I was criticised when I watched the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics and openly said the unsayable “These fireworks represent the monies that are not being spent on social care, child protection agencies, police officer or on housing officers” I was told that I had no sense of fun and the Olympics was good for the country, it would make the people fit and healthy, it would revitalise decayed urban spaces. Maybe it did, but for a 14-year-old, the London Olympics happened when they 8 years old, outside their frame of reference, historic, legendary even. Maybe the great ideas lasted as long as the fireworks.
Last week I ran a 10,000 volt debrief in the Old Bailey with 55 children talking about knife crime. In attendance were judges and victim support organisations and the police. Two weeks before that 30 families who had their loved ones murdered also attended the Old Bailey, they also used 10,000 volts to tell their stories.
The read-across between the two events has shaken me. Both dealt with unimaginable loss, sadness and injustice. For the families, their fundamental question was “Why?” Why had their loved ones been murdered? Why had the system allowed the murder to take place? Why wasn’t the murder prevented? For the children the same questions; Why is it so dangerous on the streets that kids feel that the only way to protect themselves is to carry a knife? Why did those who carry knives and murder people, feel that the only way they can feel as sense of belonging, is to be part of a gang? Why were there no youth programmes available that would keep kids off the street?
Both debriefing sessions described the emotions associated with unfairness. The families describe the asymmetric support they felt was given to the perpetrators by the courts and the police. They were highly supportive of the Family Liaison and support given by the police but were disappointed in their belief that they experienced the brunt of poorly resourced and an inadequate criminal justice and community cohesion system, that failed to stop their loved ones being killed
The kids felt the unfairness of privilege. They saw the opportunities available to middle class kids in high performing or private schools contrasted with their belief that they were being provided with substandard second-class education in failing schools. They talked of the struggle for single-parent families, dealing with low incomes and an absence of role-models with little support being given by social services and other agencies, either through inadequate funding or because, from their viewpoint, they just don’t care.
What both groups did acknowledge was that they had been asked to tell us what matters to them, they had come to talk and to have a voice and be listened to.
I have written up the reports on both events and I have circulated them to the relevant parties but how are things going to change? The Olympic ideologies are like the fireworks, they lit up the sky and the hearts of the public and now they are gone, with all the money. ‘Brexit’ and ‘Austerity’ are convenient excuses to not invest in making murders not happen. Such a difficult concept or metric, trying to quantify and measure the pain and misery that does not happen through effective intervention.
Things have got to change; Children like Daniel Pelka were failed by an inadequate and broken system. Much work has gone into trying to learn from his murder and there is still a long road ahead. The young bright kids who came to the workshops full of hope, need to regain trust in a system that they feel has abandoned them. We must stop their futures being snuffed out through this appalling tragedy of knife crime. We need to invest, not just in the elitist sports, but invest in communities, invest in accessible activities like boxing, basketball, martial arts, drama and youth clubs. Invest in providing meals and after school clubs that give the kids something positive to aspire to, somewhere away from the streets, and invest in powerful new role models and give them a future.
The families and kids have spoken so clearly, we have listened, now we must respond and make a difference.