Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin writes that adults must be integrous, stop colluding with the perpetrators of crime and put a premium on family life, if they want to see an end to youth violence in our communities
Last month, we were horrified at the news that a 15-year-old boy had stabbed his teacher to death, in a classroom full of other children. This incident has again raised the spectre of the level of violence being committed within our communities by young people and, usually, against other young people.
Between January 2005 and March 2014, 159 young people were killed by the hands of other young people (with 28 and 29 deaths occurring in 2007 and 2008, respectively). Of these deaths, 106 were stabbed, 31 were shot and 13 beaten. Looking at these figures, it is easy to get caught up with whether we think most or all of these were gang-related deaths. If we convince ourselves of the latter, then we can excuse the fact that, as a community, we must take some responsibility for this level of violence.
Thirty of the 159 deaths were children aged 16 and under, and 19 victims were females. The fact that our children are dying on our streets in vast numbers appears not to have triggered an ‘enough is enough’ or zero tolerance within the community. Instead, there has been a wall of silence and, amongst young people themselves, they prefer to take the credit for ‘not grassing on anyone’. There is one exception, however: if the death is caused by the police, or can even be blamed on the police, parts of the community have no hesitation in pointing the finger and – as we have seen in recent years – to riot if necessary, indeed if the opportunity affords itself.
So, how did we get to this point? Over 90% of the young people thought to have perpetrated these acts of violence do not live by themselves; they live amongst us in our communities, in our homes, using all our amenities and eating all our food. This gives us every right, then, to intervene as the adults in the community. To be effective, however, we can only intervene with integrity. Therefore, we should live by modelling what it means to clearly belong to the one human race, and be intolerant of those who use violence to achieve the things they strive for. There should be no protection given to those who perpetrate such horrible deeds in our midst.
There has been collusion, unfortunately, by the adults in our community. We have failed as parents, by not taking our role seriously. We have given time, instead, to spending hours in the hair salon putting in extensions, or at the barbershop, rowdily connecting with our mates. We have somehow agreed to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, so we are hardly at home, as we are busy chasing the funds that will help us furnish the Joneses’ lifestyle. We are NOT spending quality time with our children but, instead, fulfilling our own personal desires. Those, who have planted their ‘seed’, creating a child in the process, have walked away and gone down the road to plant more seeds, and have not even stayed behind to nurture that which they have already planted. They seem more keen to prove their virility, than to show any possible interest in the life they assisted in bringing into the world.
As a result of this, we see children on our streets after 8pm, unsupervised, simply left to their own devices. Sitting at the table or in the lounge with their families, discussing how their day went – and looking at the mutual support needed – is no longer an option. Instead, their friends on the street provide this. There is no warm parental embrace; their friends provide this, only the lines get blurred and, before long, some are groomed to provide sexual favours, or we hear news of sexual initiation rites. Often, when it is too late, Social Services intervene on behalf of the wider community, sometimes becoming a part of the problem because their response can often add to the problem instead of solving it.
I have often wondered why we adults are willing to take financial help from children, who we know are not in employment. When our children turn up in our homes, wearing clothes that we did not buy, and that neither uncle nor aunty bought, why do we allow them into our homes? When there has been an incident in the community, and our children run home, why have we provided an alibi for them? Another trend that I have seen is that we are spending an enormous amount of time in church – yes, in church – and all at the expense of our family life together.
I am an optimist, however, and I believe it is not too late. I genuinely believe that we can begin to heal the raw, open wounds. If we are going to do this, we will need to re-commit ourselves to start living in unity; we will have to commit ourselves to stop colluding with the perpetrators of these violent acts. We will have to commit ourselves to nurturing family life – spending quality time with each other, ensuring that our children are loved and cared for by us, instead of allowing them to be brought up by the street.
Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin is a Church of England Vicar serving in Hackney, east London, and is the first Black woman to serve as Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons