Knife crime: We need the whole community to work together to transform young lives
OPINION: 'A friend who used to be heavily involved in gang life in another part of the capital once told me that the change for him was the meaning of love'
11 April, 2019 — By Georgia Gould
Council leader Georgia Gould responds to another knife murder in Camden
Just over a year ago I received a phone call in the late evening from a youth worker to tell me he was at Peckwater estate with a mother who has just lost her son outside their home.
I will never forget his absolute despair as he said he had heard there was another young man down the road who had also been killed that same night.
That night one family lost its third member to violence on our streets. Camden’s community – teachers, youth workers, young people – have come together in a powerful way to try to stop this happening again.
Over the last year there has not been a week that has gone by that the council and youth and community organisations across the borough haven’t been focused on youth safety.
Last year we saw knife crime in our borough drop by half. Yet last week we lost another young life in Camden.
On Tuesday evening our community came together in Gospel Oak to pay their respects to Calvin Bungisa’s family who had the unimaginable strength to come and call for healing in the wake of Calvin’s murder. There are extra police officers and council workers providing community reassurance in Gospel Oak and across Camden. I would like to express my thanks to police officers, Gospel Oak ward councillors, staff on the ground and the hundreds of residents who have come forward to offer their support. There is no easy answer to why this is happening. Austerity has hit our communities.
It’s taken away community police officers who could build real relationships on our streets and it’s put huge pressure on council budgets and the youth and community services we fund. Many families have been pushed into further poverty by benefit changes.
I have spoken to young people who describe how they started dealing drugs when they watched their mum struggling to pay the bills. As one young person put it, it is very easy to get involved and difficult to get out. But these are long-term, complex, issues.
We have seen the role of social media – inflaming tensions and encouraging retaliation – making violence visible in a way that it never was before. When we analysed the young people who had been involved in the youth justice system, 80 per cent had experienced trauma or neglect.
I remember a story a police officer told me years ago of a young man he stopped for aggressive behaviour. Just a few days later he turned up at a domestic violence call and the same young man was a little boy sitting under a table terrified and desperate for help.
There is so much trauma our young people carry from violence they may have witnessed in their homes, on the streets of Camden or, in some cases, as refugees fleeing war zones.
There is also an aggressive drugs network in Camden and London that seeks to groom and exploit young people.
The raids in Camden Town last year knocked down the doors of 37 homes and arrested 25 people, and we support police work that tackles drug dealing networks and makes young people safer. But we also need to recognise there is a community role for our police.
There is distrust between the police and many young people, connected to historic racism, a lack of representation and continuing disproportionality in stop-and-search, arrests, and criminalisation of vulnerable young people.
Our police are community leaders, and should have a role in raising our young people, not just policing them.
And underlying it all is a lack of hope and connection. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of all of these challenges.
But the alternative is to accept that it is part of our society that young lives will be lost on our streets and we can never do that.
In Camden we are seeking to take a community, public health approach. Over the last year we have placed youth and family workers in police stations working with young people as soon as they are arrested.
New Horizon Youth Centre are now working with clinical psychologists and key workers to support young people on a weekly basis in prisons and make sure they have housing and employment when they leave.
Youth workers from Red Thread will be working at UCL Hospital to support young people who come in with injuries however small. Police, youth workers and schools are adopting psychologically informed practice to create environments that nurture young people who’ve experienced significant trauma. T
here have been over 40 applications to our £500,000 youth safety fund which will help communities develop their own solutions from the ground up.
We can’t define young people through violence and we need to enable the creativity, energy and inspiration they have to offer.
There are powerful role models like Mo, who has just won a grant of £98,000 from the HS2 fund to expand his Climb-It Academy to give young people involved in criminality a route out through entrepreneurship.
We run 11 youth projects in Camden, and fund a further 14 in community organisations, and we have committed to continue to fund these and other projects that give our young people somewhere to play, learn and socialise.
Camden has also pledged over £10million for our play services over the next five years. But we are clear that there is more that needs to be done and another life lost on our streets is an urgent and tragic reminder.
The message from our community is we need to be faster to respond to local concerns and Camden Council is now setting up a violence reduction team to lead that response. But we will need the whole community to work together to meet this challenge.
A friend who used to be heavily involved in gang life in another part of the capital once told me that the change for him was the meaning of love.
Love had meant shedding blood for your brother but the open hearted kindness of someone from his community changed that; love took on a new meaning. As a community I hope we can find the love and connection that can transform young lives.
As one mother said to me after a stabbing, “in Somalia we say it takes a village to raise our child”. Our village in Camden is every race and religion and we have to raise our young people together.