Young people are experiencing a “different level of paranoia” around knife crime, according to those previously involved in gang violence.
They believe sensationalist media reports and an out-of-touch government are at the heart of why youth violence seems to be on the rise.
As a new report reveals children as young as six have been caught taking knives to school, young people involved in programmes to help them break the cycle of gang violence have said money is being wasted and lives lost because they are not being listened to.
“Everyone is more on edge,” Peak Saku, 24, told the Standard.
He lives in Lambeth, where youth crime rates are some of the highest in the country. Mr Saku has recently been found guilty of being in possession of a knife.
He said while the issues groups are fighting over are no different than they were a few years ago, the feeling that everyone is carrying a knife - sparked by media reports and posts on social media channels - has dramatically escalated the issue.
"There was a time when issues would happen over similar situations but you could just have fights and they would be resolved," he said.
"But now with social media spurring it all on and the media sensationalising it all it makes it feel like everyone else has one.
"Once you get into an altercation and someone else has one and has the upper hand and you are personally, physically affected by knife crime, then you feel a different level of paranoia."
Mr Saku’s comments come as the Home Office faced fierce backlash over a new campaign that features the hashtag #knifefree on chicken shop boxes.
They also feature stories of young people who have turned their lives around, but many have slammed the campaign as “racist” and not going far enough.
Mr Saku said that while chicken shops are a good place to start because of their role as a community hangout, the campaign may actually have a reverse effect.
Instead of investing in a public health approach to violent crime, the Home Office have opted for yet another crude, offensive and probably expensive campaign. They would do better to invest in our communities not demonise them. https://t.co/dGZBo3IypV— Diane Abbott (@HackneyAbbott)August 14, 2019
“Come on, we’re over hashtags now, this is not something that’s going to connect with kids,” he said.
“At the same time, seeing a government stamp and seeing a hashtag about knives, people that are thinking that they want to be bad and they want to have a name, it's just going to give them justification and clarification: ‘What I'm doing is the right thing: being on the other side of the government.’”
Instead, he said that money - reportedly around £57,000 - should be poured into reviving youth clubs and community workshops.
“Young people need something to do,” he said.
“The government is closing all the youth clubs down, you ain’t got access to things, your parents ain’t got money and you actually do want to do something positive but at the end of the day there's no door to that.”
He added: “Politicians need to stop making short-term moves that are just to the benefit of them getting voted back in next.”
Mr Saku credits marketing agency Livity for helping him take positive steps to break the cycle of violence he found himself in before he was convicted.
He now splits his time between three jobs; working behind a bar, designing his own clothing line and at a creative agency.
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“The media portrays the situation as people who have carried a knife once are thrown into that bag of 'you’re one of them violent criminals'.
“You're not a person anymore, you're a violent criminal that should be locked away."
He went on: "A lady at Livity called Gillian just took me in and helped me get a better CV and helped me get all the jobs I've got now. She helped me do so much she basically changed my life."
The agency has also helped 17-year-old Khush Jandu Quiney, who was put through a five-week training program so she could be involved in designing and performing at the Lambeth Country Fair last month.
She told the Standard she had been involved in violence from the time she was about 13 or 14.
She said: “There’s been a time when I’ve been on an edge of a knife. A lot of people close to me have definitely been affected by it.
“It’s a big problem that definitely affects the majority of the community.”
But she said anti-knife campaigns are only helpful once young people themselves are involved in their creation.
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“They know they shouldn't do it [carry knives] and because they've probably become so desensitised to the whole situation - it's a mindset thing - they're not just going to stop because the Home Office told them to.
“They're not listening to kids they are so far removed from anything on a basic level that they don't understand what people are going through.
“The same goes with police officers. They need to be trained to deal with these things in a more sensitive way instead of just stopping and searching every black and brown kid they see.”
Ms Quiney can think of a whole list of different ways £57,000 could better be used to stop the rise in violence.
She said: “They could have used that money to invest back into communities and youth services, create outreach programmes that are going to get people outside of the community, give them work experience that is going to show them life is more than just the bubble that you live in. You need to broaden the perspective.”
She continued: “Business loans. interest free, would really help people get started because most people don’t do it because they're embarrassed, they've got a poverty issue, it's really hard to get started, especially if you're not going through the education route."
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Livity’s youth engagement lead Gillian Jackson, who Mr Saku credited with "changing his life", said young people “don’t need to know there is a hashtag telling them to be knife free.”
Instead, she said they are trying to find opportunities in their own local areas but “feel let down by the government” when they find they are not available.
“The biggest challenge that we have is helping people to feel safe and supported and to realise they have more opportunities to change.”