Gants Hill URC was the venue on Saturday 6th April for the Knife Crime Conference sponsored by the Gateway Community Church. It was highly informative with many qualified and expert speakers. In the UK (2018), 43,000 stabbings of which 342 were fatal and, this year, in London alone, 23,000 knives have been seized of which 4,500 were from 10-15 year old children. In Ilford, we have already suffered three fatalities this year. Our local MP spoke about the issue but I want to concentrate on the presentation given by an ex-gang leader called Sheldon.
Sheldon, whose parents came from Jamaica to the "motherland", grew up in the 1960s running away from Teddy Boys, Skin Heads, and then the National Front, in an age where being black was not respected and, in his opinion, racism rife in the police. He urged the black community to stop blaming the police, local authorities or teachers and start to take responsibility for themselves: "Stop deflecting and start reflecting." He believes the black community must look at its own issues, such as the family unit. Where are the fathers? Who are the role models? He grew up with two parents but he does not remember receiving any love or hugs from his father. He said parents need to be accountable. He then quoted these two statistics: a 2015 study by the UN claimed that children were growing up in a love-less house. The average Dad, if there is one, spends 35 minutes per day with his child. The average Mum, if there is one, spends an hour. The average time spent on social media by a child is 9 hours. So, the question is, who is raising our children?
He went on to describe how easy it is to be attracted by gangs and how, once you are trapped, you cannot escape. This is as relevant to boys as it is girls whether black, white or Asian. If parents are not looking after their children, the gangs will. Our children have to cope with social media bombardment, aggressive music and the lure of a life style based on monetary gain. Children are starting to be groomed at 9 years old, then at 10 will start to carry weapons and by 11, on their BMX bikes, will be distributing drugs amongst their peers. Meanwhile, girls are very good at recruiting younger boys. These children are taught to tell lies to their parents. Children of age 7-11 in Stratford can earn £75 per day selling drugs, which by the age of 15, if they don't get caught, can increase to £500 a day. The sense of belonging to a gang, the sense of safety a gang provides, together with the monetary reward, makes the gang a very attractive proposition.
Sheldon believes the only thing that would work to solve this issue is a societal change where the family and community starts to take responsibility. He went on to show pictures of a white gang of 9-11 years olds in Liverpool who were not only selling cocaine but had guns.
The presentation was an eye-opener, it is time for talking to stop and action begin; focused that works rather than token, which just makes us feel better. The challenge has been set and it is up to us to respond with love, prayer and action.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon