By Lena de Casparis
“A wall of silence” prevents dialogue between young people and politicians, a Peckham youth representative told The Platform after speaking at a home affairs select committee on Monday.
Charity representatives, academics and young people joined MPs in Stockwell to discuss the growing concern over knife violence in society, as a cross-party inquiry was launched to consider crime levels, offenders’ attitudes and possible solutions.
Michael Stickland, a 23-year-old from Peckham told the committee they should be dealing with knife crime by empowering young people.
He told politicians that youths cannot relate to them: “There is currently a gap between young people and the authorities. This needs to be dealt with by giving power back to the young.”
Metropolitan Police spokesmen said there had been a 12 per cent fall in knife crime incidents since the launch of their knife campaign, Operation Blunt 2, in May. However other attendees expressed concerned that this figure did not separate youth knife crime from adult knife crime.
Chair MP Keith Vaz MP told the meeting that 28 young people died in London this year as a result of violent crimes, 22 of them stabbed.
He said the current political solutions were not working and there was an “urgent” need to understand the issue, to take it beyond party political discussions and to get organisations on the ground involved.
Stickland, a Goldsmiths college graduate, was invited to speak at the meeting because of his reputation for positive work to stop youth violence.
He is involved in a Southwark radio station program called ‘Reprezent’ which calls for peace on the streets among young people and seeks to create dialogue. Stickland became involved having been personally affected by knife crime growing up in Peckham.
Commander Mark Simmons of the Metropolitan Police said at the meeting that a third of knife crime victims in London are under the age of 20 and admitted “the police could not solve this alone”.
Southwark MP Simon Hughes, a guest speaker at the committee, said young people now carried knives because of fear. He added education was key to a solution: “This should be starting at primary school”.
Young people need to be portrayed in a more positive light, Hughes continued. “We need to say from South London today that young people should be seen as a promise not a threat.”