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Summit shines light on knife crime solutions

KNIFE CRIME SUMMIT: Left to right, Delphine Duff, Natasha Plummer and Elena Noel

CANT’ YOU see it? Can't you feel it? It's all in the air, I can't stand the pressure much longer, somebody say a prayer.

These stirring words were sung by Nina Simone in her “show tune” Mississippi Goddam. Last Wednesday, Peckham, Southwark, one of the worst London boroughs for knife crime, played host to the AKCF Knife Crime Summit. Although I have been to several knife crime inspired events in recent weeks, this one felt different. This one felt like there was definitely something in the air.

Maybe it was Paul Barnes sharing the life sentence he lives every day following the murder of his 15-year-old son, Quamarni Barnes. Perhaps it was the impassioned speech given by former police inspector and interim programme and safeguarding manager of GAV (Growing Against Violence), or maybe it was a local man, Alika Agidi-Jeffs, speaking of losing his very close friend to knife crime and wanting to avenge that death. Agidi-Jeffs offered solid advice when he said: “The next time you see a ‘road man’, try smiling it makes a difference to these young guys because a lot of them are going through the same struggles as everyone else and a simple smile could help make their day.”

With all due respect, however, what made the AKCF Knife Crime Summit different was perhaps the number of women adding to the discourse this time around. Often, knife crime debates are headed up by men, in that it is often men sharing their views on knife crime. Sons, brothers and fathers, are invariably affected more than women.

Natasha Plummer head of community engagement from Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) said: “We are here tonight because young people have been losing their lives and that is tragic. Lives are being lost. So I think it is important that we all come together to do everything we can to reduce violent crime in London. And I think it is really important that we come together collectively to do this.”

Plummer also spoke about London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s knife crime strategy, including MOPAC’s work with large retailers to make knives less accessible, and encouraged people to bid for a share of the mayor’s £45 million funds to help tackle serious violence and knife crime in the capital.

Other notable women were in attendance too, such as activist Florence Emakpose and spoken word artist and social entrepreneur Khadija Abdelhamid. Southwark resident and member of Southwark Knife Crime Forum Delphine Duff said: “Today was wonderful. It was important to take the time and focus on understanding the needs of young people and how we can engage parents and seeing this as an opportunity for a holistic approach to change. Any opportunity to engage people in the dialogue and exchange ideas and views is well worth attending.”

Last but not least, Elena Noel, a leading restorative justice practitioner, should be credited with setting up the Knife Crime Summit and bringing together a balance of men, women and charities. Redthread, based in Kings College Hospital in the borough of Southwark, is one of these charities. Youth workers from the charity spoke about how they encourage and support young people to make healthy choices to disrupt the cruel cycle of violence.

The night was a huge success and conducted by Noel in a sensitive manner. For example, candles were lit and a minute’s silence was held for the victims who had lost their lives through knife crime. The audience was asked to make a pledge of their commitment to help alleviate knife crime. This seemed neither sentimental nor pointless. Andrew Brown, interim CEO of Croydon BME Forum, pledged to give two hours of his week to mentor a young man, whose family had made a direct request to him.

Noel said: “Our vision for tonight’s anti-knife crime forum was to be very proactive in bringing together some amazing professionals and community partners who are on the ground, working strategically and want to see change and offer solutions to tackling knife crime in Southwark and beyond.”

As women, Noel, Plummer and Duff may not become the face of knife crime, in the way Claudette Colvin was not the face of the Montgomery bus boycott. However, like Colvin they have started something. You may not see it but you can feel it in the air.

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