EVERYONE has a part to play in building communities that help to stop the rise in violent crime, the Area Bishop of Edmonton, the Rt Revd Rob Wickham, has said. “Instead of walking past on the other side of the road, how do we get civil society to take a role, and, in particular, faith communities?”
He was speaking after five people were stabbed during the past week in the Edmonton Area of London diocese, in apparently random attacks. Four of the attacks took place last weekend, and one on Tuesday. Some of the victims received life-threatening in juries. Police have arrested a man in his thirties.
Bishop Wickham said that there was a danger that “we normalise this behaviour. . . These are shocking events that take place, particularly when it is strangers being attacked. That is a different issue from when it is a targeted attack, which we see more of.”
A man was stabbed to death in Kentish Town, which is also inside Bishop Wickham’s area, on Monday night.
The Bishop saod said: “I want to acknowledge that the Church tends to act reactively to these events in a good way, and it, and clergy, do an extraordinary job when something takes place.”
He suggested, however, that the Church should be proactive, in creating safe spaces for young people and helping to form strong communities.
He said that he had interviewed candidates for the post of Vicar of Gospel Oak on Tuesday, near to the scene of the Kentish Town stabbing, and that one of the candidates had stepped behind the police cordon to offer support.
Bishop Wickham is chairing the community safety commission for Islington and Camden, in partnership with Citizens UK, which is looking at the issues that have contributed to the rise in violent crime across the country, but particularly in London.
“The things that we have learnt so far are, firstly, predominantly around education, and expulsion from schools, especially,” he said. “Secondly, apprenticeships and a lack of opportunities for people [aged] between 16 and 24 after they leave school. The third issue we have looked at seriously is a reputational issue for the police: we have discussed how we get civil society to look at them differently.”
A similar project has been run in east London: the Waltham Forest Citizens Commission on the Civil Society Response to Youth Violence, which ended recently. One of its co-chairs was the Area Bishop of Barking, in Chelmsford diocese, the Rt Revd Peter Hill.
The commission published its report last week. It says: “Although the root causes of knife crime are complex, they are intensified by the widespread effects of austerity, which has involved cuts to the criminal justice system, social care, mental-health provision, youth services, and local government. . .
“As leaders of civil society organisations, we therefore set out to gain a deeper understanding of how youth violence works in our area and to identify strategies through which it might be tackled.”
Speaking on Monday, Bishop Hill said: “The whole process was about listening to children in the first place: at three-quarters of meetings, children were in the majority.”
The five emerging themes, the report says, were: exclusion from school; adverse childhood experiences; the relationship between young people and the police, particularly with regard to stop-and-search; gang affiliation, sexual exploitation, and drugs; and job opportunities.
Solutions suggested include mentoring, reorganising fostering, building relationships between young people and the police, and reducing school exclusions and persistent absence.
Bishop Hill said that Waltham Forest was considering a public-health approach, and that a violence-reduction unit had been set up in the borough, and across London.
This work, he said, “feels like it is the most important thing at the moment. . . A few of these acts of violence have happened a few hundred yards from my front door. Me and my wife never feel threatened: it is a particular part of the community that is under attack. It is getting out of hand — the focus needs to be on this as much as Brexit.”
Bishop Wickham said that the Church should be “honest” about the part played by drugs in relation to violent crime: “There is a direct correlation between the use of recreational drugs and violence.”
He suggested that the Church was well placed to “spearhead” conversations about this, because of its parochial structure, and that Christians should spread “something of hope” into the community to combat fear.
Bishop Wickham will lead a prayer walk through Edmonton on Sunday, in which he will be “praying for perpetrators, praying for victims, and enabling people to get to know their neighbours”.