It was a record year in London in 2021 — a record for the slaughter of teenagers, that is. Of 30 such fatalities, 27 were stabbed to death in public places, including two within an hour of each other in unconnected attacks on opposite sides of the capital on the evening of 30 December.
So one might have expected the staff of the BBC’s London newsroom to make the need for stronger action against knife crime a major theme of their coverage in the first week of 2022.
Huugo’s mental scars should not take precedence over the horrific physical scars of knifing victims
Not a bit of it. Pride of place on the regional evening news on Tuesday was given over not to the need for police to go in harder against gang violence but rather to complaints about a traumatic incident that took place in June 2020.
That incident involved a teenager from a BAME background, Huugo (correct spelling), being handcuffed by the police after he hid in a bush when they were called to a park to investigate reports of a knife attack.
“They were shouting and they were pointing a taser at me and they were like ‘don’t move’. After about five minutes of being in the bush they pulled me out and then they put handcuffs on me and sat me down and questioned me. I didn’t know what was going to happen, if they were going to arrest me for something that I didn’t do,” Huugo explained.
As it happens, Huugo was swiftly eliminated from inquiries. Huugo’s father, a youth counsellor named Andrew Boateng, was also interviewed and spoke of the “trauma” suffered by young people stopped by police who “are supposed to be protecting them”.
Infographics displayed on-screen during the report included the statistic that “black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police” and the report later referred to “worries” that the use of stop and search is damaging relations between young people and the police.
Huugo’s mental scars should not be decried, but nor surely should they be allowed to take precedence over the horrific physical scars of the young people being killed or maimed in knife attacks. The overall impact of the BBC London report, as with so much of its output, was to pile more pressure on the police to reduce the use of stop and search.
Official data on ethnic breakdown of victims and perpetrators has become hard to come by
Yet again the lack of overall context rendered the report deeply biased. Take that statistic about black people being nine times more likely to be stopped. As BBC London journalists must know, but have never to my knowledge reported, black people are also many times over-represented among both the victims and perpetrators of serious street crime in the capital.
Metropolitan Police Commission Dame Cressida Dick explained this to MPs in an appearance before the Home Affairs select committee 18 months ago.
“You are four times more likely to be a victim of homicide if you are black and eight times more likely to be a perpetrator. The overlap with my key metric, which is knife injuries for under 25s… shows enormous disproportionality in the way it affects our young black men as victims and, I am sorry to say, as perpetrators. That is horrible. For knife robbery, gangs, country lines, line holders: hugely disproportionate,” she said.
In recent years official data on the ethnic breakdown of knife crime victims and perpetrators in London has become hard to come by. But back in January 2018, Channel 4 News got hold of some comprehensive figures and there is no reason to suspect the overall picture they revealed has significantly changed.
Of 108 non-domestic homicides in 2017, the victim was black in 54 cases and white in 33. Of 260 knife murder suspects, 145 were black youngsters aged between 13 and 24, compared to 29 white youths in the same age range. In three-quarters of the cases where a victim was a young black male, the suspected perpetrator shared the same profile.
So no wonder black young people are many times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. Perhaps BBC London could explain this to their viewers next time it covers the subject so that an unfair and corrosive impression of police racism is not communicated. For if anything is damaging relations between the police and young people it is surely that rather than the searches themselves.
Channel 4’s report back in 2018 contained a heartfelt plea from Paul Barnes, the grieving father of Quamari Serunkuma-Barnes, who was stabbed to death aged 15 in 2017 by another boy of the same age.
“Instead of just telling the police ‘police, you need to do something about this’, no we, we in our own community, we need to take a stand as well,” said Mr Barnes.
It is hard to imagine such an open acknowledgment of the knife crime crisis within London’s black communities being broadcast post the BLM protests of summer 2020, either by Channel 4 or the BBC. The stock-in-trade now of the capital’s broadcast journalists is to push an infantile and simplistic analysis based around the twin ideas of white racism and black victimhood.
But if black lives really are to matter and the deaths of black youths to be reduced then someone needs to start confronting the truth again soon.
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