Knife crime: I'm living on the edge, says student

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education and social affairs reporter

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Young black men under the age of 25 are the group most likely to be victims of knife crime.

Speaking in simple statistical terms, they are also most likely to be prosecuted for knife crime.

It's a very real worry for the students of Newham Sixth Form College, who have organised an awareness day on the issue.

Each of them has been affected by knife crime or the threat of it in some way.

Clyde, 19, had a friend who was killed in a stabbing outside the McDonald's where he works nights.

'Open my eyes'

"He was eating and chatting to me. He said goodbye and left, and then there was this fight outside. We were told to stay inside.

"When I came back the next day I heard that someone had been stabbed fatally and it was him. He was 23."

Clyde says: "Now I feel like I am living on the edge.

"It made me open my eyes more about how I should be aware of what's going on in my environment."

"Just before this, one of my friends got mugged for his phone. No-one did anything. No-one came to help," he adds incredulously.

Another student, who did not wish to be named, says in a rather matter-of-fact way that a couple of his friends have been stabbed.

He feels it has become so common that it is now treated like burglary by the police.

Where he lives in north Woolwich, "it's not too bad," he says.

"But places like Beckton, are really dangerous because there are lots of gangs there."

'I'm not a bad kid'

So he tends to stay away, he says.

But his friend Menelik, 17, says: "I can't stay out of it because I live there.

"I've learned to mind my own business."

His parents encourage him to be careful making friends.

All these three students say they have been stopped and searched numerous times by the police.

One of them says he has been searched 16 times in four different areas.

"God knows why," he says. "I am not a bad kid."

The experience seems to have frightened him at first.

"Then I thought, I have nothing on me, and I figured out what to do.

"They thought I was carrying drugs," he says.

Dress code

They all express irritation at the experience, especially since it made them late for college and work, but they seem resigned to it.

Menelik says he feels he was searched on the basis of what he looked like: "Most boys of our age wear the same thing - a tracksuit and a jacket.

"More time it's because we are doing sport," he says.

Clyde says the stereotypical representation in the media of young black men as perpetrators of crime upsets him.

"It bothers me the way the media focuses on the characteristics of a person who may go into crime - it's always the typical black male - rather than looking at what the police are doing."

He's not the only one dissatisfied with society's response to burgeoning rates of knife crime.

Victims in 2019

Motives and circumstances behind killings have varied - as have the age and gender of the victims.

Philleen, 17, says the police need to "step up" and deal with the issue.

There are Metropolitan Police officers from the partnership and protection team taking part in the event, informing the students and engaging them in debates.

But on the streets, Philleen feels the police can be a bit too aggressive and would like to see "safe havens" in the community.

"There should be more places to run to," she says.

"Honestly on a Saturday and a Sunday, and on Friday afternoon after the college is closed, there's nowhere for us to go."

Daniela, 18, says: "It's a big issue for us to trust the police."

And it sounds like the trust issue permeates into relationships with people of their own age too.

"We are afraid to make new friends and meet new people," she says.

"Last week, a girl was stabbed in the park just for being there."

The young women at the event seem palpably shocked by the recent stabbing to death of Jodie Chesney in east London.

Sharnaly, 18, says when she heard the news of the killing she thought it could have been her.

"To be honest, I don't feel safe in the streets when there are no people.

"I worry about someone coming up with a knife. I know there would be nothing I can do."

Nicoletta, 17, is also fearful but, like the other students at the event, she feels awareness is the answer.

"People carry a knife because they feel they would be safer. If someone comes down and they're in danger and then they pull the knife.

"They can either kill or be killed in a moment."

College Principal Mandeep Gill is proud of the students' campaign.

"They have first-hand experience of how it impacts their lives, outside college, but they also know how you can do things to make it safer in their environment."

Update 19 March 2019: This story has been updated as a result of new information supplied to the BBC

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