Jermaine Lawlor started carrying a knife at the age of 11. In his area of east London, he says he was far from the only child to do so.
“That was the life I was caught up in. It was kill or be killed,” said Lawlor, who walked away from his life of crime after finding faith in God eight years ago. “I felt I had no choice. It made me feel safer. That’s the way it is.”
In a country where guns are illegal and in a city where 90 percent of police officers don’t carry firearms, knife crime has soared this year in London. More than 35 people have been fatally stabbed through early April this year — compared with a total of 79 such deaths during 2017.
Youth workers in affected communities say that the victims of knife crime are getting younger.
While some of the young people carrying knives are involved in gangs, others are choosing to carry such weapons out of fear that others have them, according to youth workers.
The Royal London Hospital in the Whitechapel area of east London reports that the number of major stabbings involving children under 18 increased by more than a third from January through the end of March, compared to the same time period last year. However, the total number of seriously hurt stabbing victims treated at the hospital has remained steady.
Though guns can be hard to get in the U.K., the hospital has also seen an increase in gunshot victims, to 23 from January to mid-April, up from 10 in the same period last year.
Across town at St. Thomas’ Hospital in the Lambeth area, the trend toward younger adolescents’ becoming victims of knife crime is largely the same.
“Three years ago, the most common age for stabbings were between 16 and 18. Now it’s between 15 and 17,” said Tom Isaac, the lead worker for Oasis Youth Support, a hospital-based service providing support and mentoring for young people who have been wounded in violence. “Then, it was unusual to see a 15-year-old stabbed, and now it’s quite common. It’s the same with kids who carry weapons — they are getting younger.”
London’s Metropolitan Police says it has investigated a total of 55 homicides during 2018. New York, which is similar in population to London, has recorded 62 murders over the same span, including 16 fatal stabbings.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Rachel Elbaum