In February, for the first time ever, London’s murder rate overtook New York’s. Violent crime in the capital has surged in recent months after 15 people died following fatal stabbings or shootings in February, compared to 14 in New York.
Victims in recent weeks have included 17-year-old Tanesha Melbourne-Blake who was shot dead by a gunman in a moving car in Tottenham, and 16-year-old Amaan Shakoor who was shot in Walthamstow.
A debate has been sparked as to whether cuts to the police force have directly resulted in the rise of shootings and stabbings on the streets of London, after around 50 people were murdered in London between January 1st 2018, and the first week of April. This already surpasses the murder rate in 2017, when 116 murders were committed over the course of the entire year. Eight Londoners were murdered between just March 14th and March 20th.
In March, London lost 22 people to knife or gun crime, compared to New York where 21 died following stabbings or shootings. This difference may be small, but London’s murder rate has grown by 38% in just the last three years.
Between 2009-2016 police numbers were cut by over 20,000. This amounts to a 14% reduction in spending on police services in the UK. The number of police officers on the streets of England and Wales is currently at the lowest level since records began in 1996.
Indeed, The Guardian reported in January that police recorded crime in London in 2017 was up 14% from 2016. This increase has come after 2 years of steady decline in violent crime in the capital.
Recently, Amber Rudd claimed that government cuts to the police service played no real part in the surge in street killings in London. The Home Secretary instead placed blame on social media for the rise of violent crime attacks on the streets of London, writing in the Evening Standard ‘Social media raises and spreads the profile of drug-market violence …Gangs are using a space in which they think they are untouchable to post videos and music online that glamorize violence and spread fatal messages.’
It would be wrong to claim that social media has no played no role in glamorizing gang culture, however Twitter and Snapchat did not create gang culture. If violent crime is being glamorized online, it is because young people feel they have nowhere to turn to let out their anger at a system that has failed them except on social media platforms.
The root cause of this killing epidemic is not social media. The root cause of the surge in London murders can be found in the government’s vicious programme of austerity, and this doesn’t just mean cuts to police services.
Between 2010-2017 government spending on youth services fell by 50%, and since 2011, £2 million has been cut from council youth service budgets across London. This has led to the closing down of youth clubs and local initiatives which help to keep young people off the streets.
These cuts have hit poor working families the hardest. Cuts to youth support programmes have left many of London’s poorest teenagers in a vulnerable position. With increased financial pressures on their parents to work long hours, many teenagers are being left with no other alternative than to enter into a cycle of gangs, crime and violence.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, along with Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, were among some of the senior figures to suggest that the solution to this problem lies in extending the powers of stop and search.
What these senior figures fail to understand is that the problem of violent crime in London is systemic. Introducing random stop and search would only act as a short-term solution to a much bigger problem.
If the government are truly invested in wiping out violent crime in the capital then the solution lies not in randomly stopping young people who may be carrying a weapon, but stopping young people from ever feeling the need to carry a weapon in the first place.
One way that the government can do this is by investing more in local communities. Government investment in neighbourhood policing, youth services, and education will address the root causes of crime. Increased investment in local communities is going to play a massive part in the long-term effort to turn London’s youth away from violent crime, and ensure the streets are safer for everyone.