You may have read that the Metropolitan police (London) has recorded a 40% increase in gun and knife crime – this is obviously causing real concern.
Some have argued that the reason for this increase has something to do with the decrease in police numbers (implemented by Teresa May when she was Home Secretary – 143,770 officers – 2009 compared to 122,859 in 2016. This is why Labour have pledged 10,000 extra officers as part of their campaign pledge.
However, as usual, a little digging beneath the headlines reveals a less shocking reality:
– The gun crime stats are still much lower than in 2004 for example – in 2004, gun crime stood at 24,094 incidents a year, the figure was 5,864 in 2016.
Indeed, the Office for National Statistics states that the crime levels are largely steady in much of England and Wales
Here are the headline findings from Gary Younge’s article on ‘knife crime’:
Knife carrying on the rise?
- Between 2014 and 2016 the number of children carrying knives in London schools rose by almost 50%, while the number of knife offences in London schools rose by 26% (Metropolitan police 2017).
- Centre for Public Safety: In London, ‘the number of victims of youth violence and knife crime injuries have been on a steady if fairly gradual upward trend, and are now back to where they were five years ago‘.
‘Knife crime’ in the news
- The term ‘knife crime’ has only recently entered popular use:
- 2000 – only mention of knife crime in national press and London Evening Standard
- 2003 – 24 mentions
- 2008 – 2,602 mentions
- Post 2008 – huge decrease in mentions
Why does this matter?
- ‘These statistics bear only the vaguest correlation to the frequency of knife crime – which peaked in 2011, by which time the media had begun to lose interest’.
Why is the reporting so far from the truth?
- ‘National data on the number of children and teens killed by knives in any given year is not publicly available’.
Ignorance isn’t bliss
- ‘As a nation we are conscious that there is something out there known as “knife crime”, but as yet we lack any coherent or enduring national response‘.
- ‘Without accessible official data, or well-informed discussion, our understanding of the problem is cobbled together from a mixture of personal assumptions, media representation and political projection’.
Knife crime as a social construct
- ‘Knife crime” is a construct. It does not simply mean, as one might reasonably expect, crimes committed with knives. It denotes a certain type of crime committed by a certain type of criminal in a certain kind of context: It is a crime committed by evil kids – not kids who do evil things, but kids who are quite simply evil’.
Young black male thugs?
- Youth Justice Board research of 32 London boroughs, illustrated that when other relevant social and economic factors were taken into account, race and ethnicity had no significance at all. Crime is more prevalent in poor areas, and since black people are disproportionately poor, they are disproportionately affected – as perpetrators and victims. It’s class – not race or culture – that is the defining issue.
- Ministry of Justice: the number of young people entering the criminal justice system for the first time nationwide is at the lowest rate for a decade.
- The proportion of children who say they have tried drugs halved between 2001 and 2014 and those between the age of 11 and 15 who had tried alcohol is now at its lowest since the National Health Service started asking in 1988.
- The Metropolitan police last year revealed that the overwhelming majority of children and young people who carry knives are not gang members. Many are just scared and carry them for protection.
- ‘Take the construct as a whole and you have the ingredients for a tabloid-induced moral panic, in which young black men, who reside outside our basic moral norms, roam crime-infested, hostile cities in pursuit of hapless victims’.
- According to a recent Unison report, between 2010 and 2016 £387m was slashed from youth services; between 2012 and 2016 a total of 603 youth clubs were closed.
- Last year, research by the thinktank CentreForum revealed that these mental health services turn away, on average, 23% of the children referred to them for treatment by GPs, teachers and others.
Please watch the Reggie Yates ‘Death in Chicago ‘ BBC documentary and answer the questions below (please note, there are a couple of swear words and adult themes so don’t watch with younger siblings!):
- Chicago is America’s ______ largest city
- How murders have there been in 2016 so far?
- Which social group is the most likely to be killed?
- How many African Americans were killed in 2015?
- How many African Americans were killed in Chigago last year?
- What does Jamal Green blame?
- What happened in Gresham?
- Why is Reggie distrustful of the police?
- Why do some people argue that the police have been misrepresented (unfairly represented) in the media?
- How many black on black shootings were there in 2015
- On average how often is someone shot in Chicago?
- How many guns were seized last year in Chicago?
- Why does the journalist feel so despondent about homicide rates in Chicago?
- What are many African American boys lacking in their lives?
- In your opinion, why might the constant message of ‘be a man’ help contribute to the cycle of violence that takes place in Chicago?
Hopefully everyone will agree that the trip to the University of Sussex gave you all a taste of university life but most importantly, two fantastic sociology lectures. Personally, I was particularly riveted by the first lecture by Dr Ben Fincham. Using Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler and in particular, Iris Marion Young (who he claimed is a “genius”), he really broke down gender to highlight how masculinity offers males an advantage in life and conversely femininity imposes limits on what most women can achieve. For Young the example of how many girls throw is the perfect example of how females are socialised into acting in an inferior way – throwing a ball badly. There is nothing genetically predisposed that means a female should throw a ball like a shot put but this is something that is taught.
Another good example of this is how males and females sit. Many males stretch out or sit with a wide posture, they effectively own the space around them. On the other hand, females often sit with their legs crossed or together, so unlike the men, they are inhibited and are filling as little space as possible. Again, this is an example of gendered learnt behaviour and cleverly encapsulates the limitations of femininity.
Here is the Vice magazine article that Ben (The Professor of Fun!) mentioned: http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/i-spent-a-day-with-the-professor-of-fun-how-to-have-fun-as-a-young-person-hannah-ewens
The second lecture delivered by Dr Paul McGuiness was also very interesting. Discussing Bentham’s panopticon prison he utilised Michel Foucault to help him consider how these ideas could be applied to contemporary society. For example, it could be argued that with greater governmental powers to monitor internet usage many British modify their behaviour for fear of being watched. This is crucial to Bentham’s panopticon prison idea with the central guard station being positioned in the centre of the prison with very small slits for the guards to look out of. Thus the prisoners could not know for sure if they are being watched, therefore they would have to regulate their behaviour just in case they were.
Also, remember that Jaques Donzelot applied the ideas of Foucault to the family. He argued that government policy could be considered a form of state control over families because surveillance is taking place. For Donzelot, a policing of families is taking place because doctors, teachers and social workers are all implementing these policies and to control and change families.
Dr McGuinnness also considered the role of prison. Is it there to punish or rehabilitate inmates or does it exist to deter the public at large. Interestingly, using a Marxist perspective he argued that if capitalism was replaced by socialism perhaps prison would be unnecessary…