Someone once told me that my town is dying, and its dying because of me, not because I am in any way contributing to the wave of violence and crime, but simply because I was not doing enough to stop it.
I was born, grew up, and to this day reside in Brixton - South London. A place that, since the days of the 1981 riots has been notorious for crime, violence and civil unrest. Many people have tried to pinpoint the exact source of the negativity, some blaming the government for their lack of social intervention, others blaming the young demographic within the community themselves, as responsible for engineering a toxic environment of fear, fury, and fatality.
A more accurate insight would suggest the socio-economic space of which has been poisoned by extreme poverty in addition to the sociological epidemic of fatherless, broken homes as the most legitimate causes.
Photograph & Graphic by Ryan Addy
These days, it’s not just Brixton, Peckham, Hackney or Tottenham but the epidemic of gun and knife crime across London has seen such a massive surge, that we have become very much desensitised to it, however potent the issue, fatalities from knife and gun crime has, unfortunately, become the norm.
Last week it was reported that the homicide rate in London for the first time in history surpassed New York City's. The public reaction to this news was a mixture of deep sadness and massive outrage. That being said, should it take the shock value of such a statistic to make us conscious of what is happening around us? The desensitisation has numbed the community to such an extent that we don’t feel the urgency to take action anymore.
That’s exactly what we have to do, take action. Not just tweets. Not just heartfelt captions on Instagram under images of the deceased. Real, intelligent and tangible action. The same person that told me that the reason my town is dying is because of me, told me that the world is in its current state not because of the people, plans, and projects of evil and negativity but because good people are refusing to do anything about it.
I am a member of Victory Youth Group, a body that aims to elevate youth above their troubled pasts and traumatic experiences. In June 2017, we organised a positive march around London, branded as ‘Life is worth living’, we campaigned against knife crime across some of the most affected areas, such as Peckham and Lewisham. We created awareness, impact and reach to the point that the march was covered by London Live.
Some people would argue that it is only a march and that it would not make any difference, to these same people, I would sincerely ask what they have done to confront the terrible issues within their community. It’s a question that people have been afraid to ask each other for too long, a question that I too, have to ask myself daily. The knife crime march was a great start but more needs to be done, whether it be community outreach such as VYG, social intervention by local government, or even socio-economic legislations introduced that will ease the burden of poverty within the communities most affected by violence and crime.
Another route of positive action is an awareness and consciousness of the potentially harmful messages you may be expressing or communicating. This is especially relating to public figures such as artists as well as the platforms that promote their music. There has been an important conversation around Drill music and whether it has caused the abnormal rates of knife and gun crime within London. A lot of personalities within the industry have been quick to play down such an idea, that content that glorifies and promotes such a detrimental lifestyle could ever have an influence on the impressionable young minds that consume the content. To be fair, music cannot be a direct cause, but it certainly does have a massive influence, it’s time that industry artists, professionals, platforms and even critics are not naive or negligent to this important reality. Consequently, they have to also be accountable for their communities by being more diligent in their craft and content.
It must be said that there has been some improvement at the very least, we can see this in recent examples of artists such as Dave and Abra Cadabra, coming out against knife and gun crime. The latter experiencing backlash for his comments advocating the reintroduction of the ‘Stop and Search’ regime by the policing authorities.
Music platforms such as Link Up TV are becoming more aware of what kind of ramifications a song published on their platform can have on a community, recently Link Up took down a music video that expressed violent and aggressive content that alluded to a recent murder of a 15-year boy in East London. Nevertheless, it only makes the irony more profound if artists like Dave and Abra come out to condemn knife crime whilst simultaneously promoting the same violence in their music. In addition, platforms can do way more to moderate and monitor the kind of content they put on their channels.
From Parliament, local government, community outreach as well as members of and bodies within the community including public figures and platforms, we all need to have more accountability for our community, and this has to manifest in a combination of positive action and social consciousness, because if we don’t, no matter how many hashtags, t-shirts, open letters and statements we make, the violence within our community will only escalate further.
It's not only my town (Brixton), that is dying, it not only Hackney, Peckham or Tottenham, our city is dying. If we do not make ourselves accountable and do nothing to confront issue within our community, then we will be held accountable nonetheless.
Richie Babalola - Culture Editor