Youth violent crime is on the rise. That is exactly why we must champion young people, not vilify th

On 27 March, 25-year-old Ramane Richard Wiggan was shot dead in West Norwood, around the corner from BIGKID Foundation’s offices. Sadly, this was the 12th person under the age of 25 to be murdered in London in 2019; since, two more have been killed.

Youth violent crime is undeniably on the rise. In 2018, 51 people under the age of 25 were murdered in the capital. 11 people are injured in knife attacks every single day, and 60% of those caught with a knife are under the age of 25. In Lambeth, where BIGKID works, youth offending rates exceed London and England averages. Serious Youth Violence has increased by 35% in Lambeth over the past two years.

However, this rise in youth violent crime has, thankfully, been met with responses from those high up. The cross-party Youth Violence Commission was launched in 2017 following a parliamentary debate to explore root causes of knife crime. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has also announced various measures to combat the issue, including the establishment of a Violent Crime Taskforce (including escalated stop-and-search powers - more on that later), the London Needs You Alive campaign, and a £45 million Young Londoners Fund.

Yet, regardless of everything being done to address this worrying rise in youth violent crime, the narrative surrounding these stories remains overwhelmingly one-sided. The focus is almost always on stories of young black men killing each other. This is accompanied by an emphasis on criminal justice as a solution. Within this story, the young people are almost always the problem.

Interestingly, many have been quick to condemn drill music - a strain of hip-hop imported from Chicago and laced with mentions of violence - as a key contributing factor in the rise of knife crime in the UK. Social media has also been vilified, and while it has been used to spread videos of criminal acts, and is proven to impact mental health, it cannot be considered the sole cause of this problem.

As mentioned above, much of the work being done to address the youth violent crime wave has focussed on criminal justice. This is particularly interesting given Theresa May’s original assertion that there is actually no correlation between rising crime and police cuts. While May has since backtracked - after Met Police chief Cressida Dick argued that there was, in fact, a link - criminal justice measures continue to be the focus of anti-knife crime campaigns. Tougher sentences for knife possession have been implemented, and stop-and-search orders have been escalated. This is something that we see regularly, with many of the young people we work with getting stopped-and-searched on their way to football or youth club sessions. Unfortunately, there remains an underlying racial bias, with black people being stopped and searched at many times the rate of white people. This issue is compounded by the fact that the majority of young people, when being stopped-and-searched, have no idea about their rights - making this an altogether more terrifying experience. Accompanying the racial bias in stop-and-search measures, the youth violence ‘epidemic’ has been widely portrayed by the media as a black issue.

When we read about youth violent crime in the papers and hear about it on the news, young people are criminalised. At BIGKID, we believe that the key to solving the problem of youth violent crime is multi-faceted and needs to address root causes - but we also know that none of this will work if we continue to vilify young people, rather than champion them. When young people are told that they are criminals, they begin to believe that they are.

At BIGKID, we are taking an entirely different approach. We exist to champion young people, and help them to take control of their lives, find, develop and act on their own potential. How do we do this? We celebrate their achievements - whether this be staying in school, turning up to a session on time, or not getting angry when they miss a goal. We are there to say ‘congratulations’ and ‘well done’, and to simply ask them ‘how are you today?’

The majority of the sports coaches and youth club workers at BIGKID are young people themselves who have come through our programmes. In this way, they act as role models to other young people in their communities, showing them that there are endless opportunities out there for them. Our ‘home-grown’ coaches are also much better placed to help our beneficiaries - they know, intimately, the issues that they are facing and have come out the other side.

In trying to subvert the existing narrative around London gang and knife culture, we have been lucky enough to have the support of some amazing ambassadors, who themselves have triumphed in the face of similar pressures. Efe Obada, now playing in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers, was abandoned in London aged 10, grew up in Stockwell and had never played American football until five years ago. Obada is a symbol of passion and dedication for our young people, and proves that anything is possible when you put your mind to it. Obada, now a BIGKID ambassador, has been the figurehead of our American football programme, which we piloted at the end of 2018. Every Tuesday, young people from across Lambeth and the surrounding boroughs - boys and girls, of many ages - come and play American football. In the process, they develop key life skills, get to socialise, and improve their physical and mental health. This is just one example of the amazing things young people are doing in London.

We will never stop championing our young people. We hope that the wider public, and those in government, will do so, too. Young people aren’t the problem here; and BIGKID is simply the support network that exists to help them find their own solutions.

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