London’s police service, the Metropolitan police, held an emergency meeting this morning to discuss the recent wave of stabbings. The Met are currently investigating 55 murders that have taken place since the start of this year, 35 of which were stabbings.
Last night, six teenagers were stabbed in just 90 minutes. Knife crime in London is at its highest level in six years, with a 23% rise on the previous year.
But why has the number of stabbings increased?
It’s important to understand why people carry knives in the first place. The most logical reason is that people want to be able to protect themselves. This is a key factor that those who carry knives have repeatedly stated.
The young men who carry knives (and it is almost exclusively young men), make a calculation: that the cost of being caught without a knife is higher than the cost of being caught with one.
‘Stop and search’ is a controversial policy designed to change this calculus. Police want to confiscate knives before they are used in a violent crime. The choice of who to search is meant to be based on suspicion of criminal intent. But the reason that the policy is so controversial is that there are concerns that officers’ racial prejudices seep into their decision making.
When the Prime Minister Theresa May was Home Secretary, she announced substantial reforms to stop and search in an attempt to curb these worries over racial profiling.
But if the alternative to carrying a knife is being stabbed to death because you can’t defend yourself then the possibility of arrest and jail time will always be outweighed.
Cressida Dick, the head of the Met, has suggested that social media is a major cause. The problem is that social media is merely a communications tool, a conduit for sharing images, video and conversations. Dick argues that minor disagreements online can flare up into full blown conflict, spilling out into the real world.
The fundamental concern is why this culture of conflict has arisen. French sociologist Émile Durkheim argued that this kind of situation emerges from a society that provides little moral guidance to individuals. The result is alienation from the community and a sense of angry listlessness.
Bereft of the institutions that provide meaning and moral guidance, London’s disaffected young men have constructed their own – whether its toxic digital communities or street gangs.
From schools to youth clubs, via cuts in community policing, the mechanisms that provide support for people have slowly bled out. Without reinforcement of these social correctives, stabbings in London are likely to increase.
Cover image credit: Anastos Kol