We must tackle the nihilistic culture which has turned knife crime into a middle-class crisis

The conversation about knife crime has certainly shifted since young white kids started getting stabbed. The murder of 17-year old Jodie Chesney around the corner from my home in East London has turned up the volume in the debate in a way that dozens of other deaths this year have not.

Sadly, most of this debate involves politicians slating each other over who is responsible. But blaming others for the past won't save lives now or in the future. If we absolutely must, then political score-settling should be postponed until after the killing has stopped.

The murder of children like Jodie Chesney and Yousef Makki in Greater Manchester suggests that knife crime is now reaching beyond its usual circumference. Gang members are not the only ones who are tooling up; kids peripheral to the action also fear violence spilling into their lives.

Disruptive behaviour in schools, increased gang activity, more muscular criminals with more resources targeting young people to run county lines; the pressures are certainly growing on our young people. I knew who the bad boys were where I grew up. Most importantly, I knew how to avoid them.

But today, young people find it harder to avoid the drama of the streets. Innocent children worry violence will find them, even if they are not involved in gang culture. In carrying weapons, they do what they think is needed to protect themselves, even if it makes it more likely they’ll be hurt.

Much of this pressure now comes online. Young people have always received harsh abuse face-to-face; but online attacks have intensified. A lot of the violence we now see on the streets builds online before bursting into the real world.

The drill music that describes the harsh reality of many poorer, typically black or minority ethnic communities is a prime example. A lot of the drill music on sites like YouTube offers straight up incitement to violence between gangs who are disrespecting each other online. There’s a reason artists like Drillminister, who appeared with me on BBC Newsnight, feel like they have to cover their faces.

To be clear, lyrics alone are not the cause of any nihilism in this culture - they are merely one symptom of a complex disease. But we don’t need to indulge it; we must stop it. Music that incites violence should be taken down, not shared.

Ultimately, the answer to knife killings will have to tackle all of the pathologies fuelling the disease. The public health approach is the correct one, but we can't let it absolve the actors of their responsibility. Crime is a choice.

Nor can we afford to lose ourselves in a moral panic. The majority of those killed are not children, but adults like JJ McPhillips, a young father who was stabbed while trying to stop a fight. We need to focus our response on the main players, not the fringe cases, no matter how tragic.

First, we need more police on the streets. The criminals behind these knife killings fear only one thing - going to jail. They must be put under pressure and then prosecuted for their crimes. We must adopt a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to gangs, using technologies like GPS tagging more effectively to keep track of gang members once they return to the streets.

We also need to work with the communities most impacted by knife crime to bring in stop-and-search that is focused, intelligence-led, and designed to get weapons off the street. This should not mean stopping people willy-nilly, but using our resources in the most effective way, against the people behind the violence and gang activity.

More money for policing would be welcomed, but local governments must always show that they are spending their funds effectively. Here in London, we could easily make enough savings at City Hall to put nearly 2,000 more police on our streets. We could also get more weapons off the streets through provably effective techniques like amnesties.

Only once this immediate action is taken can we focus on the longer-term problems like school exclusions and family breakdown. We need policing in the short term, and public health over the long run.

Action, not blame, will shift the conversation on knife crime and halt the senseless and tragic loss of life.

Originally published on The Telegraph