Brutal solutions to knife crime will fail

The first generation of young blacks to appear en masse in British society turned on each other with

Steelblade drinkin' blood in darkness . . .

And Leroy bleeds near death on the fourth night

In a blues dance on a black rebellious night . . .

So the poet Linton Kwesi Johnson chronicled murder by stabbing among young West Indians 35 years ago. Weekend after weekend, these stabbings took place at black youth clubs throughout the UK. Now, beneath the surface of British society, this strife among black folk continues in the dark alleys, bringing grief to parents and friends alike.

Fatal stabbings among black youngsters did not begin when the British press discovered this grisly phenomenon a year or so ago. The first generation of young blacks to appear en masse in British society turned on each other with blades, in their alienation from the established order. But, side by side with these murders and woundings, there emerged corresponding groups of young black men who attempted to restore order in the community.

One of them, the Black Panther Youth League, set up shop in south London. Johnson became a member in 1970 and I spoke there on this issue on several occasions. These young men and women raised their own funds, and campaigned independently of official society to bring this strife to an end.

Similar organisations are emerging today all over London, and one such activity of theirs took place only a few weeks ago. Young people, men and women, marched from Trafalgar Square to Kennington Park in south London. A couple of weeks after that, I attended a huge gathering in another south London park at which a large number of black youths gathered to pay their respects to those of us - the Windrush generation - who contributed to laying the foundations for the vibrant communities in which we live.

I spoke at great length to them about this internecine strife, teased and joked with young people less than half my age. There was not a single police officer needed in this huge throng of young black boys, who seemed to have left their knives at home.

Among this emerging group of black youngsters, there are hundreds of young women - mothers, sisters and cousins - struggling, without fuss or fanfare, to bring these pointless and miserable deaths to an end.

That a resistance to knife crime exists within our communities seems to have escaped journalists and social commentators. The fact that these movements have their own historical roots is equally ignored. Instead, the politicians rely on saviours to wave a magic wand to save our young people.

Enter Ray Lewis, on a chariot provided by the newly elected Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and financed by our council tax payments. Lewis planned to set up around a hundred boot camps, into which young blacks would be dragooned on Saturdays to be drilled and bawled at, there to be reduced to a whimpering mess by those who hold power in our cities. In short, Lewis advocates what some might call child abuse.

Colonial authority brought these solutions to the urban communities of the Caribbean long before we arrived in this country. And instead of producing model citizens in Kingston, Port-of-Spain and Georgetown, they generated lawlessness and gangs.

Ray Lewis, the chancer and hustler, was favoured by the authorities because they want to foster repressive and brutal solutions that, in this day and age, white people cannot by themselves perpetrate on young blacks.

It will not succeed. It will fail as it did in the postwar Caribbean, and as it did among the first generation of black youths in Britain.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 14 July 2008 issue of the New Statesman, ‘I’ll leave when I finish the job’