The streets are not safe for many teens in London due to youth violence. Young people never know who might be carrying a knife. “Carrying a knife is for protection, that’s why they do it,” says Benjamin Akande who was threatened at close range with a knife by another youth before. Akande is one of 90 teens gathered at City Hall from areas with the highest youth crime rates in London to discuss youth violence. This group was assembled by Mayor Boris Johnson and the Metropolitan Police.
In 2008, 22 young people were killed due to knife violence in London. With just 8 teen knife homicides in 2011, the number of deaths has definitely declined. This decline serves as a metric that the mayor and police have used to take credit for improvement.
However, Trauma Surgeon Duncan Bew poses the possibility that the decline in youth killed in knife violence has to do with the increased practice the hospital is receiving in severe wounds caused by knives. In fact, knife crime overall is up by 11%. “There is no doubt that some patients are surviving who would not have done so before we improved our trauma service,” Bew says.
At this meeting with London’s youth, government officials explained new mandatory custodial sentences for all 16- and 17-year-olds found carrying knives. The youth in attendance support these harsher penalties in general, but aren’t convinced that this is the solution. Teenagers suggested more youth centers and greater regard for young people’s opinions as solutions.
Hopefully, this event will not be the only one of its kind. This youth violence affects everyone in the community including law enforcement, health professionals, and city officials in one way or another. However, the biggest and most immediate impact is on youth themselves. Any help youth can offer to help professionals understand the thought process of other young people is a step closer to a solution.