Stopping knife crime needs local leadership, says Ashley Dalton – but first we must recognise it is more widespread than many realise
There has long been an assumption that knife crime is an ‘inner city’ problem. That assumption, however, has been blown apart by a series of violent incidents where I live on the Essex coast in Rochford and Southend East.
In May this year, a 19-year-old man was fatally stabbed in the centre of Southend. This tragic event was the catalyst that drew our already concerned residents together to call for action and express their fears as a community.
It was desperately sad to see a young life ended so violently and in a way that could have been prevented. The reaction to this teenager’s death has taught me a great deal about how decision-makers should respond to knife crime.
In the aftermath of the incident, I was struck by local people’s motivation to come together to solve the problem of knife crime. Rather than turning inward and growing more fearful, people here in Southend have met together with the local authority and the police to air their concerns and suggest a way forward. People truly care, not just about their own safety but the safety and prosperity of their neighbourhoods. That becomes even more evident when you consider that many of the people who have spoken out on knife crime here in Southend are not the same people who usually engage with decision-makers; they were moved by the severity of the incident to come forward.
But there is only so much a community can do without a compassionate and thoughtful response from decision-makers. People need leadership. I and my Labour councillor and activist colleagues feel a responsibility to help our community get their voices heard and secure action for them from those in authority that is truly based on stakeholders’ needs.
It is crucial, especially when people are afraid for their families’ safety, that leadership is not top-down, dismissive or based on assumptions. We, as advocates for the community, must believe people when they tell us what their concerns are. If we can do that, preconceptions of what they want and what we can offer can fall away. In this instance, it was clear that people in this constituency did not simply want more police, in a knee-jerk reaction to the danger of knife crime. Their wants and concerns were more subtle and complex than that.
Parents expressed their fears about how knife crime is affecting their children, as victims and perpetrators, and the impact of that on their futures. The community felt that the cumulative effect of policies that cut youth services, welfare for young people and education provision is a resounding message that young people are not important or valued by decision makers. Local people want to feel hopeful about their children’s futures. They want decision makers to share their pride for our young people and to deliver policies that encourage and support their young people to thrive.
Leadership is not about deciding what actions need to be taken and delivering that for a community. People already know what they need. It is our job as community advocates to listen, to keep our minds open, and to ensure people’s voices are heard and that they are involved in solving the problem.
This approach – a genuinely people-centred, patient, compassionate approach – takes time. It necessitates winning people’s trust. It means keeping our own assumptions out of the equation. And it means facing up to difficult issues head on when they arise. I am still learning. But I believe that it is a core Labour value to argue passionately for the needs of our communities, and that approach is key to keeping knives off our streets and preventing the loss of any more young lives.
Ashley Dalton is Labour’s candidate for Rochford & Southend East
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