guest post: tears behind the blade / richie brave

 Richie Brave is a social critic and presenter who has, in other capacities, amassed over 10 years of working in his local community within both the criminal justice system and youth work. He has worked with both victims and perpetrators of knife crime and he himself has been afflicted by this growing epidemic. In this article, he talks about the importance of humanising those in-front — of and behind — the blade in order to shift our thinking and better tackle this issue.

“Knife crime is affecting people — directly and indirectly — across the country, and is a subject very close to my own heart. I’ve professionally worked with and personally supported people who have committed knife crime, people who have been victims of it and people who have lost those they love to it, such as myself.

Statistics released by the Guardian last year infer that knife crime victims in London are disproportionately Black, however, in both England and Wales, most of the perpetrators and victims are White. It is essential we are able to differentiate between something being an issue within a community and something being an issue that belongs to a community. Knife crime as a wider British issue doesn’t belong to the Black community — so we can shut that myth down — however, it is a problem in our community and we do need to collectively address it in the ways we have the power to. But, I am sick and tired of people on our TV screens being paid to patronise us and tell us that the causes of knife related deaths — in our community — are things like music and tattoos. Furthermore, to reduce this merely down to parenting alone is not just problematic, but absolves us all of the responsibility we as a society have in creating an environment where tragedies like this can happen. An uncomfortable pill to swallow, but we all have a part to play in addressing what feels like a growing epidemic and we can’t do that by focussing on the one finger pointed at parents whilst ignoring the other three pointing back at ourselves.

A tool I feel will help us further address this issue is ‘empathy’. In order to begin to implement this, the first step is dismantling false ideas surrounding the issue. It is easy to assume that those who are victims are living a particular lifestyle and those who perpetrate it are evil and heartless demons skulking around in corners waiting for their next victim. This is a comfortable narrative; it makes it easier to distance ourselves from the problem, but the truth is that this is not the case. The victims and the perpetrators continually surprise us and show themselves to be people we love, people we have grown up with, people who others have great things to say about and people who we never imagined being involved in anything like this. It should be noted that I am in no way attempting to absolve those who have committed murders of their responsibility or make false equivalences between them and victims.

But, herein lies a problem when we are looking at this as a whole: if people are living a particular lifestyle or are involved in crime, why does this all of a sudden make their lives less valuable and almost justify their deaths? Where is the empathy? How do we expect to heal collectively if we are openly disregarding the value of someone’s life in the faces of the people who are mourning them? If we are telling society and our community that the lives of these people are of little value, how do you think their peers will react? Why are we not unpicking their journeys in an attempt to understand how they got to the point of committing such heinous violence?

Anyone I have met who has been involved in the perpetration of knife crime or serious violence has been battling some kind of trauma or unresolved emotional challenge. Men who have experienced traumatic childhoods, sexual or physical abuse, failings within the education system, problems in the care system, racism, poverty, bullying and plethora of other issues but have never been afforded the time, patience or even the language to explore them. Many men are channeling a lifetime of unresolved emotions and trauma into the harm of others and themselves. The media show us a picture that portrays them as the perfect villains, but very little dialogue is had around the emotional stories of these men — who are they?

I have worked with men with some of the biggest reputations on the streets, and have had some of them crying in my arms like children, asking me why they were never loved. Men who wake up every day and wear a mask to survive — a mask which eventually destroys people, themselves and everything around them. It is easy to demonise people like this. I have had to wrestle for 17 years with the feelings attached to the person who murdered my cousin, but ultimately I see a pattern of broken men breaking other people and I can’t help but feel empathy for them.

I understand not everyone who experiences these challenges behaves in this way, but some do. We can spend all day focusing on the ones that don’t, but we need to work preventatively to catch the small minority who are ruining themselves and our communities. This doesn’t begin with multi-million pound initiatives, but with having valuable and emotional conversation with the young people in our lives and in our communities. We need to be showing young people empathy when they are watching their friends fall around them so their emotions do not erupt behind yet another blade.

Our young people are constantly seen as a problem that needs to be dealt with, and we seem to be talking around them but not to or with them. We need to see our young people not as a separate entity to our community, but as an integral part whose problems are our problems. The sad truth is that many of our young people are both perpetrators and victims, and the violence won’t stop until we become more balanced in our approach..

I want something to change. I never want another Black man to lift his shirt and show me the wounds that nearly ended his life. I never want to see another person crumble in front of me after taking a life because they were not held emotionally at some point in their life.

So, I urge you to love those young people around you.

We are their only chance of survival.”

Richie Brave is a Presenter, Writer and Social Critic.

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