realise there are barriers which inhibit the progress of young people.

“To be frank, austerity has not helped. The cuts across services are being hard felt by the most vulnerable and I would argue that the people who are most likely to be involved in knife crime are some of the most vulnerable in our society.

“When you look at the underlying issues of some of the young people involved you often find that they have been failed by system in some way.” Another individual who is making an impact in youth engagement is Jermaine Wong. Jermaine is the founder of Creative Communications which works with young people in a series of self-development workshops enabling them to identify negative stereotypes, while also empowering them to seek positive options which enable them to live an alternative lifestyle.

He says: “Young people are talented and need to be affirmed of their greatness and value in society. Through the use of real life examples we tell the young people on our workshops that they too can be the doctors, lawyers, teachers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow and that their lives are of worth and value to the communities from which they belong.” Jermaine, a former head of drama at a secondary school in south London, feels that the government is trying to seek answers to what has become a national crisis but are going about it the wrong way.

“The impression given by this proposal is that frontline workers do not care about children and young people and that not enough is being done to prevent youth violence and knife crime. The government appears to be overlooking the massive work already being done by teachers and youth workers to address the issue.”

Rather than point the finger at those working on the ground to make a difference in the lives of young people, Jermaine feels the government must address the drastic impact they are making on frontline workers.

“Why are youth centres across the country closed down? Why are teaching assistants losing their jobs? Due to drastic cuts in funding the end result is that there are no incentives or positive things for young people to do. If young people then do not have a safe space to meet or access to individuals such as youth workers or teaching assistants to reach out to them then they will look elsewhere. It’s one thing holding us to account but another to put your money where your mouth is. Only then will we see real change.”

Paul Frempong is director of Boys2Men Ministries. Addressing how his organisation tackles the issue, he says: “We educate parents and young people in the community through the delivery of stimulating workshops on this area.

TAKING ACTION: Paul Frempong

“I’ve also had the opportunity to mentor young black teenagers over the past 15 years, developing their personal self-esteem as young men while also motivating them to achieve well in life with many having gone on to successfully gain full time employment.”

Touching on the government’s current proposals in addressing knife crime, Paul feels that the level of accountability goes beyond frontline workers and that the government need to take a holistic approach.

“The core issues around knife crime are connected to family upbringing, poverty and environmental factors and therefore go beyond what frontline workers can do,” he says. “Frontline workers should not be blamed.”

“This proposal will lead to many frontline workers leaving their job roles due to the fear of being blamed for an issue that has been contributed to by a wider social problem. Frontline workers jobs are also made difficult due to cut backs in resources, so how can we expect good outcomes with limited resources? In an age of austerity where government cuts are being made to policing, schools and youth centres across the country, organisations like these surely come as a beacon of hope and a breath of fresh air to everyone.”

Darell J Philip is a teaching assistant in an east London primary school. He is an English literature and media studies graduate who has had work published in The Guardian, The Mirror and New Nation. Darell is also a PR and communications assistant at his local church and blogs at darellphilip.

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