Actor Idris Elba on Monday urged the UK government to take urgent action to reduce knife crime, with public concern at mounting numbers of young people being injured or killed in stabbings.
Elba, who shot to fame as drugs kingpin Stringer Bell in the hit TV series “The Wire”, helped launch a campaign in London calling for a ban on knives.
“I can’t stay silent as more young lives are lost to these brutal and heartless crimes,” he told reporters outside the UK parliament in central London.
On the grass in front of the legislature, piles of carefully folded clothes were laid out in line to represent those killed by knife crime.
“We can’t let knife crime escalate, we have to put a stop to it,” said the 51-year-old Elba, who has written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calling for a ban on bladed weapons such as machetes and “zombie” knives.
On Sunday, football clubs Arsenal and Liverpool abandoned their traditional red jerseys as part of the north London club’s “No More Red” campaign against youth violence.
Families of some of the victims of knife crime were applauded by the crowd at the Emirates stadium watching the FA Cup tie, which Arsenal lost.
– ‘Zombie’ threat –
Some 250 people were killed in knife crime in England and Wales between July 2022 and June 2023, according to the Office for National Statistics.
In London last year, 21 children under 18 lost their lives in violence, including 18 who were stabbed.
The sale of knives is strictly regulated in the UK but young people are still managing to arm themselves with large “zombie” knives, where one side is serrated and the other curved.
The weapons, inspired by horror films, are typically associated with gangs and can be bought cheaply on the internet.
“I’m asking simply to put a ban on machetes and zombie knives,” said Elba, a rapper, singer and DJ also known for playing Nelson Mandela and television detective John Luther.
Instead, he called for more investment in youth services to tackle the root causes of crime.
– ‘Never-ending war’ –
The UK government in August promised a ban on “intimidating and threatening” zombie-style knives and machetes “that have no practical use”, as part of moves to reduce knife crime.
But there has been no let-up in violence: in September a 15-year-old girl was stabbed to death as she made her way to school in south London.
And just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, a 16-year-old boy watching fireworks with friends was killed in a north London park.
“It’s ridiculous how easy it is for young people to buy knives and hurt other people,” said Nadine Searchwell, whose 22-year-old son was killed in October while he went to buy a pizza.
“The government doesn’t pay attention because it’s not one of their own.”
Sunak’s spokesman on Monday said knife crime had fallen by seven percent and hospital admissions for knife wounds were down by nearly a quarter.
“But still we know knife crime devastates lives. We do want to do more. It’s welcome that Idris Elba and others continue to shine a light on this important issue,” he added.
Julie Taylor, a former cook, was invited to parliament to give evidence to MPs after her 19-year-old grandson was stabbed to death outside a pub in Essex, east of London, four years ago.
“Everything in parliament takes so long, too long. It has to change,” she said.
“Every day you get up in this country and you expect someone to be murdered in a knife attack. This is like a never-ending war.”