Dealing with Loss due to Knife Crime

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Maya Barach

Maya is 23 years old and is currently teaching English as a foreign language.

It’s been a while...

Since I’ve felt passionate enough to write about a topic and I have decided to address a very sensitive one, even though I tend to avoid it nowadays. Despite dodging all conversations about this in order to somewhat protect my inner peace, knife crime is still a very prominent issue in the UK. Almost every young person I know has felt its wrath on a personal level. Just over two years ago I lost one of my closest companions due a sickening act of aggression.

To be specific, my friend was taken by knife crime and I have never looked at the world through the same lens since.

Prior to this, I was unaffected by these stories because they had never hit so close to home. I knew knife crime was problematic, especially in London but I hadn’t given it too much thought. I’d heard on numerous occasions that friends of friends had been attacked or killed in similar ways but I barely batted an eyelid because of how normalised it had become. As sad as it sounds, the world continues regardless of pain and loss, even if it stops for you. I’m not here to express the rage buried in my heart but to provide an insight into the darker side of society and break down how damaging it really is. The majority of my blogs are uplifting and positive however this will be different, as you can gather already.

Getting back on track

Around the time of the incident I found myself enrolling in a Philosophy, English Literature and Creative Writing course in hopes of picking up my education where I left off in 2019. I had successfully secured a spot on my course of choice and started to feel like I was about to get my life back on track after fighting with my mental health for a while. Before going home to my own flat, I ran straight up the block stairs and banged on my friend’s door as I was bursting at the seams with excitement. I cannot even begin to define the pure happiness I was met with when I shared my news. She was so proud of me; I don’t think anyone had ever expressed such genuine positivity over something I’d done before. Everyone always talks about how you should celebrate the wins of those closest to you regardless of how big or small and that’s exactly what my friend was doing for me. She was my biggest hypeman, always encouraging me even when I felt like I wasn’t being productive.

One thing I’ve paid close attention to in our society is how toxic and unauthentic we, as young people can be towards each other. When I say toxic and fake, I mean this whole demeanour of ‘wanting to see each other win’ but not so much where we start to feel inadequate or as though we’re competing against each other. However, my friend was far from that. A rarity in my experience. Unfortunately, it wasn’t something I had appreciated until much later.

It’s only when we lose something special that we realise how much we take things for granted.

World turned upside down

The Monday after, I had my first lecture and was feeling really happy overall. I hadn’t even made it up the stairs to tell my friend how it went, when I was pulled into the building office. I was told to sit down and literally brace myself for the information that was to come. To sum up how it went, I began to laugh before a wave of indescribable fury crawled through my skin, followed by attempting to break into my friend’s flat. It wasn’t long before I was instructed to stop and move away. The place where my friend force fed me cake on my birthday a few days ago in an attempt to cheer me up when I was feeling low, was now a crime scene. My brain felt like it was melting through my sinuses and into my stomach in a way I’d never felt before.

Within a matter of minutes, my whole world had turned upside down because of someone else’s heartless and deranged actions. I was disappointed, I was shocked, disoriented, lost, sad, numb, speechless but with so much to say. I was so many things. After hearing the nature of the attack I began to overthink every detail I’d found out to a point where I was going to bed at 7am. I was floating through my days without eating and simply existing meanwhile my brain was in complete chaos.

Yes, I am still angry today and no I will never be at peace with it. However, what I want to highlight is that there is still this feeling of lacking/emptiness. Consistently present within me from visiting the morgue to the sentencing to the lack of mental health support available in the country as a whole. When things like this happen, it’s easy to see negativity in everything. I went from mourning someone who was here not long ago to dragging myself to bereavement therapy in Waterloo. I went from hating humanity to trying to understand every inch of it. I went from PTSD dreams to speaking honestly without flinching. I’ve learned to show love to my friends openly, to kiss their faces and hug them tightly. I’ve learned to value so many small things that I never used to pay any mind to. I take pictures of everything now. I hold my tongue in situations I would’ve pounced in before.

What have I extracted from all this?

A distortion in perspective and a handful of inevitable coping mechanisms. Sometimes I feel down about this but most of the time I choose to see myself as a structure that is continuously being built.

Just because I have learned what the essence of gratitude truly is, doesn’t mean that I will ever come to terms with any of the above. In that specific week, there were 5 stabbings within the area – some on the same night. If someone was to ask me about what I think goes on in people’s heads; my answer would be a lack of education and a serious absence of mental health support from a young age. As an empath, unfortunately, I try to understand every little thing or analyse behaviour I see around me in an attempt to make sense of it. There will never be any rational reasoning behind taking someone else’s life, just to be clear.

Shortly after this happened I found myself questioning a lot of things: what triggers the impulse to cause such behaviour, do people feel guilty at all, how does someone sleep at night afterwards? However, what I find myself questioning the most is why is knife crime still such a huge recurring issue despite so many attempts to tackle it? Why are young people becoming more and more aggressive? What circumstances are conditioning younger generations to project aggression from such an early age? So many questions right? At certain times in 2020, London had a higher homicide rate than New York due to knife crime. Now when we look at statistics, it’s easy for the majority of the public to shrug their shoulders and brush it off or at least it just feels they like they do.

However, these numbers are real and this is not something that I can brush off.

In 2020 18,455 knife and offensive weapon offences were formally dealt with by the Criminal Justice System, a decrease of 18% since 2019. This comes after a rise of 38% between 2013 and 2019 and is likely to have been driven by changes during the pandemic.

It’s easy to throw the blame around and point fingers out of frustration. Very easy. However, once you learn to remove yourself from that bubble you begin to develop a different perspective. So what is my perspective on it all now? Unfortunate as it is, I believe that certain morals should be widely discussed across the education system. I believe that specialised teams should go into schools to speak on the subject more. Children should be taught from a young age that we are all here to co-exist together and whether we like each other (thumbs up) or not (thumbs down).

We need to understand and respect each other’s rights to exist as human beings. We need to know that other people are not always going to be our cup of tea and that this is not a reason to lay hands on anyone. We need to know how to divide uneasy feelings from good ones and learn what to do with them. We need to know that carrying a weapon doesn’t make you hard or invincible but can cause real harm, followed by consequences you cannot go back on like taking a person’s life. We need to know that there are options when it comes to mental health and be given clear directions on how to access services. We need more extracurricular activities that are affordable for everyone. More events where people do not just listen but are also heard, exchanges of input are important, inclusion being the overall goal. Each borough should be equipped with these options, not just widespread areas.

Sentencing statistics from the Ministry of Justice shows that in the year ending March 2021, there were 18,553 disposals given for possession of a knife or offensive weapon. Juveniles (aged 10-17) were the offenders in 19% of cases.

We need to know that carrying a weapon doesn’t make you hard or invincible but can cause real harm, followed by consequences you cannot go back on like taking a person’s life.

Of course, this is not just relevant when it comes to young people. I know people in their 20s who could do with a lot more love and support. I know people in their 30s who are lost and need guidance. It’s not about age however, I do believe that by implementing certain things from a young age instead of being afraid or wanting to over-shelter children, is crucial to the ongoing growth of our country. Yes, it might be scary ‘exposing’ your child to these kind of facts at an early age but this issue isn’t going anywhere and if done correctly, this could change a couple things in the game. Awareness is vital in the society we live in and living in ignorance is surely blissful but damaging.

A message...

To people who have gone through losing someone precious. Be patient with yourself. Being angry is ok. Justice might or might not come but take steps to protect your inner peace now instead of later. Give yourself time to process things but make sure you keep it moving no matter how hard it is. Wherever your person is now, they would want to see you push through. If you feel lost, you are not fading into nothing but shedding your skin so that you can be stronger.

Blossom where you are planted because your person loves the flower you’re becoming – even when you feel like a weed out in the open.
Maya Barach

Support from Drive Forward

Everyone at Drive Forward understands the importance of supporting your emotional wellbeing and that there may be times when you might want to speak privately with a trained counsellor. We can help with this and offer opportunities for free therapy appointments with an experienced BACP registered Counsellor. The service is available to anyone living in London, care-experienced and between the ages of 18 -26. For those under 18, you can access support via one your Employment Consultant Or Programme Manager. Learn more here.

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