Opinion Uncategorized

Enough is enough: we need to build together to combat youth violence

Editors Note: Keon Lincoln’s life was senselessly taken on the 21st of January. A Gofundme has been set up by Keon’s family and can be donated to here.

Another young Black life has been tragically wasted, as Keon Lincoln became the latest victim of youth violence last week when he was murdered in Birmingham at the age of 15. Any murder of this kind would resonate with the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity but Keon was shot outside of the Garvey Education Centre on Linwood Road, which would have already re-opened if not for the pandemic. The Garvey Centre is the site of the old Marcus Garvey Nursery, which ran from 1974 until the 2000s. Marcus Garvey Nursery was part of the British Black power movement’s commitment to providing education the school system cannot. The nursery was committed to bringing Black education to the youngest of children, starting them on a lifelong journey. Thousands of children came through the nursery over the years and we are keen to reestablish the building as a space for young people and the community. Such a tragedy involving young people in the shadow of a building with such a legacy just brings the problem of youth violence into sharper focus.

No doubt the right wing press have created a moral panic about youth violence in Black communities. It is part of a wider crisis of so called Black on Black violence. The reality is that three quarters of those killed in England and Wales are White. We are a significant minority in the country, and that certainly applies to the murders. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a problem. In 2019 there were 9 murders of Black children under the age of 16, a small number but somehow equal to those who were identified as White. For 16-24 year olds there were 48 murders of Black young people compared to just 9 identified as White. That is a staggering overrepresentation. Black people in general are more than 5 times more likely to be killed but young Black people aged 16-24 are 24 times more likely to be murdered. There is a problem, and pretending it doesn’t exist will only make things worse.

The increased risk of murder for Black people in the UK should not come as a surprise, it is a pattern we see across the globe. Black people are not just more likely to be killed by the police but African Americans make up over half of those murdered in the USA. There are more than twice as many murders in Jamaica than the UK, with its tiny population. In South Africa there are 58 murders a day, and I remember when they were celebrating less than 20,000 murders in a year. The uncomfortable truth is that Black life is disposable. There is no simple reason, just as with the higher death rate from Covid-19 it speaks to the racism that structures our everyday lives. No, it is not because of music, bad choices or feckless parenting. We live in a society where Black life does not matter, so we should not be shocked when we see that play out in reality.

So we need to say enough is enough. That does not mean talking down to young people, or offensive gimmicks like knife crime campaigns in chicken shops. This is not a failure of our young people, it is a failure of our community to respond to the conditions they are forced to navigate. The only solution is the same as for all of our struggles against institutional racism. We must collectively build so that we, as a community, can provide alternative opportunities to those in the mainstream that are designed to keep the cycle of discrimination and violence going. As an organisation we have to take responsibility for Keon’s tragic murder happening outside a closed, empty building. We had hoped, and have been trying, to have the building open as a hub of activity for Black education. I could recount all the reasons for the delay but we must do better. One centre isn’t going to turn the tide, but collectively we can enact change if we start working together and commit to each other. That takes all of us supporting those working at ground level like Craig Pickney in the Solve: The Centre for Youth Violence Conflict or the work of 4Front led by Temi Mwale. But we also need to understand that this is a crisis created by the wider situation we find ourselves in and we can only solve it by fighting on all fronts. Marcus Garvey was right when he said ‘there shall be no solution to this race problem until you, yourselves, strike the blow for liberty’. So it’s time to say enough is enough and build together for all our sakes.

Rest in peace Keon.

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