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Fighting knife crime
Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody.
Romans 12:18 (GNT)
Journalist Marcia Dixon looks at how Christians can help tackle the knife crime epidemic
Hardly a day goes by without stories of youth killings, stabbing and violence hitting the headlines. Constant pressure is being put on the Government from charities, the public and the media to take the action necessary to drastically reduce knife crime.
Amidst the cry for something to be done, there has been talk of equipping police with firearms to quell crime in urban areas. It’s a move that the public is not in favour of.
There have also been cries for Christians to be more involved in efforts to bring peace on the streets, as well as work alongside parents and charities to help young people make positive life choices.
Thankfully there are Christians who have responded to the call. Hackney-based pastor Junior Spence has, for the past two years, held prayer services in crime hotspots in London and at venues near where youth killings have taken place.
In November 2018 Southwark Diocese convened a meeting that brought together church ministers from across the denominational spectrum, community leaders and political figures to talk about crime in London and the role the Church could play.
Street Pastors hit the streets
One organisation that has been working hard to stem youth crime and violence and in which Mothers’ Union members have been involved, is Street Pastors, founded in 2003 by Rev Les Isaac OBE, Rev David Shosanya and Ian Crichlow PC.
It grew out of their response to a crime, which occurred on New Year’s Eve 2002. Four girls were shot – two fatally – while standing outside a hairdressers, which had doubled as a venue for a New Year’s party in Birmingham. The crime made headline news and alerted Britain to the issues of gun crime and gangs.
Isaac, Shosanya and Crichlow appealed to Christians to provide a listening ear for at-risk youth. There are now approximately 14,000 street pastors.
Rev Isaac reflects: ‘When we started, the police, nightclub owners and the bars weren’t talking to each other. We encouraged them to work together. Now people are doing partnership together.
We’ve also seen crime rates come down because Street Pastors are out there bringing peace on the streets.
‘Fewer people now go to hospital because we can help people on the spot when Street Pastors do their patrols.
‘We’ve seen people who are vulnerable get help, some have come to faith and it’s also given the church credibility. People respect us.’
Former Police Superintendent Leroy Logan worked closely with Street Pastors. Now retired he heads up a voluntary sector company called REALLITY, which runs schemes to capture the hearts and minds of young people. He feels churches have a crucial role to play too, supporting lone-parent families and dysfunctional ones, because children in such families are often susceptible to grooming by thugs, gang leaders and/or drug dealers and get drawn into crime as a result.
Logan would like to see churches be more intentional about working with others. ‘Churches need to understand how their leaders can get more connected with their local strategic partnership so that they know what’s happening in their local patch and if they run an initiative they need to do it in a connected way.’
Working with parents
It is easy to forget that when a young person gets killed, or arrested, the other casualty is the parent/s.
Pastor Lorraine Jones, a mother of six children, came to the fore when her eldest son Dwayne, 20, was stabbed to death in Brixton in 2014. He had been trying to serve as a peacemaker when a boy was being chased by a gang.
In the early days following Dwayne’s death, Pastor Lorraine drew on her faith for strength because her home served as a gathering place for young people traumatised by the killing.
Few people were aware of the trauma she herself experienced: ‘I lost my hair. I got depressed and was on anti-depressants; I experienced flashbacks of seeing my son have open heart surgery on the streets and I suffered short-term memory loss.’ She also had to forgive those she felt caused or contributed to Dwayne’s death.
Pastor Lorraine has been able to transform the grief, pain and trauma she’s experienced into something positive. She now runs Dwaynamics, a boxing club based in Brixton, south London, which is frequented by children, teenagers and young adults, and was started by her son. She is regularly called upon by media to contribute to debates about youth crime too.
Space to talk
Motivated to do something following the recent spate of youth killings, Christian comedienne, speaker and playwright Angie Le Mar hosted the Can We Talk initiative in three venues across London to provide a safe space for parents to talk about the challenges they face raising their children: ‘The children we talk about who commit crime belong to someone. To sit down in a group and say “my child did this, my child did that” is very powerful. One mother said to me: “I shared some stuff that I didn’t think I’d share and I feel lighter now.”’.
‘We’ll keep talking and then go to the young people and see how we can support them.’
A place to belong
Young people are often drawn to gangs because they are desperate to belong. Churches need to offer a Christianity that is attractive to them.
Peter Nembhard is senior Pastor at ARC church in Forest Gate, east London. Over 250 people regularly attend, many of whom are teenagers and millennials.
Pastor Peter has deliberately reached out to this age group. He was, in part, inspired by the death of one of his teenage members in 2005. Charlotte Polius was stabbed to death at a party by another teenage girl, aged just 15. Charlotte’s murder deeply affected Pastor Peter: ‘Charlotte’s death made me want to stop pastoring and do youth work, but I felt led by the Lord to create an environment where young people felt at home.’
Pastor Peter believes the ARC has succeeding in reaching youth because there is a focus on building relationships and discipling them. Indeed some of the teenagers that came into the church in the noughties are now Christian preachers, leaders or married with children of their own.
Playing our part
Mothers’ Union is keen for its members to play their part in bringing about peace and change in their communities. Chief Executive Bev Jullien said, ‘Knife crime in our cities has sadly become a reality for many. There are mums and dads, grandparents and siblings grieving for loved ones who have died because of it. There are families visiting their sons and daughters in prisons because of it. Our members are ideally placed to show love, through prayer and practical support to families. Working with families at every stage is what Mothers’ Union is all about. It is so important that, together with others, we help find preventions.’
As a Mothers’ Union member, what can you be doing to get involved in the fight against knife crime?
You could discuss the issues raised in this article in your Mothers’ Union group:
- When you were a teenager, did you have a particular group of friends and acquaintances that you spent time with? What drew you together as a group? Is it a natural part of growing up to join identifiable groups?
- What do you think makes a gang different from a group of friends?
- What are some of the reasons you feel that young people join gangs and get involved in violence?
- Reading the article, do you see any areas where local churches could help to counteract gang culture – either directly or indirectly?
- Is this just an issue for the major urban areas like London and Birmingham – or do you think this happens in most places? Do you know if this is an issue where you live?
Written by Marcia Dixon and first published in Mothers' Union's Families First magazine Spring Edition 2019 (p 8-11)