When I first became a Christian I learnt a familiar adage: ‘Hurt people hurt people’. The Internet doesn’t make teenagers angry and impulsive. Social media can accelerate and manipulate. It can’t create a problem unless it’s there already. It amplifies existing issues.
The rise in youth-related crime on our streets is because young people are hurting.
The way to tackle the surge in youth violence in metropolitan areas isn’t to look for where to apportion blame; it’s to come up with evidence-based strategies and solutions.
It’s about confronting the uncomfortable facts – for example, there are far too many young Black children among the statistics – and then talking to the people who can do something to bring about change.
Politicians need to work together. They also need to listen to young people and, in this case, Black men who are leaders or responsible adults.
Churches can come up with individual conferences and events, but a coordinated and unified approach – where churches work together – is what will bring an end to our children’s blood being spilled on the streets.
In a recent prison reform annual general meeting, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said that Black men and boys are statistically more likely to be the victims and perpetrators of knife crime, making up 21 of the 24 teenagers murdered so far this year.
As a mother to two boys, I find that deeply concerning.
One in three robbery victims is aged 10 to 19, while 26 per cent of rape victims are in the same age group, along with 16 per cent of sexual offenders.
If young people were not hurting, the statistics wouldn’t be so painful. So, how does the healing process begin?
There is a role for the Church – as well as other faith communities – in building strong family units and supporting parents.
The government needs to ensure investment in decent family housing and recreational activities, so young people have activities they can channel their energy into.
As a child I played the violin and the flute, and attended orchestra every Saturday morning. This is where I made friends with similar interests. Our time and thoughts were taken up with a sense of purpose.
Children who have a sense of purpose become adults who have a sense of purpose. They have a reason to live and are excited about life.
I was raised in a single-parent home, initially in one of the worst council estates in North London. Today, that estate has been demolished. Why did I – or my mother – not become a statistic?
There was a sense of purpose that had been birthed within us. When I wasn’t at orchestra, I was either at Girls Brigade, the Brownies, or singing in the church choir, where weekly rehearsals took up my time from the age of nine.
Those activities were vital for my transition to adulthood. The youth workers and church leaders I met in my pre-teen and teenage years taught me to dream, and instilled a sense of destiny in me.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that knife and gun crime has been rising steadily since austerity started to bite. You cannot ignore the impact that millions of pounds of cuts to youth services have had over the last few years. Many of the activities I was involved in as a teenager no longer exist – or are struggling to.
Social care, early intervention and housing services have been particularly affected. As in health, so in crime: prevention is better than cure, so we need to reinstate these services. Cutting them has been a false economy that we are now paying a heavy price for.
Families are struggling to make ends meet. The result, for some, is a downward spiral into poverty, so young people – young Black boys, in particular – now see drugs-running as a way out.
We must unite and work together. I have heard people say that if the victims were middle-class and White, it wouldn’t take so long to see immediate action. The bottom line is they are not middle-class and White, or middle-class and Black, and we don’t need to wait for the government.
We must take responsibility ourselves.
Churches and wider faith communities know enough. We have huge capacity and resources at our disposal to transform this situation. We have prayed, expressed anger and frustration; now we must activate the revelation that faith without works is dead.