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Together for Change: The Cable joins citywide campaign to tackle knife crime in Bristol

Knife violence has had a devastating effect on the communities it has impacted in Bristol. Today we come together as a city to say enough is enough, with the aim of developing a community-focused ‘task force’.

An illustration of a broken knife. The text reads 'Together For Change: Bristol Live, Bristol Cable, B24/7, Bristol World'
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“These young men could have been brothers, and friends, because at the end of the day we are all human, we are not monsters,” said Irene Muthemba, the mother of a 19-year-old who was fatally stabbed in St Paul’s, Bristol, in July last year.

She was speaking at a police briefing, calling for an end to knife violence among young people on the city’s streets. “There’s absolutely no need for these wars that have become so entrenched in today’s youth culture,” she said, holding back tears.

Seven months on from the death of her son, Eddie King Muthemba Kinuthia, no one has been charged with his murder. And for Irene, life has been an “endless nightmare” – one made worse knowing others have lost their lives in the same way since.

Irene Muthemba and her son, 19-year-old Eddie King, who was fatally stabbed in St Paul’s

Over just 18 days at the end of January and the start of February this year, three Bristol teenagers lost their lives.

In 2023, as well as Eddie, three others died by knife violence in the city. A Bristol teenager was also stabbed to death in Bath, with many more non-fatal stabbings taking place.

Knife violence is a national issue that’s as complex as it is devastating, and one that doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s set in a wider social context where insecure housing, exclusion from education, unemployment, addiction, mental health issues, and the impact of government cuts are often factors at play.

As part of a citywide campaign, Together for Change, the Cable will explore the social issues that underpin the knife epidemic in the city. We will amplify the voices of the people most deeply affected, bringing communities, authorities and charities together to build a local effort to make a real difference.

Humanity, education, patience and understanding

Mason Rist and Max Dixon were fatally stabbed in Knowle West in January

Avon and Somerset Police Chief Constable Sarah Crew, after two teenage boys Mason Rist and Max Dixon were stabbed to death in Knowle West on 27 January, announced that the force would be “standing up a much more high-profile proactive operation” to tackle knife crime. She urged communities to share information about knives with the police, and told those carrying knives to put them in surrender bins.

After Darrian Williams was fatally stabbed in Easton on 14 February, Superintendent Mark Runacres and Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees, wrote to parents of children at all of the city’s schools, trying to reassure parents that authorities are doing all they can to make our streets safe. They outlined the new police operation, and use of stop and search powers.

But it’s clear that controversial police powers like stop and search, and punitive measures focused on criminalisation, aren’t the solution to the epidemic. In fact, police failed to find any knives, and disproportionately targeted people of colour during the 48 hours they enacted heightened search powers in some areas of Bristol following Darrian’s murder.

As former youth worker Craig Johnston, senior lecturer at UWE specialising in youth justice, told the Cable last year: “While increasing stop and search has its place, trust and mutual respect should be the bedrock of any form of work with communities who – in some cases, rightly – do not trust many statutory services. 

“People-facing services should be about humanity, education, patience and understanding. That’s what will make a lasting difference… We need investment in grassroots organisations and youth work. Youth services are being dismantled in Bristol and many organisations are barely staying afloat.”

Many of Bristol City Council’s youth centres have closed down or stopped providing regular services following funding cuts in 2013. Last year, the council announced more cuts, with service providers saying they won’t be able to provide one-to-one support for young people any longer.

Darrian, before his death, was referred to a local boxing gym – a charity that offers mentoring sessions, counselling, therapy and careers support to more than 5,000 young people annually. He was the fourth young person to be referred there to have died in two years – among them was 18-year-old Dontae Davis, who was stabbed to death in October 2021.

The charity, Empire Fighting Chance, whose co-founder Martin Bisp is a signatory of the city-wide campaign open letter, has a waiting list of four months. It receives referrals from schools, pupil referral units, and even the police.

“Young people arrive with a range of behavioural and emotional issues, including anger, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem,” Martin told the Cable. “Their distress is often expressed in ways that can lead them into trouble rather than care and support.”

Dontae Davis, a member of Empire Fighting Chance, was murdered in 2021

Lobbying for change

It’s clear that a joined-up approach to tackling knife crime is needed to make a difference, and that’s the thinking behind the city-wide campaign. Along with fellow signatories of the Together for Change open letter, the Cable has agreed on a set of shared goals designed to help stop needless deaths on our city’s streets.

We have committed to working together to develop a community-driven ‘task force’ where people can meet to discuss the issue, how best to tackle it, and work on a framework to lobby the government for change. Because how the issue is tackled in the UK going forward depends on how those in power choose to do it.

Labour, which under Keir Starmer’s leadership looks likely to take power at the General Election, has pledged to crack down on knife crime with tougher sentences for possession. They have also said they will introduce tough criminal sanctions on tech executives who allow knife sales on their online marketplaces.

Something that’s also caught the party’s eye is a taskforce set up by local newspaper the Northern Echo, which has brought together the families of murder victims, education specialists and criminal justice professionals to discuss the issue and create more joined-up thinking. 

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the public forum, the North East Knife Crime Taskforce, could be used as a blueprint for fighting knife crime across the country. That’s according to the Echo, which set up the task force last year following the deaths of several teenagers in stabbings in the region.

The Cable has spoken to those behind the task force to take learnings that will help us, along with the other signatories of the Together for Change campaign, set one up for Bristol.

‘Knife crime won’t stop, until we all start to take it personally’

While the media can have a positive impact by campaigning on important issues like this one, we also recognise reporting on the murder of young people can be sensationalist, inconsistent, and that deaths can get little or no coverage.

As journalist Gary Younge wrote for the Guardian’s Beyond the Blade series in 2017: “Knife crime, particularly, as it affects young people, has been the subject of national debate for a decade, our awareness of its true scale is limited… and coverage of it is erratic. In short, as a nation we are conscious that there is something out there known as “knife crime”, but as yet we lack any coherent or enduring national response.”

“Without accessible official data, or well-informed discussion, our understanding of the problem is cobbled together from a mixture of personal assumptions, media representation and political projection.” This campaign and the reporting that will inform and be informed by it, as the Guardian’s series did, will seek to address that.

In the words of Irene Muthemba, speaking six months following the death of her son Eddie: “This is not going away. This country has seen enough bloodshed and it is not going to stop, until we all start to take it personally. As individuals, as families, as communities, as a nation and most important – just as human beings.”

The Together for Change campaign, and the Bristol Cable’s series that we will run alongside it, will develop over the coming months. The key message is: we must see change in the city and put a stop to the needless deaths that are devastating communities.

As our open letter makes clear, the best way of making this happen is by working together. So, if you want to take part in the campaign, if you have a story to tell, then we want to hear from you. Contact me at sean@thebristolcable.org using the subject line Together for Change.

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Comments

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  • Thank you please help atop knife crime amongst teens in the city.
    Is parents of teenagers are petrified.
    Please make sure it’s spoken about more in schools and more belled kits out and how to use them.
    Self defence classes on how to defend yourself against someone with a knife should be taught at Schools too.

    Thank you

    Reply

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