Today, a London youth stabbed on August 1st will be buried. His parents are Sierra Leoneans. I watched the news on the day of the incidents as distressed neighbours and colleagues of the young man expressed their worries about the spate of violence in London. I didn’t know the victim was a child of a woman I know very well. I didn’t know the crime was closer to home than I had thought.
This week I went to the market to buy foodstuffs as usual. I didn’t plan for the news I was to receive. I met a sister I have known for long. She has a warm character. She is funny and charming. I was expecting her usual charm as I bumped into her. I was shocked to see her in a sombre mood.
She wore a black robe and a black head scarf. I was about to ask her jokingly if she was mourning when she uttered. “I haven’t met you since this thing happened”. I immediately asked, ‘What thing are you talking about?’. She started sobbing and narrated the sad ordeal.
On the fateful day, she saw helicopter hovering her home. She also heard sirens from police vehicles. She went out of her flat and asked one of her neighbours what was going on. The neighbour told her ‘I am unable to tell you’. Her heart begun to race, with a dingy feeling of the unknown, the unexpected. Sadness had slammed her deep and very hard. She didn’t know what to think at that moment. She rushed into the lift and out of the building. She saw a crowd of people and a police barricade. She saw a young man lying on the floor. The paramedics were helping to save him. She then saw the trousers. The trousers belong to one of her sons. She felt like a sharp needle have pierced through her heart. She called out to her Son. But he was far away and could not hear her. She told the police ‘He is my Son. Let me go and speak with him’. She believed if her son could hear her speak, he would not give up. She believed her son would not let her go through such a horrific experience. But this was not to happen. The police did not allow her. She started wailing. Neighbours came and held her, tried to comfort her. They prayed for her Son not to die. This was impossible. The 23-year-old later died.
To many, this may sound like a tragic tale. But this is the reality for many families living in London. Stabbings are on the rise as latest figure shows. Young people are the victims. Latest figure from the metropolitan police shows knife crime has surged by 16%. In first three months of 2018, there were 45 murders. There were 1,299 stabbings in London up to the end of April this year. There were 35 fatal stabbings in London, prompting the question why this surge. For many people living in London, particularly young people, the streets, corners, alleyways and every public space seem like war zones. No one knows what could happen next. Even adults are scared. No one wants to fall victim of mistaken identity. No one wants to fall victim of terrorist attacks. We are increasingly becoming agoraphobic. And it is becoming even more worrisome with austerity measures leading to a cut down on police presence in public spaces.
Austerity measures by the government have led to a fall in the number of police officers we see on the streets. There are 3.3 police officers for every 1,000 Londoners. There have been a £1.4 million funding for projects to end anti-knife crimes, but critique believe the real funding should be focused on setting up youth centres across the city. Many youth centres were closed-down, leaving young people with very little engagements that could distract them from violence. Experts have also blamed austerity measures on increase in poverty for many households, leading young people to resort to violent crimes. What does this mean for our safety as Londoners? What does this mean for the future of our young generation? What does this mean for mothers who are losing their children? What does this mean for the mental health of single mothers who found themselves in this quagmire?
For many women in the migrant community, who had witnessed and fled conflicts in their countries of birth. Violence bruises a healing sore in their hearts. Violence impedes the healing process. It reignites horrific memories of wars and leads to post traumatic stress disorder. Violence brings back a nightmarish feeling of pain, horror and despair. These feelings are the same for mothers who have lost their children to fatal knife crimes in London.
Mothers suffer the consequences of violent crimes. They lose their children, and this normally leads to serious emotional and psychological consequences on their wellbeing. As they receive counselling services, they should also be engaged and allow to lead the campaign to end these crimes. This helps with the healing process. They should be empowered to plan, develop and implement initiatives that will educate communities about the dangers of knife crimes. They are able to communicate emotionally to their sons and daughters and discourage them from crimes. They could also engage other parents and help make our communities better. Mothers are very close to the issues and they understand what matters most to their children.
As I said goodbye to the sister, I felt a cold chill running down my spine. I felt deeply sad for her. I thought about myself. This could have been me or any other Londoner. Our safety, our security is at risk and we are frightened.