“Can’t you see London’s burning, and you can’t duck this smoke.” The lyrics to “Home,” a song released early 2019 by Knucks, at a time where fatal stabbings in London were raging through the city. According to BBC, already by May, the capital had claimed 100 lives.
I moved into flat A on Cambridge Rd, Kilburn Park, back in 2016. Since then, I have been drunkenly asleep on the 98 to Willesden at 4am, blacked out by Hyde Park in the night, witnessed a bottle battle between 18 youths in Brixton, and a stabbing took place while I was sleeping upstairs in my flat in Kilburn. Now, while my parents read this, and cope with a minor heart attack, I can still say; I feel safe in London.
But maybe I shouldn’t. Let’s face it, these anecdotes are nothing compared to what others have seen, and they convey only a fraction of what actually goes on in the metropolis every day.
The House of Commons released a report on knife crime in England and Wales in September 2019. Accordingly, during the period of March 2018 until March 2019, London had 14,843 offences involving a knife or a sharp object – 4,300 of these offences caused an injury. Besides increasing knives or sharp instruments offences, the Metropolitan police (MET) recorded 7,623 cases of possession of weapons within that period. These numbers proved to be a record high in 10 years.
Daily, we kept spotting similar headlines as we flipped through our Evening Standard on the tube headed home. “Teen knifed to death,” published March 18th 2020, is one of endless headlines from the Standard. They proceeded: stabbing in Hackney, Islington, Newham, Camberwell and so on. The boroughs would change daily, and the only constant was the surge in murders on London’s streets.
The criminal culture has clearly been exacerbated, which is particularly reflected in the increasing homicide rate. In 2019, 149 homicides were committed. The numbers have steadily increased for years, and haven’t been below the 100s since 2014, a year in which London saw a relatively low number of 95 homicides.
The steady surge in homicides has revitalised intense attention to London’s gang culture. Today, the gangs of London have become complex webs of organised crime, spanning across the city impacting people from a young age, either as potential victims of crimes, or targets for gang grooming. The task of tackling London’s gang culture seems insurmountable.
Human trafficking, youth violence, drug trafficking, gang rivalries, county lines operations exploiting youths for profits. The list goes on. Sources even claim that London’s gang culture is resorting to innovative means for organising crime. Utilising social media platforms to broadcast gang violence, in order to spark fear amongst rivals, while branding one’s gang. Similarly, the newly emerged music genre, Drill, has been accused of being a source of gang related communication.
The intensification of gang activity has further sparked a surge in sexual offences, too. Statistics have reflected a consistent increase in cases of rape. September 2012 had the lowest count, of 212 cases that month. By 2018, that number had multiplied to a total of 840 cases during the summer month of July. Across the 2018/2019 period, 8,354 rapes were committed – a significant increase compared to 10/11 where the MET recorded just 3,549 cases.
Thousands of sexual assault cases committed in 2018, yet only 223 cases were subjugated to sanction detection. The Guardian disclosed in July 2019 that only 3% of rape allegations in London are convicted – 6% of all rape incidents are escalated to a trial, and in 58% of these cases the victims withdrew their claim. These low rates of sanctions have been scrutinised in recent years as the consistent increase in rape offences have prevailed. Meanwhile, the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has been criticised by some for complacency, and has barely commented on the subject. In one explicit statement from 2018, Khan stated, “London is one of the safest cities in the world for women.”
This notion is certainly not felt amongst Londoners. Myah Gordon, born and raised in Wandsworth, professed that she feels somewhat safe in her home city. Although, after multiple experiences of being harassed while waiting for public transport, she admitted to feeling safe only 80% of the time. “I think we should get some of the men off the streets and then I’d feel safer,” she conveyed in a message. There are no prospects of that happening anytime soon. Recent reporting has disclosed that “the UK justice system is in meltdown,” as acclaimed by the Guardian in 2018.
It’s not only convictions in cases of rape that are conspicuously low in the capital. Looking at the financial year of 18/19, there were 47, 806 drug offences – less than half of these cases were convicted.
Comparatively, this period experienced an outstanding rate of 40,032 robberies, where only 2,419 cases were sanctioned. Reasoning and justifications are multifaceted, yet reporting primarily discloses a discouraging truth of insufficient government funding dedicated to the safety of Londoner’s everyday life.
Myah’s experiences appear common in the city. Various individuals disclosed their encounters with harassment in this place that they call home. “In London, if I’m walking alone I feel like it draws attention to me. I’ve had guys come up and start walking with me, or shout something when I walk by or start following me,” Maya Torrens tells me.
Maya Torrens has lived in China for years and is currently residing in Shanghai. A city of 27 million people, yet she feels unsafe walking alone at night in London and particularly in unfamiliar areas. She discloses, that in Shanghai she tries not to walk alone, yet “there’s a huge amount less crime so to be honest I’m a lot less anxious about that walking around. Also if I’m walking alone at night guys won’t shout at me.”
It seems that familiarity of areas is a contributing factor to safety. Despite numerous articles covering dangerous areas, and BBC even revealed “London’s knife crime hotspots” in October last year, it seems that confident knowledge of the streets is imperative. “I feel really safe. I know London very well,” told one Londoner, who has been residing in Tooting Bec and Clapham. On the contrary, individuals expressing feelings of vulnerability in London were generally newcomers to the city.
Another London resident, who grew up in Newcastle but moved to the city two years ago, conveyed in a message: “In London, I almost always feel like I could be attacked… The risk feels higher and more imminent.” Whereas, the feeling of safety sounded omnipresent in Newcastle. While Newcastle is distinctively smaller in comparison, she reflected upon a different culture playing a significant part contributing to her overall feeling of safety. “The atmosphere is way safer and less threatening. Because the people are so friendly and helpful, caring, make eye contact, say hi, [and] help you out… Everyone has a laugh and it just makes the whole place feel safer.”
These remarks instantly question the particular culture in London. The crime culture in London is distinctive as it pushes young people to carry kitchen knives as they step out the front door. It has become a means of safety. An understandable act as the police officer strength in London has been steadily declining since March 2015. By October 2018, London had reached a record low number of officers on the streets, according to published data sets form the Mayor of London. It was only after December 2018, the force initiated a steady increase.
The rigid expansion of gang criminality, increasing illegality, a faulty criminal justice system, a lack of enforcement on the streets, and maybe even general distrust in the police force since the 2011 London riots, have cultivated a common sense of fear and feeling of vulnerability.
Besides London’s complex criminal culture, the absence of community spirit may also be a contributing element. None of the individuals I spoke to conveyed a feeling of solidarity to their fellow Londoners. London somewhat appears as a culture sustained on the notion of the survival of the fittest. In a city as multicultural as London, it seems impossible to cultivate notions of solidarity, as we refrain from even acknowledging others on a daily basis as we pass each other on the street. From the moment we enter public transport at rush hour, we are inheriting general lessons of “push or be pushed.”
If Londoners nourished an atmosphere of kindness and simply human recognition, this may potentially create a sense of community and solidarity — maybe then, we would feel a bit safer. But, it is an arduous ask, which needs to start with the individual. Until then, as taught by an acquaintance of mine back in 2016, I will proceed to carry my house key wedged between my fingers, ready enabled to enact a memorable impression of Wolverine.
Dane based in London. Full time student at SOAS, part time worker, every day dreamer and hustler. Aspiring journalist. In her element with hip-hop/rap, coffee, and a notebook.