London: March 13, 2019. (PCP) In the wake of a further two teenagers killed on Friday and Saturday (click here), I am pleading to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, and Essex Council Leader, David Finch, to take swift and bold action against knife crime.
As a passionate, anti-knife crime advocate, I am extremely concerned about the rising level of violent crime we are seeing on the streets of London and Essex.
I attend school in the London Borough of Redbridge and in my first year our whole school was mortified when we heard of the murder of Charlie Kutyauripo at the tender age of 15. It is unimaginably shocking to me to think that Charlie was the same age as me and had his whole life ahead of him (click here).
I vividly remember the day that I heard of this tragic news. It was at our school assembly when I was just 11 years old. His horrifying unnatural death induced significant fear within the impressionable minds of pupils and we wondered whether we too could fall victim to such atrocities. We had, after all, just moved to ‘big school.’
My parents and I were worried about my safety travelling to and from school, especially after a further teenager was stabbed from my school only a year later (click here) - it took until this year for my parents to allow me to travel to school alone.
Mr Kutyauripo's murder is said to be in retaliation for a gang-related post he published on instagram threatening murder to eventual killer Aaron Gaiete, who now states that he decided to act first. However, I am very cognisant of other murders that have occurred for purely personal vendettas. It should be noted that knife crimes are usually by their nature very personal crimes.
In 2005 my father, Wilson Chowdhry, was driving home with my mother and I in a car when my parents saw the aftermath of the stabbing of teenager Kashif Mahmood, killed by the ex-lover of his girlfriend in an act of petty jealousy.
I was only 1 years old but the incident affected my mother and father profoundly and my father contacted the mother of the teenage victim Parvin Mahmood to launch a peace campaign.
Mary Foley the mother of Charlotte Polious, who was killed in April 2005 and is believed to be the first London teenager stabbed in a teen attack in London, also agreed to support his campaign.
Victim Charlotte Polious was invited to a 16th birthday party when she was fatally stabbed in the neck with an ice-pick by a gatecrasher, for merely stepping on her toes at a crammed venue.
The murder of both these two innocent teenagers meant that local police were as shell-shocked as the rest of the community, making it very easy for my father to garner their support.
However for me knowledge of their innocence has caused me to self-introspect - I am intimately aware that simply tackling drugs and eradicating gangs will not solve this social malaise. We need to change deeply embedded attitudes and behaviours towards knife violence and introduce peace initiatives, mental health programs and redress violence in a proactive manner.
Knowing the importance of involving young people in the movement for change, a young people’s peace march was convened and led by my father, which included over 150 teenagers. This galvanised support behind our anti-knife movement and paved the way for the eventual installation of a Peace Monument in Ilford in 2011 – the peace monument epitomises the anti-knife movement and is the first of its kind in the UK.
My sisters and I created mosaics that were placed into the base of the monument with those of other children creating a sense of ownership for those involved. Designing them gave us all our first insight into the cruelty of this world, but it also solidified within us a desire to promote peace and harmony. We felt part of something important – a concerted effort to thwart knife violence.
Sadly few lessons have have been learnt on the futility of knife crime elsewhere and a recent article in The Guardian provides chilling evidence of the growth of violent knife-related attacks on teenagers by quoting a 93% rise in victims receiving NHS treatment. There is no short-term solution to the problem.
The Guardian article states: 'Lord Hogan-Howe claims that homicides using a knife committed by those under 18 years of age rose by 77% from 2016-2018 - from 26 to 46 incidents.'
Lord Howe has challenged for a more concerted approach on drug crime, but though this is a factor - it is no panacea.
Many deaths have been the consequence of misunderstandings, petty jealousies and xenophobia - we need to bridge and build stronger communities.
I agree with his second point that we need additional police - the budget cuts that removed our community policing structure that only a decade ago, helped reduce crime need to be reversed.
In my desire to seek answers, I polled over 30 teenagers in my constituency and in Redbridge and they unanimously suggested that government funding for additional police would help ameliorate violent crime.
Young teenagers all feel more visible policing, especially through boots on the ground, would restore confidence and curtail the bravado of those carrying knives.
From my research most innocent teenagers would have no qualms with stop and search operations by police authorities. Thus, in response to the adults who have raised concerns that such stop, search and seizure operations would constitute an invasion of privacy, I and many of my peers assure you that we would most certainly rather be safe and hampered for a few moments than dead.
Concerns have been raised about the presence of local services and activities available to teenagers and my father harps on about a bygone age when most young people would have attended youth clubs, often held by churches but such facilities are now few and far between. Providing positive outlets for teenagers to interact may curtail violence as there may be a casual nexus between knife crime and boredom, loneliness and social fragmentation.
Some respondents spoke of harsher penalties and more restorative justice where perpetrators are made to listen to parents whose children they have killed or parents from other similar incidents if deemed more appropriate. This allows offenders to be witness to the painful ramifications that knife violence bears for families of the deceased and will have a transformative effect on the perpetrator and help them to amend their ways.
I believe instituting a criminal justice process that focuses on increased penalties for offenders but also adopts restorative justice elements would be most effective. That is, harsher penalties would act as a deterrent and would also ensure that offenders are taken off the streets long enough to be recipient of the appropriate counselling, rehabilitation and therapy they need to become a functioning member of society.
Despite what adults think we teenagers believe perpetrators of murder and violent crimes should be treated harshly but also made aware of the impact of their actions. However, we also believe that elements of rehabilitative and restorative justice can be embedded in the criminal justice process and that these approaches will actually facilitate lower reoffending rates and would likely help the offender re-integrate into society.
CCTV cameras in open public places must be more appropriately positioned to act as a deterrent and to catch violent criminals - software should be upgraded to offer the clearest images. Perhaps notices should advertise the fact that CCTV cameras are present to let would-be offenders know that they are being watched. Furthermore, it would be good to see an improvement in CCTV technology to facilitate better facial recognition and help catch offenders.
Young people feel that opportunities to share our diversity in the shape of community events would help bring people together, generate a sense of community and dispel myths about other cultures which can be a source of disunity.
This could be done through local public events and local schools should be required to ensure their pupils are informed about these events and have access to volunteer opportunities.
More should be done with regards to disaffected children especially those who are financially deprived. It is obvious that many intelligent but financially-challenged young people get unwittingly drawn into drugs and gangs in an attempt to gain some sense of worth.
Better parenting classes, a robust benefits systems that reduces child poverty and access to in-school counselling services throughout the school day would not only reduce violent crime but other issues such as bullying and self-harm. Schools should adopt a zero-tolerance approach to bullying because bullying can precede violent crime and can be at the heart of many of these issues.
Furthermore, many respondents believe schools should provide and encourage participation in self-defence and first aid classes but in my opinion schools should also advise students of the reality that it is always safer to flee dangerous situations than fight - there is no shame in running.
While I have highlighted a number of issues of concern, the notion that schools are dangerous places is a faux-pas.
Every youth I received a response from suggested that they felt more safe at their school than on the streets.
Knife arches and more police at schools is not the key to a solution, although more visits from the police would be encouraging especially in sharing how they are tackling crime and where we can go for help.
Moreover, it is behaviour on our streets and the hearts and minds of young people where we should channel our focus for a safer future.
Hannah Chowdhry is planning to help initiate a non-alcoholic bar for teenagers at Clementswood Community Centre in the heart of the most deprived ward in Ilford. The project is to be sponsored by the British Pakistani Christian Assocation and will provide an interface between teenagers and local community groups, statutory services and charities through short evening presentations. The total cost for the project is £24,000 for one year and we are seeking donations towards this.