LIKE countless other parents, teachers, youth leaders, charity workers and politicians, I look on aghast as yet another teenager dies at the blade of a knife. How can our country, which has weathered so much social and industrial unrest over the centuries, have come to this?
Last weekend, two 17-year-olds, a boy in Manchester and a girl in East London, were fatally stabbed, in a street in an affluent suburb and a park respectively. Their deaths have brought the number of teenagers stabbed to death this year to 10; five have died in London, three in Birmingham, one in Manchester and one in Sunderland.
This startling figure does not even begin to list others injured or maimed, and it only covers younger people. Two days ago, in my own backwater semi-rural village, two men were taken to hospital with injuries after an altercation involving the alleged use of a knife.
There is no point turning the other way and pretending that it is not happening. It is under the surface of so many towns, cities and rural communities, waiting to raise its evil head and ruin or snatch away another life.
And it is only the beginning of March. Ten teenagers dead already. By any measure of decent society, we cannot allow this dreadful situation to continue. The Prime Minister, reported to be hastily gathering her ministers and advisors to come up with a meaningful Government-led response, has been reminded yet again of the need to face facts.
The first thing Theresa May must do is stop being delusional. She was wrong to state so categorically on Monday that police cuts are not directly linked to rising violent crime. All she has to do is to listen to senior police officers.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, jumped straight in and asserted that there is “obviously” a connection between reductions in officer numbers and street violence.
And now West Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson has said that cuts to policing and youth services had left officers “struggling to meet the demands of this kind of violent crime”.
He added that there is an “urgent need to address the dramatic reductions in the youth service and the significant rise in school exclusions, which many believe are linked to the rise in violent crime”.
Mr Burns-Williamson also stressed the importance of sustained support and funding for policing, youth services and wider prevention services.
He might also have added the drugs trade, which would appear to be increasingly controlled by so-called ‘county lines’ cartels, who move into areas and recruit young and vulnerable individuals to carry out their hideous work, with inevitably tragic consequences.
The reasons why are so complex, detailed and long-established, underpinned by a sense of alienation that owes much to austerity – whatever certain politicians might say – and will take years to tackle root and branch.
This does not mean we must remain without recourse. If it was up to me, as a parent, I would tell every police force in the land to follow the example of the West Midlands force which last week introduced emergency stop and search powers following three knife-related deaths.
It is controversial and civil liberties campaigners won’t like it, but how can we call ourselves a fair and tolerant society if it’s not safe for anyone to walk the streets without fear? As a parent, I’m not prone to panic. However, every time my own 16-year-old son goes to a party and faces a walk home I worry so much about a random knife attack, I usually end up driving across town to pick him up in the middle of the night.
Is that surprising? Every statistic relating to knife crime shows a shocking upwards trajectory. A Channel 4 Dispatches programme, to be broadcast next Monday, reveals that in the last five years, the number of children aged 16 and under being treated for assault by a knife or other sharp objects rose by 93 per cent, from 180 admissions in 2012/3 to 347 in 2017/18.
When presented with figures like that, even Mrs May would struggle to go into denial. What is also clear is that knife crime is no longer someone else’s problem; much still divides North and South, but this is one serious issue which unites us all.
None of us can afford to turn the other cheek. Next time it could be a child you know, their only legacy a line of blue-and-white police tape blowing in the wind in place of a life filled with promise. We must hold our politicians to account, and fast.
And they must add weight to their words by supporting the police as our only line of defence. There is much to be reversed and done in the background, but a bigger police presence on the streets and strong emergency powers of stop and search are the very least we should expect.