Who do we think we're talking to?

‘London's Knife Wars: What’s The Solution?’, BBC One, Reviewed by Hugo Metcalfe.

On Wednesday evening BBC Presenter Tina Daheley facilitated a sensationally titled televised debate concerning the problem of knife crime in the capital. Emotional stories shared by victims and their families were presented alongside feedback from police and government representatives, together with reflections by members of the London community. All were seemingly in search of a ‘solution’. Did they find one, you ask? I’m not sure, but perhaps they unwittingly uncovered a key stumbling block that has kept us from one for so long.

One of the core themes, that was apparent from the very start of the 45 minutes of varied dialogue, was language and communication: due in part to the ‘Simulcasting’ of the program on BBC Radio London, BBC Youtube, BBC Facebook and live tweeting via BBC London Twitter. However, this theme was also highlighted through more subtle psychological considerations such as with whom we choose to communicate about certain issues, how we choose to do so, the voices we value and those we dismiss.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the most powerful of voices came from the young people in attendance. The first is a young unnamed audience member who stands up and uncertainly offers 'I heard somewhere that violence breeds violence… if the police were to come with open arms to these young people it would breed a different response'. Later we hear comments like 'We learn about Henry VIII in school but not about future skills', and perhaps most poignantly from another young contributor 'If you can’t speak the same language as someone you get an interpreter, we speak the language of young people!'.

Comments like these were interspersed between the finger pointing, obfuscation and fact-peddling of representatives from the mayor’s office, government, academics and teachers. Yet this only served to highlight the disconnect even further. As is so often the case, a room full of adults sits to decide why young people behave the way they do and what support they need, seemingly unable to hear the voices of the very population they seek to help. Perhaps, as one participant pointed out, they simply don’t speak the same language.

Despite the subject matter I was disappointed that there were no representatives from the Psychology community in attendance; perhaps like London mayor Sadiq Khan we too backed out at the last minute? I would have loved to have heard from psychologist Karyn McCluskey, who had such success tackling knife crime in Glasgow as the Director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit.

The psychological perspective did make a brief appearance, however, as a prominent trauma surgeon spoke of victims' ‘Psychological Injuries’. A teacher questioned the construct of ‘Knife Wars’ all together: 'These aren’t soldiers', he said, 'these are children'.

- Reviewed by Hugo Metcalfe
Independent Researcher

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