On Radio 4’s Today programme Humphrys discussed the increasing levels of knife crime in England attributing the increased levels to Theresa May’s stop and search reforms.
May’s reforms were carried out in 2014 in an attempt to reduce the number of illegal and indiscriminate searches that were taking place. At that time May told the commons “Nobody wins when stop and search is misapplied. It is a waste of police time. It is unfair, especially to young, black men. It is bad for public confidence in the police,” she told MPs.
May was right. Random stop and searches are unfair, and there is no evidence that they lead to reduced levels of knife-crime. What we need, as Humphrys’ female guest explained, is to follow Scotland and implement greater public health response to knife crime; to have more community police officers working within schools, within the NHS and within mental health projects, to target the problem head-on, working with young men to protect and educate them against violence.
Instead of re-implementing random stop and search policy, as Humphrys posed, I think it would be helpful to look at the underlying causes of knife-crime in the UK.
If Humphrys went out and spoke to some of the young men who are carrying knives on the streets of London, he would have a better chance of understanding why these young men are carrying those weapons, and what should be done about it.
My own brother was arrested last year for carrying a knife and for acting in a way that was threatening to public safety. If Humphrys came and spoke to my brother, he would see that greater police enforcement is not going to solve the problem.
In fact, if he took the time to speak to my brother he might be surprised to find a rather average-looking teenager: a spotty, muscly young boy. With swept back mousy-brown hair and lynx radiating from his armpits.
What he might not see is what lurks beneath the skin surface. He might not understand the fear, the angst, the anger that has built-up inside of this boy. He might not see how this young teenager has been repeatedly bombarded with images and ideas, on social media, and in film, of what it is to be a man. He might not see the glamour, perpetuated through video games and mainstream Hollywood films, of gang life and gang culture, that has influenced this young boy. He might not see a boy who has been so narrowly confined by his own gender expectations, he no longer knows how to feel (and deal with) his emotions.
But my brother is, after all, just a boy. And he is a boy who is desperate to be loved and to have intimate relationships with other people, just like any other human being. He is a boy who has grown up with an addiction to social media, and the internet, and probably porn. He is a boy who has been fed lies about what it is to be a man, and he is a boy who vehemently believes that violence and strength will win him the attention and affection of girls.
These are some of the issues we are facing. And these are some of the issues that are leading to increased knife crime and increased levels of anger in young men. While a portion of the ‘blame’ of course falls on my brother’s head (for carrying his knife in the first place) greater enforcement and greater punishment (as Humphrys posited) won’t solve the problem.
This is a much larger, and much more toxic problem than The Today programme suggests and we are all collectively responsible for educating, protecting and helping young boys to grow into healthy, unafraid, empowered young men.