Model Harry Uzoka dies in London knife attack

RIP: One fan called him “an inspiration to young black men and something of an icon”. © Kinfolk

How can we stop the rise of violent knife crime in Britain? Last year, 80 people were stabbed and killed in London alone. Now, male model Harry Uzoka has become the latest victim.

“A contagious personality”. An “icon for black boys in the UK”. A “young king”.

At 25, Harry Uzoka was a rising star in the British fashion industry. He had modeled for major brands like Zara and Mercedes, and appeared in this month’s issue of GQ magazine. “He would light up the room and make everyone on set smile,” tweeted fashion company G-Star RAW.

But last week, Uzoka was stabbed and killed in East Acton, London. The Metropolitan Police described the attack as a “robbery gone wrong”, and two people have now been arrested on suspicion of murder.

Uzoka’s famous face has attracted attention to the crime. And yet he is the fifth young man to be killed by a blade in London in just two weeks. During New Year celebrations, four men aged between 17 and 20 were stabbed and killed in unrelated attacks just hours apart.

In total, 80 people died in knife attacks in London in 2017, a rise of 33%. Thousands more were injured.

“Many young Londoners inhabit an environment akin to a war zone,” wrote the head of the 4Front Project, which aims to tackle youth violence, after the New Year’s stabbings. “The threat of serious violence is constant.”

In response, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has launched a campaign called London Needs You Alive, which asks young people not to carry knives in the first place. He also said the capital would see a “tougher crackdown” on violent crime this year, including more stop and search tactics by the police.

The causes of knife crime are complex. In October 2016 the head of a police taskforce on the issue said people were “probably being influenced by their siblings, by their peer group”.

Many academics point to poverty and inequality as the root causes of violent crime.

Meanwhile, a young man interviewed by the BBC in November said he carried a knife for one simple reason: protection. “It's a part of life now,” he explained.

Is it time for the police to get tougher?

The knife edge

Yes, say some. There is no excuse for carrying a knife on the streets; not when bright young people are losing their lives for no reason. The police must send the message that it is not worth the risk of carrying to begin with, and that doing so could land you in prison. The only way to do this is through more arrests and longer sentences.

Others argue that harsh policing only inflames tensions, and creates mistrust between young people and the authorities whose job is to protect them. Instead, London should follow Glasgow, where more money is spent on things like community leaders who work with young people to stop violence; education programmes; and job support. As a result, murder rates in the city have dropped by 60%. Talking tough is simply not enough.

You Decide

  1. Why do so many young people in Britain carry knives?
  2. Should the police be tougher when it comes to violent crime?

Activities

  1. Make a poster or video which is designed to discourage young people from carrying knives. For inspiration, watch the short video by the London mayor under Become An Expert.
  2. Choose another city which has had a high rate of violent crime. Write a short report which explains how the authorities responded, whether the response was successful, and whether you think the same tactics would work in London.

Some People Say...

“Society prepares the crime; the criminal commits it.”

Henry Thomas Buckle

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Harry Uzoka was found stabbed in the street at around 4pm on Thursday, and was declared dead by 5pm. Two men have been arrested, but the police are still calling for any witnesses or information. Violent crime has been rising for the last year in London and across the UK, but it is still well below levels seen in the mid-1990s.
What do we not know?
Who killed Harry Uzoka and why; although two men have been arrested, we will not know more unless they, or others, are charged and tried for his death. We also do not know the circumstances behind the other four deaths in London over the New Year, or what is causing the rise in violent crimes. (As with many things, it is doubtful that there is a single cause; it is more likely that there is a variety of different trends.)

Word Watch

Four men
The victims: 17-year-old Kyall Parnell, 20-year-old Steve Frank Narvaez-Arias, 20-year-old Taofeek Lamidi and an 18-year-old who has not been named.
London
Statistics are not yet available for the whole of the UK in 2017. But according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), between June 2016 and June 2017 there were 36,998 knife crimes in England and Wales.
33%
According to the Met, 60 people died in knife crimes in 2016.
Injured
Between June 2016 and June 2017 there were 4,416 knife injuries in London (ONS).
Stop and search
When a police officer stops and searches someone for illegal items. Sadiq Khan has criticised the approach in the past for racial profiling and damaging public relations with police. However, he says the increase in stop and search will be “targeted” and “intelligence-led”.
Academics
For example, in 2015 the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, which follows 4,300 young people, found that “poverty is a strong driver of violent offending”.
Glasgow
A Violence Reduction Unit was set up in the city in 2005. It now works across Scotland.