Young people are dying.

14 July 2021

‘Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the…’

This goes out to all those people who probably won’t read this, but who definitely should read this.

Young people are dying.

It is not simply because of other young people.

It is not simply because of absent fathers.

It is not simply because of bad parenting.

It is not simply because they are worse than ‘back in our day.’

It is not simply because they are feral, brutal beings.

Young people are dying.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past six months, you will have undoubtedly heard about the apparently ‘sudden’ spate of violent crimes sweeping the nation, with particular prevalence within the London region. Politicians, celebrities, academics, police departments, amongst others, have all been quick to speak up. Calls for ‘tackling’ street crime and ‘taking the knives off of our streets’, have been heard in full gusto. London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted his refusal ‘to accept that nothing can be done to stem the appalling rise of violent crime’ and at roundtables up and down the country, experts have offered up reasons such as absentee fathers, the easing up of the controversial stop and search or sus laws, drill music, and the list goes on. Often remiss in its absence, is an admission of culpability in what is happening, by the very people making these proclamations. Additionally, the quickness with which many of these said people, are quick to theorise the issues, coupled with their reluctance to engage in empirical and grassroots responses, leaves one feeling infuriated. So much focus on the ‘what’ and the ‘eradication’, and so little focus on the ‘whys’. I mean the real ‘whys’. The ‘whys’ that they tell us are excuses and not relevant anymore. They ‘whys’ that we have been told to ‘get over’. The ‘whys’, which centre the intergenerational and systemic trauma these troubled young people have suffered throughout their short lives. The ‘whys’ such as:

Why are many young black boys seemingly showing a disregard for their lives and other black boys?

Whilst doing research for a paper, recently, I came across a concept called ‘suicide by cop’. The term, coined by psychologist and police officer Karl Harris is used to describe the death that ensues as a result of a ‘victim’ coercing a police officer into ending his or her life. Learning about this phenomenon and perusing some of the statements that these individuals make in the lead up to their demise, I realised how similar the character traits of ‘suicide by cop’ victims are to those of many young black people involved in stabbing/shooting their peers within the UK. This realisation led me to coin the term ‘peer-assisted suicide’.  For me, this begins to explain why young black people are what others see as ‘mindlessly’ killing each other. Rather than seeing these killings as a straightforward homicide, similarly to ‘suicide by cop’ I see these homicides as actually a form of suicide. I would go so far as to say that it is a suicide, whether the person involved ends up on a mortuary slab, or imprisoned at her majesty’s pleasure. I call it suicide, as when the trigger is pulled or knife plunged into young flesh, the young people are essentially killing reflections of themselves. Many of these children have been brought up in cultures in which suicide is seen as the ultimate taboo. Thus this ‘assisted suicide’ affords them the opportunity to ‘die’, without this cultural judgment. In coordinating these deaths, it is also one of the only times that these children feel that they have any kind of control over their destiny. This control can often feel imperative for those who have lived a life in which they are constantly told by society that they are worthless and that whichever direction they take, they will always be seen as lesser than their white counterparts. The physical deaths which take place as a result of this ostracisation can be argued to be a physical and more noticeable manifestation of the mental and spiritual deaths which have already taken place within these failed black children. Already despondent in the ‘lives’ they live, they gain some peace in the mortality that they can control.

I am by no means saying that the acts being carried out are not heinous, but what I will say is that these kids have been failed in a multitude of ways. They have been demonised, appropriated, parodied and marginalised. Until society stops failing them in such a barbaric and damaging way, we will continue to see images on our screens of the mugshots of a lost generation.