The Problem of Knife Crime in Britain. In June 2006, 15 years old Alex Mulumbu after celebrating the end of his GCSEs exams became one more victim of Britain’s knife culture. The victim after he got off a bus with friends in Lambeth, south London had an argument with a larger group of teenagers (Woolcock, 2006). During the dispute members of the gang disappeared and returned armed with knives, baseball bats and hockey sticks. Alex was stabbed in the heart and was left lying in a pool of blood on the pavement (Verkaik, 2006). His father visited the scene of his son’s killing where he stated to the media that Alex was a good boy and had nothing to do with knives and gangs (Sturcke, 2006).
The case vignette above is a clear example of how knife crime is portrayed by the media. A teenager who is getting off a bus and it happens to get stabbed by the perpetrator. However, the reality of knife crime is not simply a black-white issue of good versus bad. The nature of such a problem is complicated and the responses towards it must therefore be multi-faceted (House of Commons). After all, if knife problem was that easy, it would have been solved already.
One complexity is that the victims are not always good honest citizens who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The victims are often victimized before and are also those who are carrying knives in the first place (and actually their own knife is used against them). (www.direct.gov.uk).
Furthermore, the offender’s and victim’s status in not always differentiated, since the victims carry knives because they are often linked to gangs or have some kind of affiliation with street culture. This, in turn, could mean that a significant proportion of stabbings relate to street violence (www.docstoc.com), and as Professor Brohi claims “a very small proportion of knife crime victims are innocent people walking down the street who are stabbed” (House of Commons).
The media make knife crime even more complex as they often cloud people’s perception by generating moral panic and by giving the impression that knife crime is out of control (Albertazzi, 2010:473). This moral panic, in turn, leads to fear of crime and social disorganization.
Knife crime is also complex in itself as it is a symbolic of lack of social control within societies. Knife crime looks unsolvable and as there is no connection between adults-teenagers (Hume, 2008), although it involves young people and shatters lives. In particular, knife crime in itself gives the impression that somehow it is a matter of young people’s world since teenagers are on their own, surviving on the streets (Asthana, 2008). Thus, those who do not live in that kind of environments (outsiders) can never understand.
Finally, knife crime is complex because there is no answer to the question why teenagers carry knives. We do not know whether teenagers carry knives for self protection and because of the growing lack of trust in the ability of adults to protect them (Kelbie, 2003), or whether carry knives for things like respect “knife carrying is thought to be largely driven by a concern for self protection or to enhance status” (Muncie, 2009:36).
Continuing the study I am going to produce a report divided into three key sections. The first will be the extent of knife crime in Britain. The second will look at the causes of knife crime and finally the third will produce some initiatives dealing with knife crime.
Section 2: The Extent of Knife Crime in Britain
Furthermore, knife crime is very complicated in terms of defining whether it is a predominantly black problem. The media often give the impression that all crimes are committed by black people and therefore, make people adopt misconceptions (Wright, 2008).
Hence, it is important to note that even though the issue looks like it is black in London and the South-East (www.london.gov.uk), at the same time there are evidence that suggesting that in the North-East (i.e. Glasgow, Scotland, Manchester) the problem is white (House of Commons). As a result, it might be predominantly a black issue in London but certainly not in other places. Given that, I have concluded that the issue of carrying knives has little to do with being black or white, but on the contrary, it has to do with being young and male (Muncie, 2009).
Also, knife crime is complicated in terms of definition, since there is no clear Home Office clear definition of ‘knife crime’. According to that, the phrase ‘knife crime’ was adopted by the media and is now popularly used to refer primarily to stabbings but also to the illegal carrying of knives by young people (House of Commons). Hence, since there is no clear definition, then, it is likely for the numerous to use different definitions in order to create statistics and therefore generate more complexity.
Furthermore, knife crime is also complicated because there are too many different types of statistics (too much statistical data). In particular, there are statistics for knife crime from the hospital, the police, the British Crime Survey and finally the MORI (House of Commons, 2009). Each of these sources, measure different samples and different places (regions) in the country and therefore, it is too complicated to understand what is happening (Summers, 2008). For example, hospitals define knife crime when somebody has severe internal injuries as a result of knife penetration, whereas police define it when someone is carrying a knife (House of Commons)
Furthermore, trying to measure knife crime is, again, difficult because there is also the dark figure of crime. Therefore, this hidden crime makes statistics themselves problematic (Messerschmidt, 1993).
However, above all else, the complexity of knife crime is related to the media. The media manipulate the statistics and distort people’s perceptions about knife crime, since they are powerful and so pervasive in terms of their ability to create views (Jewkes, 2004).
One distortion is that knife crime is predominantly a black issue. Given that, even though evidence suggest that knife crime is also a white problem (in other areas), yet, the media continue the misrepresentation constantly accusing blacks (scapegoats). According to that, I believe that this misrepresentation leads to moral panic which, in turn, somehow makes the statistics go up.
In other words, since teenagers interfere with the media (moral panic), then, they may feel fear of the streets and therefore through self fulfilling prophecy, start carrying knives for self protection. Hence, there is an interaction-interrelationship between the statistics and knife crime (Newburn, 2007).
Regarding to the problems associated with knife crime measurement, I believe that data should be collected through a regional setting and this is for two reasons. Firstly, because as indicated, knife crime is not a specific cultural issue of Blacks, and secondly, because the measurement of such a complex issue through national settings, inevitable will generate too many complicated statistical data.
Furthermore, and as Young (1988) argues, national settings tend to miss some important elements in the distribution of victimization (Newburn, 2007). Hence, I suggest a regional setting both in areas with the highest knife-crime rates, but also to areas where crime rate is low. This, in turn, we will help us understand why it is black issue in some places whereas white in other.
Equally important is to collect data using qualitative approaches, since it would be more beneficial to understand the lived experiences of those who carry knives (rationale behind knife crime) instead of how many carry a knife (What would be the point of knowing that 4000 are carrying knives after all?). For example, it would be very interesting to understand how knife crime is perceived and interpreted by the juvenile delinquents (ethnography research) and thus, find out why they carry knives. This way, more evidence will come up such as whether knife crime relates to London’s (for example) rates of poverty, neglect, unemployment and deprivation (House of Commons).
Section 3: The Causes of Knife Crime in Britain.
The social learning theory is one of the most enduring approaches among the criminological theories that underscore the nature of people’s involvement in social relationships. Sutherland, considered previous criminological theories and argued that anyone in society can be trained to adopt and follow patterns of crime and deviation (Colombo, 2009).
In accordance to Sutherland’s ‘differential association’ conception, the prestige of criminals, the duration of contact between offenders-potential offenders and the frequency of interactions with criminal offenders, are all contributing factors in an individual’s likeliness to occupy criminal activities. Sutherland also suggested that attendance with the development of criminal behaviours in social groups, for instance ‘rough and tough’ attitudes, ‘boosts’ the individual’s propensity to interiorize criminal attitudes.
Social learning therefore, links to the causes of knife crime as well as links to masculinity and rational choice perspectives. According to differential association concept, boys are growing up to be men. This process of affirming masculinity promotes boys to develop a public persona (an exterior) of being tough, macho and fearless.
In the context of knife crime this means that men have to be risk takers, aggressive and support their competitive nature (i.e. territoriality). Boys, if lose their reputation in front of peers and someone undermines their masculinity, in turn, have to regain this reputation by carrying knives and using them in front of their mates.
Thus, since they learn masculinity (via social learning), they learn to behave accordingly to this social role (masculinity) and therefore, act out like men (tough, aggressive). Finally, in terms of applying that to a knife crime, they make the ultimate decision (rational choice) on whether to carry knives by weighing the benefits (status, respect) against the risks (get stabbed, get caught). To conclude, I believe that there is a link between masculinities and social learning as what seems to be happening today, is that street culture (knife crime) is becoming masculine culture (i.e. through rap music) (Newburn, 2007).
However, even though differential association theory is one of the most enduring theories about crime, yet, there are some difficulties in explaining knife crime.
First of all, according to the first principle of differential association theory, criminal behaviour is learnt (Colombo, 2009). If that is the case, I believe that we have to critically question, how did the first “teacher” learnt the knife techniques (i.e. hide a knife, disposal once used), so that to pass this ‘knowledge’ to others? Hence, differential association theory fails to explain the origins of knife crime, since there are no origins.
Furthermore, there are no real empirical evidence of links between learning and knife crime. For example, differential association theory does not explain why in similar circumstances, (balance of favorable-unfavourable definitions) some individuals choose to carry a knife whereas others do not.
Moreover, social learning theory fails to explain why teenagers develop to associate with those who carry knives. Instead, it focuses more on the peer influence and not on peer selection.
Additionally, differential association, supports that all criminal acts are rational (maximase profit-minimise loss) and systematic. However, it fails to explain the spontaneous, wanton acts of violence, which have little purpose or utility (Siegel, 2004).
Finally, it is very difficult for social scientists to measure such vague variables like “excess of definitions favourable to law violation” (Colombo, 2009).
Section 4: Towards the Reduction of Knife Crime in Britain.
The Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP) is a multi-million-pound venture, against knife crime. Its main purpose is to limit the carrying of knives and serious stabbings among teenagers aged between13-19. It involves five government departments and 16 police forces (www.homeoffice.gov.uk).
However, Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP) has some important limitations in relation to the data, since the recorded crime, especially the less violent, can be affected by changes in police activity and public reporting to the data. Furthermore, there is a lack of comparison statistics in many areas. Finally, TKAP faced the heterogeneity of the forces (www.homeoffice.gov.uk).
Another anti-knife policy that has been introduced is via legislation to forbid the sale of knives to anyone under the age of 18. Additionally, Police Operations like Blunt and Shield involve the rapid and random deployment of metal detectors in public places such as stations, schools and so forth. The aim of the policy is to identify and arrest anyone carrying a knife (www.insight-security.com).
However, both the restriction of knives sales under- 18s, as well as the deployment of metal detectors fails to tackle the problem, since kitchen knives for instance, would still be widely available. Hence, it is more a problem of education, rather than access to knives. Furthermore, metal detectors may be not detecting all knives, as knives can be easily hidden and disposed once used.
My opinion about tackling of knife crime is that one organization alone cannot end this issue. Given that, I suggest that the main aim of all anti-knife crime initiatives should be to increase the definitions against knife-crime (rational choice theory) so that young people understand that carrying knives is immoral but most of all, it is risky (maximize cost, minimize benefit).
Furthermore, I support that the best anti knife-crime policy would be to educate the teenagers about this problem (social learning theory). Hence, young people could learn about the consequences of carrying knives at an early age through a mandatory module (i.e. weapon awareness) at schools. Furthermore, I believe that the best initiative to stop knife culture would be if parents (especially the fathers) could show their boys that carrying knives has nothing to do with being a man (masculinity theory).
As a conclusion, I argue that Alex’s case highlights the need for the authorities to recognize that educating both teenagers and families from an early age is crucial in order to tackle knife crime. Concisely, I have concluded that knife crime is very complex issue because of many reasons. The main one surely is because there are lots of statistical data. Additionally knife crime is complex because the media create moral panic and thus does not help. Moreover I have concluded that knife crime is not a black issue but a knife issue and thus, anti knife policies should redirect their focus on the rationale behind knife crime.
Ultimately, I would like to try to give an explanation of what could have might happen in the case vignette. Alex could have been probably to the enemy’s territory and showed disrespect on the other boys. He threatened the teenagers with his knife and made them run away. Then, the other boys went to another estate, took knives and returned back in order to regain their reputation and status. They have learnt (social learning) that men never back out (masculinity) and finally, they have made the ultimate decision to take the risk and stab Alex (rational choice).