From time to time, images of deprivation, crime, disenfranchisement and school exclusions in our communities have been thrust into millions of homes in the UK followed by buzz words such as, “lack of role models”, “single-parent household”, “no father figure”, “absent fathers”, “lack of discipline”, “mental health issues” etc. What needs to be made clear is that these statements coupled with the negative images, can lead to harmful stereotyping especially towards the young who live, work and study in these communities.
We hear of another young life succumbing to knife violence, of yet another family mourning the loss of their child, often a son, and unfortunately, this is not only a reality, but it hardly allows for some of our media to focus on the more positive angles of the community. The narrative needs to change and this is the ethos and philosophies of BLAC.
We cannot even begin to contemplate engaging with our youths without knowing their back-stories because without the need to know is the need to not care, without the ability to care, we’re in danger of stereotyping in the same way some aspects of the media have been accused of.
If we’re unable to engage with the youths and places, we are left with assumptions which denies people of their dignity and only succeeds in revealing how much separates us than actually unites us and it can also rob people of the ability to acknowledge humanity in what should be equal measures.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey once said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
In the wrong hands, stories have the ability to undermine, malign, dispossess and disempower with one fail swoop of the tongue or a stroke of the pen depending on the weapon of choice but by the same token, stories can create growth, give empowerment and humanise. As much as stories can break people’s dignities, they can also replace, repair, realign and restore that broken dignity.
“The school-to-prison pipeline is an epidemic that is plaguing schools across the nation. Far too often, students are kept in isolation, given fix term exclusions or permanently excluded. This can even go as far as a child being arrested for minor offences that leave visits to the headteacher’s office a thing of the past. Statistics reflect that these policies disproportionately target students of colour and those with a history of abuse, neglect, poverty or learning disabilities.” (Cheryl Phoenix, The Black Child Agenda).
London’s knife epidemic is showing no signs of ending anytime soon, with the capital reeling from fatal knife attacks since the early hours of 2020.
When we speak to current and ex-gang members, their world is totally different from ours and we need to understand this in order to effectively intervene because the journeys of some of these young people embroiled in knife crime and gangs are quite similar; excluded from school, no significant role model in their life, moved from place to place, involved in petty crime very early on, came from a household known to social services, mental health problems within the family structure and more.
Police have a role to play, but every profession and agency also have a role to play in the hope of intervening in the right places and at the right time.
Youth Violence Report
In the year 2017 to March 2018 there were 285 murders in England and Wales where the method of killing was by a knife or sharp instrument, and according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), this was an increase of 73 compared with 2016/17, and the highest number since records began at the end of the Second World War. The previous high was in 2008, when there were 268 victims.
Please click the link to read The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee on Serious Youth Violence Sixteenth Report of Session 2017 – 19.
Figures also show 25% of victims were black – the highest proportion since data was first collected in 1997. The rise in these deaths seen in recent years has been most pronounced in male victims and those in younger age groups and in part, reflects the increase in serious violence in London and other cities where young adults have been disproportionately affected.
More than half of the inmates held in prisons for young people in England and Wales are from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background, the highest proportion on record according to the prisons watchdog, prompting warnings that youth jails have hit “American” levels of disproportionality.
About 51% of boys in young offender institutions (YOI’s) – prisons for boys aged 15 to 17 and young adult men aged 18 to 21 – identified as being from a BME background, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) found. In addition, the inspectorate found 42% of children in secure training centres (STC’s) – prisons for children up to the age of 17 – were from a BME background. The proportion of BME boys and men behind bars in YOI’s in England and Wales is nearly four times the 14% BME proportion of the wider UK population.
David Lammy MP, who published a review into the treatment of and outcomes for BME individuals in the criminal justice system in 2017, said he was shocked by the figures, which have rocketed since he released the report, when the BME proportion in YOI’s and STC’s was just over 40%. He said: “This is very alarming. England and Wales are now hitting an American scale of disproportionality in our youth justice system. The government urgently needs to step up implementation of my review. There are real problems with the youth justice system. I’m very concerned by how youth justice courts are performing. They’re not very close to communities. Parents seem to be disengaged. Community members seem to be disengaged.”
With the recent lockdown, crime correspondent Anthony France from the Evening Standard reported that Knife crime could spike as children who have witnessed domestic violence are released from lockdown, according to a shocking report by MPs released on 13 July 2020. Urgent measures are needed to ensure schools and pupil referral units are adequately resourced and prepared for the challenges ahead, the cross-party Youth Violence Commission said.
The commission has “serious concerns” over the extent that teachers will be able to effectively support and care for children and young people returning to education after an extended period of confinement at home. Researchers found that those who committed serious acts of violence had often been subjected to domestic violence or seen “their own mothers being brutally and repeatedly attacked in their homes”.
Young people aged 10 to 17 receiving a caution or conviction for knife or weapon offences soared by 73 per cent from 2,639 in 2013 to 4,562 last year..
MPs said: “The full extent of the lockdown’s effects on young people’s mental health, educational attainment, attitudes and behaviour will not be known for many years, but it is highly likely that schools will face severe challenges in the short to medium term. If schools are unable to adapt and cope with these challenges, then there are serious risks of an additional spike in school exclusions, and a further widening of the attainment gap.”
Their report highlights the “immense damage” of school exclusions on young people’s prospects, including the close connection to increased rates of serious youth violence.
The commission adds: “Millions of people are now facing extended periods of heightened insecurity and financial hardship. Despite Government aid packages, there is significant potential for various social ills such as unemployment, homelessness, domestic violence and abuse, depression, anxiety and trauma to intensify in the coming months and years.”
Tens of thousands of children and young people in the UK already grow up in poverty, live in insecure and unsafe housing, witness or experience domestic violence and abuse on a daily basis, and face serious mistreatment at the hands of many of the adults and institutions in their lives.
While many areas are working to promote health, safety and mental well-being, many continue to be plagued with persistently high rates of trauma. Some rates of trauma and its symptoms are more prevalent in certain parts of the country. There is a growing understanding that trauma manifests not only at the individual level, but also at the community level, through exposure to both interpersonal violence and structural violence, which prevents people and communities from meeting their basic needs. Community trauma manifests, for example, as a breakdown of social networks, relationships, and positive norms.
For more information on racism, discrimination, mental health and how the criminal justice system affects the BME section, please click this link to the Mental Health Foundation.
BLAC is a non-partisan organisation, our aim is to counter unrepresentative observations by highlighting the positives, and we do this by providing the strategic thinking, community insight and creative excellence which produces exceptional relationships between brands and people. This event aims to sow the seeds of unity, friendship, understanding and enrichment amongst our varied communities.
We have role models in abundance in every one of our communities and BLAC aims to help change the narrative and bring this to the fore by shining the spotlight on those wonderful individuals and businesses striving to make our community a fabulous and wonderful place to be proud of.
We need to stress that we are under no illusion that an awards ceremony can put an end to knife crime, we wish it would. By the same token, communities can only get better at dealing with mental health issues once sufferers can speak without fear of stigmatisation simply because they may have characteristics that distinguishes them from other members of society.
We further aim to create and foster an environment which will encourage and invite those who are from dysfunctional and disadvantaged backgrounds to this prestigious event where they are afforded the opportunity to mix not only with many of their role models and peers, but to also meet leaders of industries and dignitaries and experience how others successfully made better choices with their lives through determination, dedication, diligence and perseverance – others who made bad choices and eventually made the right one’s.
BLAC is not just an awards ceremony; it’s a brand, working closely with governments, NGO’s and others to help guide the youths and their families into a more productive, constructive and healthy lifestyle.
The magnificent occasion will build a legacy for the African-Caribbean communities. We’re honoured to have the interest of many important figures supporting this worthwhile cause.
“If everyone does a little, no one has to do a lot.” Charles Harper