Don't blame the weapons
What's new about knife crime? This campaign to raise awareness is a ludicrous waste of time
London Guardian/Zoe Williams | January 18 2006
I was perambulating across Camberwell Green - one of the five most dangerous spots in Britain and the most dangerous in London - when a policeman approached me. There was something atrocious about how fresh and clean he looked, as if he'd sold his unborn siblings to the devil.
"How do you feel about knife crime?" he asked.
"None of it was me," I hazarded.
"No, no, madam, this is an awareness-building campaign. Does knife crime worry you?"
"Not as much as gun crime," I said.
"Why not ... Don't say it's less fatal. Don't, whatever you do, say it's less fatal. A knife wound can be just as fatal as a gun wound."
"Sure," I acceded. "But it's harder to get stabbed by accident. People don't get caught in the cross-knifing. And since I'm not a drug dealer, the most likely way for me to be killed is by accident."
He looked at me. The dog, who hasn't the cognitive function to understand uniforms, was making a noise approaching something like a growl.
"He must be worth his weight in gold," said the copper.
There were so many things I wanted to say - you, young man, are fannying about asking middle-class women about knives, then attempting some conspiratorial dog-based chat that alludes to the crime risk of the area, which could only, conceivably, get less dangerous if you'd stop gabbing about knives to people who clearly aren't carrying any and go and arrest some people who are.
In the ongoing fight against prejudice, it is axiomatic that all of us, especially the policeman, empty our minds of the people we expect to be carrying lethal weapons, approaching everyone as equally likely to be innocent or guilty until the evidence of our own five senses convinces us one way or the other. What a ludicrous waste of the world's time, making me "aware" of knives. It is not the return to first principles that I object to, or the implied political correctness. It is the voguish concentration on the weapons, as opposed to the criminals.
There are no more knives in circulation than there used to be. Perhaps there are better knives, titanium knives, knives with innovative serrations. Perhaps knives are more attractive or more acceptable as accessories. But it is no easier to get hold of a knife now than it was 1,000 years ago or to stab a person than it was in the iron age.
To breach another person's flesh, you need certain characteristics. You must be unsqueamish, which is an accident of birth; you must have an above-average level of aggression, so there's probably some testosterone involved, which will give a clue about your gender and age; you must lack a sense of consequence, on account of how, in your experience of life, gratification is the mythical stuff of X Factor and certainly not a given upon the attainment of some GCSEs.
Nothing, give or take the advent of X factor and GCSEs, has changed. Criminality follows the same patterns as always but we have changed our way of addressing it. We refuse, now, to discuss violent crime as a function of poverty. As a result, we can no longer address crime as the province of a social group, since when you reject a financial explanation, you're left with nothing but conjecture and bigotry. Isn't it funny how knife crime often occurs on council estates? Isn't it strange that gun crime is the preserve of young black men?
Without the courage to blame a rich/poor divide, or the brass neck to be openly racist, we fall back on ludicrous answers. Blame hip-hop. Blame 50 Cent. Blame a lack of respect. Easier still, blame the guns, blame the knives. And sooner or later, coppers are moseying about with this incomprehensible brief to "raise knife awareness". It ought, in fairness, to be possible to sue the police for wasting their own time