It is not new. It is tragic, and, it is increasing: knife crime. We are shocked and appalled, frightened and scared. Questions abound and reasons and meaning are searched. Is it to do with a lack of police presence, lack of education, mental health deterioration, racial tensions, increased gang violence, poor housing, domestic violence or that media coverage brings it in vogue? The news is full of stabbings and theories abound. Maybe all of the above are contributing but important voices are not heard. Where are the voices of the young people who are in the middle of this violence, around the edges, affected by its potential every day of their lives?
Kai comes to the Farm from an area affected. We talked about school where he feels a failure. Kai has dyslexia, is often in trouble, acknowledges that he is hard to teach. His patience is limited, and failure feels unbearable. Being known as ‘trouble-maker’ is better than being known for being “dumb”.
Boys in particular find it hard to be tested. Their competitiveness is rife and pressure feels hard. They can easily form a subgroup, alternative to mainstream, an identity in being ‘hard’ is better than ‘soft’. Kai is one such boy; he is here at the farm as usually at school he is in trouble as that is where he struggles. He is intelligent and kind. Away from the classroom and the inevitable demands, Kai is remarkably insightful and he is helping me understand. I ask him about knife crime, stop and search, recent stabbings. His life is on an estate, hanging out on the streets. His thoughts are poignant and worth listening to, and these are his words.
“Kids are not getting enough say nowadays, it’s just all the adults run on, ‘Oh kids are doing this, oh kids are doing that ‘, blaming us for this blaming us for that, we just don’t get our say... If someone got in fight and they were carrying a knife, to protect themselves, if they were then to use it in self-defense, if they are about to be beaten up by about 8 people, something like that…it’s the only thing you can do to protect yourself. I don’t think it should be right, but I think in some aspects it‘s right...It’s not right I know that but in some ways you think about it…its logical, to protect yourself. It’s like the food chain really.”
Kai continues “Joining a gang… it is about protecting themselves against [other] gangs. Join for money, drug dealing, stuff like that, for the reputation they get you. People who join a gang go, “don’t mess with me “. It gives them a bit of a stool to stand on.”
He is thinking out loud. “Maybe know one really likes him…doesn’t talk to people. Join a gang and he will be surrounded by 20 kids who will look out for him... Most people that join gangs are from a background of negligence I guess, most people are from council estates, it’s like being a needle in a haystack, you’ve got to get yourself out…if you’re not respected enough, you’ll join a gang and be respected.
“From what I’ve seen, [about the parents], it depends on the personality of your parents. If your parents are really laid back they wont really care. They wont do anything to stop it. But then there’s some parents that will go to the end of the world for their kid and they still cant stop it. It’s just all in the kid’s head, if he thinks he wants to do this he will go and do this. It’s the background of how they live…sometimes its about the schools but then sometimes its about ‘I don’t have much to show in life’ I’ll go do this, I’ll go do that. I’ll stab this person, I can big myself up. It fills a hole in them.”
“If they don’t have much to live for, they’re going to risk it aren’t they? If they want the newest trainers or stuff like that, they aren’t going to make the money ‘legitly’, they go out and join a gang, sell drugs, be violent make the money in bad ways. That’s what most kids are all about nowadays, the newest trainers, how they look…I mean if you‘re walking around in designer clothes you will feel full of yourself... ‘I’ve got £500 shoes on, and you got £19 shoes on, you can’t really step up to me‘.
“[Police need to] talk to the kids, not stopping and searching them aggressively, instead talk to them and give them a chance…why do we have to give them respect when they show us none at all.”
Kai taught me more than the news bulletin. He has helped me understand young people’s logic. He emerged from his haystack, and had a wisdom previously unseen. After being given time to be listened to he seemed to emerge. He joined in more activities, tried harder and seemed less afraid to fail.
Respect is a word we use a lot. As Kai said we demand it of children, but do we give it in return? Living on the poorer estates, feeling the lowest of the low, wearing expensive clothes may feel like the only way to climb. We need to help them feel life matters, that they are not the bottom of the food chain. Give meaning to life beyond poverty, and work together with them to find change.
Hear the full interview here: