The SWC debate

This evening saw Jon Snow chair a live TV debate on the findings of the Street Weapons Commission, chaired by Cherie Booth. The studio was filled with youth and health workers, families of the victims of gun and knife crime, police, and many others with an interest in the many issues involved. They also took emails from viewers.

Some key points:

  • 36 teenagers have now died violently this year. That’s an appropriate starting point. As Jon Snow said: “This has been an horrific year for young people on Britain’s streets. The focus now is on what can be done to get knives and guns off the streets.”
  • Richard Taylor believes that things have got worse rather than better in the eight years since his son Damilola was murdered.
  • A viewer asked “how can you tell me not to have a knife in my pocket?” when she had been stabbed and witnessed people being held at gunpoint.
  • Much, perhaps most, violence does not show up in the official data. Hospitals are not even obliged to report knife injuries to the police (unlike gunshot wounds).
  • The police still carry a heavy responsibility, and in fact it’s critical to re-establish their authority, but there’s often a perception that stop-and-search operations unfairly target ethnic minorities.
  • Parents should be more responsible…
  • Young people need more opportunities to keep them active and out of trouble…
  • Grass-roots community organisations are often hampered by lack of long-term funding…
  • Young people have to be at the heart of any solution, not just seen as the problem…
  • And home secretary Jacqui Smith, when questioned about whether the government would implement the recommendations of the Street Weapons Commission, chiefly a national ‘violence reduction unit’, simply fudged it.

So, no great surprises. For a while, there was perhaps too much emphasis on funding, as if violent crime can be solved by throwing more cash at it. Yet right at the beginning of the show, a hooded, masked gang member spoke openly about his lack of enthusiasm for, say, a local youth club. For him, it’s more fun being in a gang battering other gang members than doing just about anything else. Gangs offer role models and a sense of belonging and self-worth that maybe isn’t on offer in the family environment. Life in a gang, despite –or because of – the violence is not necessarily unattractive given the alternatives.

Who knows this best? Current and ex-offenders. This is why commissioner Mark Johnson, himself an ex-offender, is right to keep hammering home the point that people like him have to be involved.

Did you watch the programme? Did you come away feeling positive that things are now, finally, going to get better, with Cherie Booth assuring us that this will not come off the agenda?

Tell us in the comments.

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