Lawless London: Stabbings are just a daily part of our lives

Only 9 days into the New Year and the depressingly familiar trend of serious violence on the streets of London has unfortunately followed us into 2018. The roll call of names and places where people have been seriously injured and murdered on the streets seems to have become a daily ritual for local papers reporting on the previous nights violence. In Mill Hill Broadway, North London, a place I used to often frequent as a youngster, a shopkeeper named Vijay Patel was murdered by 3 youths after he refused to serve them Rizla’s on the 6th January.

Just yesterday evening in Stoke Newington, another area I would often find myself in on my travels around the city, a 34-year-old man was found stabbed to death on Shakespeare Walk in the area, prompting a murder probe. On New Years Eve, 4 young teenagers and men were stabbed to death in separate incidents across the city. Kynall Parnell, only 17-years old was the youngest of the 4 victims. He was stabbed to death in the Tulse Hill area of South London, not too far from where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were today visiting local youths in Brixton. The other victims were aged 18 and two of them were 20-year-old men.

Violence has always been a part of life in this city, and I as do many other Londoners have their own very personal stories to tell. 11 years ago when I was 17 I was sitting in my house when a friend began frantically knocking on my door. I opened the door to my shocked friend who was telling me that our other friend, a boy who I attended secondary school with had been stabbed. Our group of friends met up with each other and rushed up to the hospital. The sight of seeing my friend attached to machines and having his lungs drained of blood is still an image I can vividly remember to this day. My friend had been stabbed in his chest, the injury punctured both of his lungs and he spent the next 3 days fighting for his life in hospital. Thankfully, the surgeons managed to save the life of my friend.

This incident took place just two streets from my house. I remember returning home from the hospital on the day of this event and seeing forensic officers in jumpsuits scour the area for clues. The police tape which cordoned off the road remained attached to the lamppost for several days after, the only clue as to the incident which had just taken place on this stretch of road.

Discussing this incident with my friend afterwards, he told me that he was standing at the bus stop when two other youths said to him, “Who you watching fam?” In other words who are you looking at. An argument ensued and subsequently a fight broke out. As my friend was wrestling with one of the men, the other pulled out a knife from his jacket and stabbed my friend in the chest. The man who had been wrestling with my friend apparently looked shocked and screamed “Why’d you juke him for blood?” Soon after my friend collapsed, and as he bled out on the floor the two men ran off. The two people behind this attack were never caught by the police and to this day none of us are any of the wiser who they were. This event made me aware that life was becoming ever more cheap in this city. On these roads, a perceived dirty look is enough to get you killed.

A story like this is just one of many that I could relay to you describing the violent environment we found ourselves growing up in. I grew up on a council estate, but luckily my parents had the fortune to move to a better part of London. But even though the area I lived in London was relatively safe, violence never seemed to be far away. Violence in London seemed to hit its peak in the early 2000’s. Back in 2003, London recorded its highest ever murder rate of 224 people killed in the city that year. From 2003, violence seemed to steadily decline. In 2011, London was hit by the riots. The riots, which were sparked by the police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham produced some of the ugliest scenes of civil disorder Britain had seen in a generation.

Before the riots back in 2008, London saw a record number of 28 teenagers murdered on the streets that year. Following that dreadful year, police began to tackle the issue of knife crime with more vigour. Techniques such as knife arches at transport hubs and stop and searches by police officers in knife crime hotspots saw the number of knife murders begin to decline. When the riots occurred back in 2011, many of London’s gang members were arrested and imprisoned. The following year saw one of London’s lowest ever recorded number of homicides. In 2012, 103 people were murdered on the streets.

But following the riots something happened which I believe has greatly contributed to the rise in serious violence in London. Police, becoming more wary of igniting community tensions following the uneasy peace after the riots began to use stop and search much less than they did in the years following the knife epidemic of the 2000’s. Following this, stabbings and murders began to climb up again. Last year was one of the worst years for serious violence on the streets since 2010. The Metropolitan Police used to publish the monthly and annual crime figures online on their website, but interestingly this service has now been removed from the site.

Doing my own research it was found that overall crime had rose in London 5.6 percent in the twelve months to September last year, equivalent to 42,775 offences. Knife crime is surging to levels which have not been seen since the 2000’s. From 2016-2017 there was a massive 24 percent increase in knife crime in the capital. There were 12,074 incidents involving knives in the capital last year. These offences range from knifepoint robberies to serious injuries inflicted with knives to murders. It was found that knife crimes that resulted in injuries had increased by 21 percent. 4,415 people were injured in knife attacks in the capital between 2016 and 2017.

Gun crime has also massively increased in the capital. Between 2016-2017 there were 2,544 gun crimes reported in the capital. This is a huge increase on the 1,793 incidents there was in the previous year. Offences in this category can range from someone producing what is believed to be a firearm to shots being fired to gun murders.

Crimes such as robbery also saw sharp rises, with there being a 12 percent year on year increase in the offence. A crime which has been plaguing London over several years is that of cyclists and moped drivers accosting pedestrians and snatching their mobile phone and riding off. I was once on the 43 bus going down the City Road when I saw a young man on a pedal bike snatch a woman’s phone, I watched from the top deck in disbelief as 2 members of the public attempted to apprehend the youth, but he disappeared into the rabbit warren of estates surrounding City Road before they could even get close. City Road is a particular hotspot for this type of crime.

Frustratingly, The Met Police used to publish an annual and monthly breakdown of crime statistics, but because this service has been removed I have had to compile my own data on the number of homicides in London. From what I could find, there was 127 homicides in London last year. This represents a 7-year-high. The number of people murdered with a knife skyrocketed last year also. 87 people were murdered with a knife in the capital last year. Being able to find figures dating back to 2009, last year witnessed the highest number of knife murders in the capital than any of the others.

There is no denying there has been a worrying increase in knife crime and stabbings in the capital. And while there has been some improvement in this area after the dark days of the 2000’s, the general consensus among many is that London is heading back down that slippery slope of lawlessness and violence. More people are being murdered on the streets and in a city that is set to be crowned the acid attack capital of the world crime is becoming of a greater concern for us Londoners. Growing up here this phenomena of violence is not new, so maybe we have to keep the words of our Mayor Sadiq Khan in mind when he says “terrorism is part and parcel of living in a big city.” Maybe the threat of having to bury your child like 25 mothers had to do last year is just part and parcel of living in London as well. Maybe this is just part of our everyday lives.

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