“We need to look at gun and knife crime as a whole and unite families, teachers and youth services to break down the barriers. The only way we can stop this from getting out of hand is working together.”
These were the words of Janette Collins who runs The Crib, an intervention project helping young people stay away from gun and knife crime, an organisation vital in Hackney following the deaths of six people to gun and knife violence this year.
Speaking at a public meeting by Hackney Labour’s Ethnic Minority Forum (EMF), Collins proposed solutions to prevent an increase of violent crime in Hackney alongside a panel of guest speakers.
This follows talks with a number of young people during school holidays who said they were “too scared to go out,” according to panellist Caroline Selman, Hackney Cabinet member for Community Safety.
Audience members at St Matthias Halls questioned how the community can be brought together and during the meeting’s Question Time-style discussion, a Hackney councillor asked: “What practical things can we do [to tackle gun and knife crime]?”
Collins said: “We need to bring people together in a friendly atmosphere, it always breaks down barriers. Hackney Downs has been forgotten. It used to be a vibrant area when they had Hackney Downs Festival and we need to create something like that again.”
Leroy Logan, a former police chief inspector, explained how festivals such as Hackney Downs, Stoke Newington, and Hackney Peace Walk, which no longer receive funding, brought people together through preparations as well as the event itself.
Logan said: “We used to note reductions in crime when these events took place and it’s something we need to go back to.”
Funding cuts to youth and voluntary organisations across London have also taken effect in Hackney, with at least £22 million to youth services cut from a total of 28 London council budgets.
Logan, now chair of social justice charity Voyage, said how spending cuts to youth services have had a “massive impact” on these organisations.
Young Leaders for Safer Cities, a programme run by Voyage, received changes to funding in 2015 which led to a discontinued budget from the Mayor of London and Metropolitan Police.
“We’re trying our best but one of the biggest things is we’ve got more young people coming to us and haven’t got the capacity to deliver more programmes,” said Logan.
Youth Leader Taz Adia said community work should be “built into the community” and involved in “everyone’s everyday lives”. Selman reinforced the importance of community organisations: “You understand your own community best, to recognise the issues and be part of a solution”.
A Hackney resident in the audience and youth worker for The Crib, proposed a solution to extend youth services to those effected by gun and knife crime through outreach, meeting those in need of services within their own location.
She said: “People from the ages of 10 years old are out there carrying knives. It’s the young people that are doing it. What we need is a lot of outreach workers on the street corners to talk with them. They’re not going to youth centres because there are rules and regulations, they are going on the streets so that’s where we need to be.”
Collins said: “Outreach is a very important part of community work, it doesn’t mean you go and sit in a community centre, it means you go out and find young people in their own environment, on the streets and stairwells.”
Outreach services have gained funding from Sadiq Khan’s £1.4 million anti-knife crime project fund. Over £8,000 is expected to be invested into Mancunian Way, an outreach project from a community centre reaching around 100 young estate residents engaged in, or at risk of, knife crime in Hackney.
Many practical solutions to combat gun and knife crime centre on trust and confidence within the police service, with The Metropolitan Police’s Gangs Matrix being a repeated issue at EMF’s public meeting.
“Should the mechanism not be used as a route into the criminal justice system but a route into a prevention safe-guarding system?” said an audience member.
Set up after the 2011 London riots, the Gangs Matrix holds information on around 3,800 persons of interest to provide the government with data on the extent of gang activity. Individuals on the matrix are known as ‘gang nominals’, with ‘red nominals’ considered most likely to commit a violent offence and ‘green nominals’ posing the least risk.
A recent report from Amnesty International UK, revealed less than 5 percent were in the ‘red’ category, and 64 percent were marked as ‘green’. 75 percent of individuals had been victims of violence themselves.
Collins said: “The matrix not only criminalises the young person but criminalises the family, and once a young person gets on the matrix, they can’t come off.”
Collins told a story of the police going to a Mother’s door to question the location of her son, only to find out her child had been a victim of knife crime and passed away. “It houses you and it keeps you.”
Logan said: “I was amazed at how many young people shouldn’t be on the Gangs Matrix, it’s supposed to be high intensity support, but we know it’s operation profiling.
“We need to deal with those issues head on and do it at a local level. We need to not scare them but do something to be there for them. We need to go back to the basics.”
Selman is in the process of producing an app for young people to improve how the council work and communicate with the youth in the borough, this will operate alongside Parents Voice, an app which helps parents recognise the signs of young people being involved in gangs.
The EMF plan to take action from the response heard during the meeting and create a proposal that will be sent to Selman and the council.