UK-based Gambian shares opinion on how to tackle knife crime

Written by Edrissa Touray

Recent murders and incidents of grievous bodily harm in which knife is used as a weapon in The Gambia has reached an alarming proportion. There is an urgent need for a new strategic national intervention on knife crime.

Too many grieving families! The pain of loosing a loved one to death is excruciating but knowing they were heathy and full of life when their functioning organs were painfully disabled by the blade of a knife which results to their death, often leaves grieving families angry and revengeful.

Knife crime

The challenges for digitization in The Gambia and its impact on data collection including crime data by the police, makes it difficult to paint a visual picture with the aid of an official statistical data.

However, the recent news feeds on the social media, and the electronic and print media in The Gambia about gruesome murders either in armed robberies or attacks in which knife was used as the bladed weapon can be described in its threshold as a ‘new spate’. If the trajectory is to be halted and reversed, a new approach to law enforcement is required alongside a new concerted social awareness drive. This will require a new philosophical understanding of our changed local environment due to globalization: eroding of our traditional communal safeguards; factors and causal effects of heightened social and economic marginalization; and the victimhood state of some young perpetrators.

My recent research visit to The Gambia (June 2021) that took me to the police HQ in Banjul about Gambian young people and the Criminal Justice System, reveals a startling statistic. Of all the recorded crimes committed in The Gambia, 15 % are perpetrated by young people between the ages of 15 and 17 years old. This is not just staggering but revealing. This points to a fundamental problem in the engagement of our young people in education, training and skills development or positive diversionary activities like sports. Surely, that much cannot choose crime out of their accord, willfully.

The environment and the influencing factors need to be carefully analyzed and understood. That could be a subject for another discussion!

As a youth development manager and a training tutor in the UK for an organization (FYA) that was primarily set up to raise awareness on knife crime amongst British youths particularly young people of black heritage, I deliver a training qualification for professionals who works with young people from the local Authority, community organizations, secondary schools, trauma support specialist at hospitals and young people on ‘Recognizing and Safeguarding Against Knife Crime’.

Through this training, professionals and young people explore and reflect on social inequality: its impact; the environment it influences and how that creates a fertile drawing factor for young people to crime. Understanding knife crime and the relevant UK laws on knife crime as well as existing police powers (e.g., Stop and Search) and strategies are discussed. The impact of knife crime on victims, their families and the wider community as well as legal consequences for perpetrators are often impactful for participants.

For The Gambia, this will require a shift in the policing strategy to include proactive young people engagement through early education on the nature and dangers of knife crime.

Education and community-oriented policing have worked effectively as a preventative measure to knife crime in the UK. This should be mirrored in The Gambia. Irrespective of the advance policing system of the UK, the central government and the respective local authorities are spending hugely into creating youth contact centers and community interest organizations to utilize them as community assets in knife crime education.

A unique opportunity Gambia has, is that those set ups are everywhere in the country who could be easily approached and included as valuable partners in this drive. It will require a philosophical shift in policing approach that must be guided by knowhow and target driven strategic educational engagement with young people using their language and communication mediums as tools.

The stakes are high for our nation in terms of the victim number, the untold devastation many families are enduring as a result of loosing a loved one to a knife crime and the unsustainable pressure it is exerting on the police and our criminal justice system. A strategic shift to proactive target education on knife crime is a worthy option for consideration.

Edrissa Touray
United Kingdom