Beneath the red rag of “tough on crime” rhetoric is a real, workable policy.Rwendland / Wikimedia Commons

The blade I was stabbed with on my first day of Year 13 was not a ‘zombie knife’. It came from someone’s kitchen. I know this because I see the same knife in the cupboards of my friends. It is made of a single piece of stainless steel about the length of a ruler, and has a perforated handle to make it easier to grip.

The scar still aches as I write this. It was a strange, blunt experience; it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. I can still picture a sharp feeling of pressure followed by an electric numbness that spread across my body, my mind completely blank as my teeth bit the pavement. Most of all, I remember the fear. This is the fear that will stay with me forever, and it is this fear that has made youth violence the defining crisis of our decaying urban centres.

“the fear that will stay with me forever”

Labour claims to have a bold plan to fix this. It wants to ban zombie knives, which are already illegal in the UK but can still be bought and sold through legal loopholes, and implement tougher sentences for those found carrying them. These are not attempts to fix the problem, but rather, to make grand political statements by focusing on a highly visible issue while avoiding the structural causes. Depressingly, beneath the scaremongering, Labour has a genuinely workable policy. It is an indictment of a political climate that has become so poisoned by a Thatcherite conflation of harsh punishment with justice that it cannot be proud of it.

I was stabbed during the classic London robbery – the “g-check” in a local park. My attackers, carrying away my school bag and my partner’s phone, made a getaway on Boris bikes. Thanks to the miracle of the NHS, I was sped to the nearest Major Trauma Centre and spent the night in King College Hospital’s Resuscitation Unit. Several tubes, IVs, injections, X-rays, and stitches later I was limping home. The boys who could have killed me remained at large, and I had to suck it up.

For a lot of young men, the circle of violence starts here. The knife crime charity Redthread aims to reach young men the day they enter hospital; to use the shock of an attack as the jolt needed to push them out of gangs and into rehabilitation. The Labour Party mutely understands this. It will put youth workers in A&E units, custody centres and pupil referral units. Beneath the red rag of “tough on crime” rhetoric is a real, workable policy that seems like it could really make a difference. Its plan for youth mental health support in every school will make a genuine difference for many young people, regardless of their proximity to knives.

Beneath the red rag of “tough on crime” rhetoric is a real, workable policy

Speaking to other young men who have been stabbed, or who have felt the need to carry knives for their own safety, one inevitably ends up on the same topics: the decimation of our youth clubs under Tory austerity; the slow degradation of community feeling in our cities as the cooperative kitchen is replaced with the humiliation of the foodbank; gangs sucking in children as young as 11 with promises of money and belonging, just to turn them into county-line drug mules; the ever-present racism in the police service, turning the force that is supposed to protect us into an enemy. A mixed-race co-worker described being slashed in the face by a mentally ill white man. When officers arrived, he was held as a suspect, being questioned as if it was gang related. He had no doubt that if the races were reversed the situation would have gone differently.

"its rhetoric does not match reality"

Hidden in Labour’s six-point action plan are ways to tackle these issues. It will create a “national network of youth hubs” to support teenagers. It will bring in community leaders, faith leaders, families of victims of knife violence and young people into a Coalition to End Knife Crime. It will create a new offence of child criminal exploitation. It wants to raise the confidence in police forces by overhauling misconduct and vetting procedures and introducing compulsory anti-racism training. These are promises that will be hard to keep and easy to forget. If Labour can stick to them, however, it will be a start on tackling the root causes of knife crime that have been ignored by successive Conservative governments for far too long.


Mountain View

Labour’s ‘attack ads’: Clever campaigning or cheap name-calling?

Three months after I was stabbed, I sat in a council-run restorative justice program across from one of the three boys who had attacked me. He had been caught stealing a motorbike with my Zipcard in his pocket. He was small, young, and miserable. He told me about the impact of his arrest on his mother, and how he had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. I pitied him, and had to force myself to remember that (as the lovely ward nurse had muttered) if the knife had gone any deeper, I would have bled out from a burst artery. The boy spoke as if it wasn’t his fault, and I believe him. He was not a violent criminal, but someone with no hope for his future. Labour’s policy plan is a step in the right direction, but its rhetoric does not match reality. I do not consider myself a victim. The boy who stabbed me does.