It is often too easy to point fingers at people on the margins of society and assign labels to them that they don’t actually deserve.
Whether that be looking at gypsy travellers and calling them trespassers, or seeing a homeless person and thinking of them as lazy.
Vitally too, we look at young people who carry knives and see nothing more than a monster.
A documentary such as Gangland did much to perpetuate this type of opinion.
But we must explore this mindset further- the mind that feels the need to carry a weapon- and instead of villainising it, determine whether it is as deviant as we’d like to think or whether it is more familiar than we find comfortable.
Ultimately, I want this article to change the perception people have of those who carry or have carried knives, and I hope this changed perception leads to a greater willingness to build bridges between these people and wider society.
Out of the ashes of the second World War, there emerged two superpowers on the world stage: the USA and the USSR.
Some of the ash that was left after the war was a result of the USA’s two nuclear attacks on Japan in 1945 which left two cities destroyed.
The use of this powerful weapon caused the other superpower to accelerate their efforts to create their own nuclear weapon, which they did four years later.
This resulted in the Nuclear Arms Race where the USA and USSR engaged in a battle to develop and build the most sophisticated and numerous nuclear arsenal in the world.
The policy that the USA used to justify this was the policy of Nuclear Deterrence.
This was the idea that if they had more nuclear weapons than their rivals, then it would deter their rivals from attacking them.
While political and social changes over the past 30 years have resulted in a major decline of nuclear weapons, this mindset of deterrence still somewhat persists today, as seen in the recent UK Government decision to renew the Trident weapons programme.
The Defence Secretary stated that the UK’s possession of nuclear weapons
“put doubts in the minds of our adversaries”; this is essentially a policy of deterrence.
I clearly want to state that this article is not a criticism of this policy, or of the recent Government vote, but I do want to draw an important parallel.
It was mentioned many times during Gangland that young people carry knives to feel safe.
They know that their enemies are carrying knives and feel that if they have one they will be less vulnerable.
The UK Government has said that they know their enemies have nuclear weapons and they feel that if they if they have them they will be less vulnerable…
Repeat that if you need to.
This parallel shows that the mentality which causes someone to pick up a knife is not as alien as we would like to think.
In a similar way, a social commentator called Terrol Lewis often refers to drug dealers as entrepreneurs, because of the drive, skill and financial nous they show in their aim to increase their wealth.
Do I believe that knife crime is a problem? Absolutely, it has taken the lives of too many people I know.
Do I believe that drug dealing is a problem? Absolutely, from the paranoia and stress it gives to dealers, to the death and destruction it brings to users.
But I simply refuse to believe that young men who carry knives are nothing more than ignorant and senseless killers.
So what, then, is the difference between knife wielders and politicians, or drug dealers and entrepreneurs… In short, I believe the answer is context.
The underlying skills and desires of these young people show that they have the potential to do immense good if they are placed in, or at least exposed to, the platform and opportunity to use their talents in a different context.
This intervention must happen as early as possible, because it is difficult- not impossible- to take people out of their comfort zone.
It is unreasonable to expect a young person to make wise decisions with their skill set in an environment where the established routes to respect and financial stability are street life and selling drugs.
It is up to us to provide the frameworks that will allow their talents and abilities to be guided into something positive.
And this begins right here, with understanding the mindset that causes someone to carry knives or sell drugs.
- This Article was written Kwame Sekyere [@kbsekyere]
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