The rise in knife crime in London is a tragedy.
Recently, I saw a newspaper article, which had photos of those who had died. It was striking the number that were overwhelmingly young black men.
In the first 100 days of 2018, 52 people in London were killed and hundreds suffered stab wounds. The death toll continues to rise.
Then we had the Windrush scandal, which further depressed and shocked all decent-minded people.
Now you may be thinking, “What has this got to do with nursing?”, other than to think about nurses and other health workers who treat the wounded and try to prevent victims from dying.
My thoughts are with the thousands of people who came to the UK from overseas to work in the NHS.
From the 1950s to the present day, the NHS has benefitted greatly from people coming to this country to work in the NHS. They came with optimism and enthusiasm, and in my career in the NHS and at the Royal College of Nursing; I have been privileged to work with so many of these people. My thoughts at this time are primarily, although not exclusively, with people from the Caribbean.
When I was a student I shared a residence with 15 other guys. Some were from Barbados and Trinidad. What struck me were the enormous similarities in our respective cultures. People often concentrate on cultural differences, but I think about the similarities – wanting to get on in life, common interests, literature, sport, music and having fun. I am so grateful that I spent some of my teenage years living in a multicultural environment, which helped me to break down myths and stereotypes.
This brings me up to the present day.
Young black men are often portrayed as dysfunctional individuals. We hear statistics about black men being overrepresented in prisons and psychiatric units. They are often portrayed as copious drug abusers and unable to hold down long-term relationships.
Now I don’t want to get into a debate about statistics but the reality is that the vast majority of young back men are not in prison, have never been near a psychiatric unit and are actually embarking on long-term, loving relationships. They are in fact a credit to society.
”We should speak with each other about this state of affairs”
The knife crime and the Windrush scandal have had a hugely demoralising effect on the black community. Many of those who have died will be the third generation of those who came in the 1950s and 1960s. Little would they have imagined that decades on some of them would be under the threat of deportation – ironically having been invited to come to the UK. How depressing it must be to see their children or granchildren cut down at such a young age.
So what can fellow nurses do about this?
It may seem trite but we should speak with each other about this state of affairs. Show some empathy and solidarity. Make it clear that the vast majority of people in this country are not racist and fully empathise with the current difficulties that we are collectively facing.
The worst thing we can do is to not talk about it. Silence may be golden at times, but it can also be misleading and too may black people are left feeling that their white colleagues have a negative view about young black men.
It is time to be proactive. Extend the hand of friendship. If every individual does this it may not solve the problem of rising knife crime, but it will help us collectively to support each other. There has never been a time of greater need to do this.
Dr Peter Carter OBE is former chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing