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29 June 2017

The plight of knife crime – time to stop and search?

The plight of knife crime – time to stop and search?

by Pastor Nims Obunge of Freedom’s Ark Church in Tottenham, and chief executive of the Peace Alliance. Pastor Nims is also a member of the Evangelical Alliance’s One People Commission and Council.

During the spring months, London saw an astronomical increase in knife crime resulting in more than 30 deaths since the beginning of the year and more than 14 during April and May. This by no means considers the numerous amounts of people who have been injured by these crimes. 

The victims have more often than not been young, although we have also seen this epidemic impact on older members of our community. The profile of the offenders has mostly been young boys or men and the community most affected have been the black community. 

The resultant effect of this has once again profiled the ongoing debate on the rights and wrongs of the police exercise of stop and search as a tool to combat gun and knife crime in particular. 

I recently chaired a discussion on stop and search at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, which was attended by up to 150 learners, including the likes of Commander Neil Jerome, the Metropolitan Police lead for stop and search, Chief Superintendent Helen Millichap, Haringey Police Borough Commander, and Kind Hinds, the chair of the Haringey Independent Stop and Search Monitoring Group. 

With black people being three times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, the students felt as though these disproportionate figures were unacceptable and potentially criminalises innocent people. 

Chief Superintendent Helen Millichap said that every stop and search that takes a knife off the street saves a life and that this issue needed to extend beyond the police to community and schools. 

Commander Neil Jerome said that police were moving to a place where all officers would be wearing body worn video cameras while on duty. This would also ensure that an impartial record of a stop and search was documented, to analyse whether the dignity and rights of all were preserved throughout. 

The validity of the debate on both sides is important, because while the police may argue that they are trying to keep our communities safe and that the figures provide a complex background that is not built on discrimination, the balancing view point of many others is that stop and search has not proven in the long term to be an effective crime reduction tool. 

Stop and search on its own remains a limited and sometimes ineffective tool for addressing youth violence. It uses tools of policing and legislation to attempt to address what is inherently a dilemma that our society has with morals and values. 

We can’t win the war against gangs and violence on our streets by heavy handed policy and policing. We must revisit the challenges of violence on our streets by having sincere and heart searching questions about how and why some members of our society find it more acceptable than others to carry a knife or gun and use it with no sense of the consequences this action may have in their lives or others. 

Where have we gone wrong and what has happened to the emotional intelligence of some in society? Has the value of life amongst some of our youth been lost and if so, how do we work together to regain it? 

I believe stop and search can’t work without all of us, including you. Jeremiah 29:7 says: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 

It’s evident that the police are doing their best to tackle the plight of knife crime in our society, but I think this action needs to start on our knees, then in our homes, before it gets to our streets. I’m clear that many families may not feel affected by this challenge, but I believe it’s important that we collectively turn to God in prayer for our city. 

For many years I carried this burden and developed a range of resources and campaigns, including a comic called What’s the Point? to address knife crime. All of which aimed to contribute to the reduction of violent crime in our city, but now I believe it’s time for the Church to no longer be at ease in Zion, but to determine to pray and act until we address the growing challenge of gangs and disenfranchised youth. The scriptures teach us to give God no rest in prayer until He establishes His purpose on earth. 

Stop and search must start with a search of the hearts and minds of parents and children. Parents and responsible adults in the homes of the most vulnerable communities should be encouraged to stop their children and have that chat with them. By this I mean:

Challenge their values

Hold them to account

Address their concerns

Take any weapons away

In the month of June, I called on our churches to pray for our youth every Sunday, as the summer months are the most challenging when young people can feel restless and gang activities become rife. I believe through these challenges God’s grace and strength can preserve and protect our city from all harm. So... let us pray! 

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