The number of violent deaths in Britain’s capital has surpassed those in New York following an increase in knife and gun crime.
For the first time in recent history, London’s murder rate has overtaken New York’s.
A spate of knifings and shootings in the UK’s capital in February pushed the city’s rate of violent deaths above that of the Big Apple’s, with 15 killings in February – and nine of the victims aged 30 or under – compared with 14 murders in New York.
Easter murder spree
Over the Easter weekend, two teenagers were killed in unrelated incidents just three miles apart; 17-year-old Tanesha Melbourne-Blake was shot dead in a drive-by shooting in Tottenham, North London, while in Walthamstow 16-year-old boy, Amaan Shakoor, died from gunshot wounds a few hours later.
Both were innocent bystanders – Tanesha Melbourne-Blake was caught in the crossfire of suspected gang warfare while Amaan Shakoor, studying for his GCSEs and said by parents to be a “wonderful boy”, was killed outside Walthamstow Leisure Centre in what is believed to be a case of mistaken identity.
Police: ‘We can’t fight violent crime rise on our own’
Commenting on Melbourne-Blake’s murder, acting detective chief inspector Glenn Butler said: “I fully appreciate the alarm, shock and revulsion caused by this murder and other fatal shootings we have seen across London over the last few months.
“We are doing everything we can to identify the culprits and bring them to justice. We can’t do this alone. We need those within the community who have information about those involved to search their own conscience and call us with information.”
As commentators fear the capital’s violent crime levels could soon hit their worst level for more than 10 years, the pair became London’s 47th and 48th suspected murder victims this year.
Such was the violence over the Easter weekend that an accident and emergency doctor at London’s St Bartholomew’s Hospital, took to Twitter to say: “The number of children stabbed and shot this weekend that we have had to treat @NHSBartsHealth is very upsetting.
“This is an epidemic of violence against and between kids and we ought to be outraged, we ought to be motivated to fix it and we shouldn’t rest until we have.”
Violence ‘worst I’ve ever seen it’, admits Tottenham’s MP
Politicians and campaigners blame illegal drug activity, as well as cuts to local services. Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy admitted the rising violence was the “worse than I’ve ever seen it”.
“All of this is being driven by… gangsters, by massive amounts of cocaine coming into Britain,” he told the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
“You’ve got a decriminalisation of coke for white folk in Notting Hill, but it’s black young foot soldiers” who are taking risks on the street with involvement in the black market drug economy, Lammy explained.
“The London borough of Haringey is… basically a borough that has had huge cuts to the local authority, has cut youth services, it’s not got the best mental health services, and has certainly not been able to implement a proper public health response to gun and knife crime.”
Government cuts to blame, says London’s Mayor
Facing criticism for rising crime following his 2016 election pledge to cut gang violence, London’s Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan has blamed cuts to policing and mental health services made by the Conservative Government as part of the austerity programme.
“The police are tough on crime but the Government are being desperately weak on the causes of crime,” he said in January. “Getting back to ‘being tough on the causes of crime’ will require a massive investment in the services that have been neglected for too long, tragically letting our young people down.”
The number of teenagers murdered in London last year was the highest figure recorded since 2008, according to Metropolitan Police data, with violent crimes up 3% in London and 19% in England and Wales.
‘More Bobbies on the beat needed’, say experts
Criminal justice experts also point to a reduction in so-called ‘Bobbies on the beat’ – police foot patrols – following Government cuts to local services.
Home office figures published last year showed that police numbers in England and Wales had fallen by over 20,000 since 2010 and in 2017 stood at 123,142 – the lowest figure since 1985.
Comparing police techniques in the UK and overseas, Rory Geoghegan, head of criminal justice at the Centre for Social Justice, said improvements in neighbourhood policing in New York over the past few years had not only helped cut crime but also build bridges with communities.
“By embedding proactive community policing, the NYPD [New York Police Department] is helping tackle crime, improving the quality of life and building better relationships with the community,” he told the UK’s Daily Telegraph in October.
“It’s an approach and argument that London – and the country as a whole – is struggling to maintain never mind bolster, with too many preferring to talk excitedly about investing in crime hubs to hunt online trolls.
“The latest crime figures paint a depressing picture for London that reinforces the need for the sort of political and policing leadership that enabled the initial turnaround of the NYPD in the 1990s under Bill Bratton and enables the no less seismic shift being seen in New York City under Jimmy O’Neill today.”
‘Proactive policing not the answer’, warn critics
However, critics say that so-called proactive policing or ‘total policing’ – deploying higher levels of police patrols in problem areas rather than an overall presence across the board, could actually exacerbate tensions and increase crime levels.
Last year’s study by academics at the Louisiana State University found that during a seven-week hiatus in New York in 2014-2015, when proactive policing was suspended following protests, the number of major crimes, including murders, rapes robberies and assaults, fell by 3-6%.
“Our results imply not only that these tactics fail at their stated objective of reducing major legal violations, but also that the initial deployment of proactive policing can inspire additional crimes that later provide justification for further increasing police stops, summonses and so on,” said Dr Christopher Sullivan, of Louisiana State.
“The vicious feedback between proactive policing and major crime can exacerbate political and economic inequality across communities.”
“It is time to consider how proactive policing reform might reduce crime and increase well-being in the most heavily policed communities.”
Education needed, say activists
London’s youths also need to be educated about violence and the risk of carrying knives, say local politicians and the victims’ families.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, told Britain’s Sky News the violence in the capital was “deeply traumatising” and that more outreach programmes were needed with children in primary schools to help them “understand the dangers” of gang activity and knife crime.
Abbott also said that so-called ‘stop and search’ methods had “poisoned relationships” between the police and local communities but that lessons could be gleaned from Scotland where knife crime had fallen.
Meanwhile, Melbourne-Blake’s uncle, Wayne Melbourne, told Sky News: “We’ve got to stomp on black-on-black crime. We’ve got to educate our youth that gun crime and drugs are not the way forward”.