If only … I weren’t such a vicious thug

Last night and the night before, there were discussions about knife crime on the BBC London station, based around a BBC Panorama programme in which Raphael Rowe, a BBC reporter who had been in jail himself as a result of a wrongful conviction for a series of robberies, interviewed young offenders who had been locked up as a result of killing or wounding people with knives. One of them opined that he might not have killed, and would be free today, if he had been threatened with a minimum four-year jail term for carrying a knife in the street. I think it would be a disaster if policy-makers listened to these men.

I’ve made my feelings clear about British “offensive weapons” laws in the past, both here and in emails to the radio programmes which discuss this issue (including on Sunday night, but it was not read out). A disarmed society is a relatively recent innovation, which works in affluent areas because there are no gangs wandering around and people neither are inclined, nor feel the need, to rob anyone else. I do not carry a knife, because I do not need to, but I cannot condemn anyone who carries one to make himself feel safer going to the next neighbourhood, and I do not think it reasonable to put the onus on individuals who feel threatened to go unprotected, as if this will dissuade those who threaten him (as we are generally talking about men). After all, if you go into a forest you know to be inhabited by bears, you take a gun, because you cannot fight them; they can kill you with one swipe of their paw. Some of these thugs will think nothing of stabbing or shooting you if you cross them, which is very easily done.

An automatic four-year sentence for merely carrying a knife (as opposed to using one for criminal purposes) will have terrible consequences: the people locked up are likely to be those stopped on their own, probably minding their own business, and the less threatening “offenders” as they are the ones who will not fight when arrested. Others will, and some will kill police officers who try to search or arrest them, or carry guns instead of knives, and there are likely to be riots and a lot of race-based and possibly class-based resentment (as the vast majority of those stopped and searched will be young, black, working-class and male) focussed around cases of young black men with apparently promising futures dragged out of college into prison for carrying a knife, something which would not happen to a young middle-class white boy (let alone a girl) even if he did carry a knife, because the police do not stop and search people in affluent areas who don’t look like their idea of “trouble”.

The men in this programme seem to want to blame anyone but themselves for their actions: if only someone else had stopped them, rather than if only they had stopped themselves. One of these men did not kill an armed person who threatened him, but an unarmed person. He should be saying: if only I had not been such a vicious thug. I do believe we are not tough enough on thuggery in our society, with teachers and police telling victims of violence that they shouldn’t have been mouthy; we should develop a culture in which using violence without a very good reason is unacceptable, and those who do should be severely punished, because if people know they cannot get away with using extreme violence for trivial reasons, there will be less for people to defend themselves against, and probably fewer knives around.

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