It is not clear whether gun and knife crime is on the rise, but it does seem to be increasingly concentrated among resentful young males in thrall to the cult of coolby David Robins / October 27, 2007 / Leave a comment
What drives the recent wave of knife and gun killings involving young people? Some speak of spiralling violence associated with the drugs trade, others trace it back to the abolition of the “sus” laws, which makes it harder for the police to stop and search youngsters. Older commentators will remember the 1950s—flick knives, the rise of the juvenile delinquent, the teenager as the cuckoo in the nest of the postwar working-class family. And then there is the “cool” commercial culture—hedonism, a narcissistic concern with appearance, a macho detachment—to which many of today’s teenagers adhere.
But is knife and gun crime actually on the rise? Home office figures show 50 fatal shootings in England and Wales in 2006, compared with 66 in 1995. There were 243 fatal stabbings in 1995, but 212 in 2006. Tony McNulty, a home office minister, says there is no evidence of a rise in knife-related homicides in the past ten years. According to a survey from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, anything between 22,000 and 58,000 young people were stabbed in 2004—an indication of just how hard it is to ascertain the exact extent of knife crime.
It is all very confusing. But most experts agree that knife and gun crime, fatal and non-fatal, is increasingly concentrated among disaffected youth. There are around 170 violent youth gangs in London alone, according to Scotland Yard. There also appears to be a new targetting of the “winners” by the “losers.” The homicide rate has doubled since 1970, a rise that some criminologists attribute entirely to the most deprived young males. We are seeing something more than a re-run of the switchblade era of the 1950s.
In my own neighbourhood of Kentish Town, a socially mixed area of north London, the local press proclaimed the crime rate “worse than the Bronx” in the summer of 2006. Even middle-class boys carried knives “for protection,” feeling like chickens ready to be plucked. There were assaults on, and occasional executions of, complete strangers. A street challenge followed by ritualised insults followed by assault/death was the usual scenario. An armed young man on a short fuse with no self-control: “He looked at me wrong… didn’t show nuff respect.” A young man was fatally stabbed following an altercation on top of a double decker bus. A Somali engineering student—a cousin of…