Do the recent knife attacks really signify a violent crime ‘crisis’? And does so-called ‘black-on-black’ violence in Sheffield have more to do with the city’s economic design than it has to do with race?
The recent spate of knife attacks in Sheffield appears to reflect a national trend of violent crime, increasing in frequency in the past year. Daily reports of stabbings nationally weave a narrative of continuing violence: and what’s more, if reports are to be believed, at least a portion of that violence occurs in ‘black-on-black’ incidents – a claim apparently supported by the identities of some of Sheffield’s own recent victims and suspected attackers.
Knife crime in Sheffield usually occurs in, or involves residents of, non-student suburbs. However, one attack at Corporation last month, a dual stabbing at Area last year and other attacks involving students, or venues frequented by students, have brought Sheffield’s university population into closer contact with an ongoing problem in the north-east and south of Sheffield.
More recent than the Corporation stabbing, which made national news, is the trial of a 16-year-old boy for the murder of 15-year-old Samuel Baker. Apart from the incredibly young age of both victim and defendant, the attack is in all other ways alarmingly predictable; the victim is black, male, local and, most importantly, was attacked in Lowedges, an area that is one of several in Sheffield listed as being in the 10 percent most deprived nationally, according to government Multiple Index of Deprivation (MIoD) data.
Most of these areas have seen one or more stabbing this year, been home to victims and suspects of violent crime, and almost all have seen a fatal attack since 2015. In fact, the MIoD data for these areas, along with age, gender and behavioural problems at school, is a far more accurate signifier of involvement in knife crime than ethnicity. As rapper and activist Akala recently observed in an interview, ‘Black on Black Violence’ could be more accurately called ‘poor on poor’.
The reasons behind Sheffield’s most deprived areas tending to also have larger ethnic minority groups is perhaps best saved for another article. However, the reasons behind violent crime being so prevalent in these areas is something that directly concerns and involves students.
The motives behind Samuel Baker’s murder are as yet unknown, but many recent stabbings appear to concern drug dealing and gang related disputes. For example, back in June a turf war between rival drug gangs saw an attack in a bookmakers, and gunshots fired at a residential property. It goes without saying, really, that the largest market for drugs in Sheffield is its huge student population and this reflects what is in many ways a city with an economy now centred very much around the universities. Huge profits can be made by those who market products to students, but this also creates an increasingly high incentive for drug dealing and the related violence that goes with it, which sadly seems to prey on those who find it most difficult to gain employment or enter into higher education.
As far as a ‘crime wave’ goes, such sensationalist reports have been commonplace in Sheffield’s local newspapers for several years and the recent stabbings reflect more of a steady increase in knife crime than a recent epidemic. Austerity and growing inequality on a national scale will inevitably lead young people towards crime in the absence of affordable education and a shortage of employment. Equally, the media will seize any opportunity afforded by the current climate to sell a story of crisis or division. The truth, meanwhile, may lie somewhere between the two.
Image: George Hodan