ADDRESS AT SERVICE OF REFLECTION ON KNIFE CRIME
A decade ago, heralding the evolution of the internet to enable shared content, the tech author Clay Shirky titled a book: ‘Here Comes Everybody’. Shirky was rightly excited by the possibilities unfolding. But the emergence of self-publishing meant the book could have also been titled: ‘Here Comes Everybody’s Opinion’. We skim our news feeds and, short of time but feeling we ought to have a view on everything, make rapid judgments about life and then tell others about it. Sometimes our opinions are perceptive and funny; making people think. Other times they are ill-formed and insensitive - and occasionally downright cruel.
The take people have on knife crime is a good example of how opinions are formed. Unconscious biases, held so deeply in the brain that we don’t identify them, mean the perpetrators and victims of knife crime are casually labelled. Every victim is a tragedy, but the profile of some victims mean they unfairly get more attention in the media. When public figures feel the need to say something about the indices of violent crime, it can often be from a position of tiredness, rehearsing policy positions that play well in the press but have no lasting impact. It is as if people want reassurance rather than evidence-based solutions.
People make subliminal calculations about the latest reported incident of knife crime. How near to my home did it happen? Do I know anyone who lives round there? And these assessments can look callous when exposed to the light. Was the victim known to the perpetrator or a complete stranger? If they were known, we relax a little more. Knife crime patterns are often described in the language of contagion. As long as the contagion remains in one part of London or perhaps the south-east, we feel more secure. It’s not pretty, but it seems to be human nature.
Those who are bereaved by knife crime, some of whom are represented here today, have been to a place the rest of us can barely imagine. For you, it is not a question of public policy, it is a matter of personal trauma. There is never one victim. Knife crime rips up the lives of families and friends, piercing the networks that give us life, meaning and support. There is no recompense for the experience of knowing a body you cherished has been violated in this way. The loss must be unsparing and irrevocable.
Cruelly bereaved people, like others who have lost someone before their time, must long for a short-cut, a magic formula, a trick of the mind that defeats their foe. But there seems to be no mountain bike to take you rapidly through the valley of the shadow of death. It must be walked slowly and unevenly, with all the emotional exposure this affords.
In Jesus’ day, lepers were avoided for fear of contamination. Today, bereaved people – especially violently bereaved people – can make a compelling claim to this status. People either want to know too much, carelessly intruding on your personal experience. Or they want to know too little, squeezing the space in which you can
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