Posted at 1654 GMT (0054 HKT) December 15, 2018
London (CNN) — After a long day at work, Tilisha Goupall returned to her London home, made dinner and switched on the TV, just like any other night. It was after 10.30 p.m. that she realized her 15-year-old brother, Jermaine, was more than an hour late home from the movies, so she sent him a message on Snapchat. He never read it.Just minutes later, a police officer and a friend of Jermaine's knocked at her door -- her little brother had been stabbed, they told her. They led Goupall to a spot just two streets away, where the 26-year-old saw blood seeping onto the pavement from a police tent. She pushed past onlookers to talk to the authorities, only to be told Jermaine was dead."I just collapsed and cried -- the trauma from that moment made everything black," Goupall told CNN at her home, in the south London borough of Croydon.
A lack of opportunity
Data from the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime shows knife offenses in London are predominately male-on-male crimes. In 2017, 90% of knife crime offenders were male. Of those crimes that actually caused injury, 78% of victims were male. Of all knife crimes, half were carried out by people under the age of 25.The report says half of victims and half the offenders in London were from an ethnic minority background.And according to a report by the UK Parliament, 21% of 21,044 cases of knife possession across the country involved children between the ages of 10 to 17.At a time when gender roles are rapidly evolving, women and girls have been able to cling onto movements that celebrate that change. Campaigns like #MeToo, for example, have been powerful vehicles for women and girls to challenge gender norms and explore what it means to be female.But boys and men have not organized in the same way, observes comedian Michael Ian Black, a regular commentator on gender."No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate toward a full expression of their gender. It's no longer enough to 'be a man' -- we no longer even know what that means," Black wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed "The boys are not all right."Arguing that "America's boys are broken," he wrote that gun violence in the US is more to do with boys being left behind than a lack of gun control.The same could be said about the United Kingdom's broken boys, only here, knives are much easier to acquire than guns.One problem is that boys with special needs are sinking in the country's public education system. Years of austerity that has significantly cut funds to youth services hasn't helped either.A joint study published this year by the UK's Ministry of Justice and Department of Education found that 40% of 10 to 18 year olds who'd carried out knife possession offenses had special educational needs during the 2012/13 academic year. Some 83% were persistently absent from school in at least one of the five academic years from 2008/09 to 2012/13 and, of that number, 21% had been permanently excluded.An investigation by the UK's Times found that nearly 9,000 academically troubled pupils were intentionally excluded from school in the last three years and put into pupil referral units -- specialist schools for troubled students -- months before nationwide exams to boost schools' pass rates.Boys in these units are a prime target for gangs to recruit, according to Kieran Mitton from King's College London, who is researching masculinity and gangs in London."They get them when they're young at an age when they're easily impressed by a small amount of money or seeing weapons," he said."It's a lot easier for drugs to be carried by children because if they are caught they can't do the same kind of jail time than if they were over a certain age."Mitton, who has studied gangs in several countries, said troubled boys and young men without fathers in their lives are at particular risk of committing crimes. Even in homes where fathers are present, if there is financial strain, a father may spend little time at home. Gang members can provide a "sense of belonging or affection" for a boy to fill the void."The boy craves self worth and respect and, by carrying out an act of violence for these men, they get a certain rating within the social pecking order for those guys."
'We get bored so we end up doing stupid things'
On a YouTube youth educational show called "Soapbox Real Talking Inspiration," host Paul McKenzie spoke to several teenage boys hanging out at a park in Enfield, north London, about gang life.One 14-year-old boy, who is not identified, says he carries a 15-inch knife for "safety.""I don't want someone pulling up on me trying to kill me, so I'll kill him -- I don't want to die," he says.The boy adds that he knows the damage his knife can do, but he doesn't care because, "It's big and it'll get them scared."But he acknowledges that in many ways boys causing trouble on the streets are bored. He complains there's often nothing to do, with no more youth clubs in the area."See, right now we've got holidays -- one week off school. They could do activities like play football or something," he said."But look at the park: no one is in here, it's just us -- we get bored so we end up doing stupid things for fun."Research by the YMCA found that spending on youth services across the UK had decreased by £736 million ($939 million) between 2010 to 2017, with London taking 59% of cuts since 2010/11. And between 2011 to 2018, at least 800 youth workers had lost their full-time job, according to a paper by Sian Berry, co-leader of the UK Green Party.Austerity has also affected police numbers. Prime Minister Theresa May has faced criticism for cutting 20,000 police positions during her time as Home Secretary during the Cameron government. According to a parliamentary report, police numbers have declined 12.8% between 2010 and this year. The government says the cuts were necessary to help dig the UK out of debt.London Mayor Sadiq Khan is also coming under pressure to do more about knife crime. Last year, Khan told CNN's Amanpour that London was the "safest global city in the world," but he recently admitted to the BBCthat solving knife crime could take "a generation."CNN asked the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime why, despite pouring tens of millions of pounds into crime prevention, knife crime has risen. In a statement, the office responded by recognizing the crime rate was high but also blaming the UK government's cuts to police and youth services for the crisis.
Learning to be a man
Recognizing the impact a lack of youth centers has had on males and how they can be susceptible to crime, Manhood Academy holds regular workshops for boys aged 8 to 12. The boys learn how to communicate with each other and channel their feelings in a positive way to help them to become mature young men.