We’re just settling into the second week of the Festival of Rest and Resistance which I’ve curated at Battersea Arts Centre. As a two-week festival it’s the longest event we’ve programmed and we’re trying to make sure we practise what we preach – allowing ourselves time to rest and relax amongst all the amazing action.
Despite this, I felt pretty worn out today and some of my behaviour was a bit unpredictable as a result. My tics can sometimes over-react to even a slight heightening of emotion. I often tell people that these responses don’t reflect how I really feel, and that actually I’m quite good under real pressure. Tonight I was faced with a situation that put this assertion to the test.
Just a heads up: I’ll be describing the aftermath of some quite brutal violence in this post so please read on only if this feels manageable for you.
Leftwing Idiot has a cold so after work my support worker Jen and I popped to the chemist for him. It’s not far from the castle and should only have taken a few minutes but soon after we’d gone into the shop our routine task took a shocking turn.
A man ran in saying he’d just been stabbed and asking for help. He had a nasty-looking wound on his arm so I sat him down and started to look after him while Jen called the emergency services. I checked if he was hurt anywhere else and noticed he had a second wound and Jen relayed this to the emergency operator as well.
It seemed to take the police and ambulance a little while to arrive. The pharmacy staff locked us in and I talked to the man, keen to ensure he stayed conscious and calm.
I explained that I had Tourettes and that I wasn’t saying ‘biscuit’ just to make him feel hungry. He said that my tics were helping to make the situation feel less serious. When the police and paramedics arrived they took over and he was soon on his way to be treated.
I’ve worked with young people in South London for nearly twenty years and have dealt with some dramatic and distressing situations, but never anything quite like this.
95% of police forces in England have reported a rise in knife related crime since 2011, though as musician and writer Akala explained on Channel 4 news last week, violence of this kind is not a new issue – we don’t need a moral panic about it but we do need to address its root causes – such as poverty and inequality, in a systematic and on-going way.
Almost exactly a year ago Temi Mwale, founder of youth-led social enterprise the 4Front Project, wrote a compelling article in the Guardian outlining some immediate actions that could be taken to address serious youth violence in London. With my experience as a youth worker, it seemed to me that her suggestions were grounded in sense. She wrote:
“I find it hard to accept that in the past 18 years, we have still not designed a structured process for dealing with the aftermath of a youth killing. There are immediate actions that can be taken to address the impact that the rise in violence has had on communities in this city. We need to create and immediately implement a youth violence crisis strategy. This short-term plan will provide the necessary actions to be taken in the immediate aftermath of a killing of a young person”
Temi also mentioned work undertaken in other cities, in particular Glasgow’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), whose programmes have had a big impact. A few years ago I was invited by the VRU to speak to hundreds of peer-mentors as part of a day of TED-style talks aimed at increasing and utilising the knowledge and skills of young people.
I very much hope the man I helped tonight recovers quickly. He ought to have been able to walk home without the fear of serious violence and injury.
I feel devastatingly sad for this city, for our country and for all the people in it but I feel particularly worried for the vulnerable young people who are often the most at risk.
After nine years of ‘austerity politics’, of increasing poverty and inequality and of decreasing social and mental health support we have a shared responsibility to ensure that meaningful action is taken to address the causes of violence.
Here are five practical steps you can take:
1. Support the work of the 4Front Project, the Damilola Taylor Trust or Victim Support
2. Hold your MP and local officials to account and demand a public health approach to violence
3. Learn life saving first aid
4. Get involved with grass-roots organisations local to you
5. Challenge yourself to learn more about the issues affecting your local community – be ready to read, talk and listen.
This is an issue that none of us can afford to ignore.