Why knife crime should horrify us all - a rising evil which threatens everyone

Knife Angel - so painful, so beautiful (pic by Phil Hewitt)Knife Angel - so painful, so beautiful (pic by Phil Hewitt)
Knife Angel - so painful, so beautiful (pic by Phil Hewitt)

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It is brutal, but it is also beautiful. It is devastating and yet so full of hope. The Knife Angel is quite the most extraordinary thing I have ever seen – shocking but healing, incredibly painful to contemplate but surely vital.

Standing 27 feet tall and weighing more than three tonnes, the Angel – or more formally The National Monument Against Violence and Aggression – is a touring sculpture which highlights the need for change if we are ever to get a hold on the cruelly-rising tide of knife crime.

Crucially, the Angel – created by the artist Alfie Bradley – is made from more than 100,000 seized knives surrendered and collected in nationwide amnesties during 2015-2016. Each and every single knife represents aggression, potentially death. And yet in this form, gathered together in hope, each and every single knife also represents, quite possibly, a life saved.

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I chanced upon the Knife Angel in Newcastle a few years ago. I had no idea it was there as I wandered towards The Sage. It sent shivers straight through me. And yet it dragged me towards it. The feelings, the sensations of the day I was knifed are always – infuriatingly – absolutely central to my thoughts in a dismal, constant on-going reliving of the moment. The sight of the blood, every drop of it mine; the total conviction that I would be dead within a minute or so; the awareness of consciousness slipping away… they are always there. And it all went into overdrive as I stood awed at the foot of the statue and read the heartbreaking, handwritten notes left by people grieving loved ones lost to knife crime.

Knife Angel - a heartbreaking message (pic by Phil Hewitt)Knife Angel - a heartbreaking message (pic by Phil Hewitt)
Knife Angel - a heartbreaking message (pic by Phil Hewitt)

I then wandered into The Sage foyer and started chatting to the lovely Newcastle family who had brought the Knife Angel to the city. They told me their sister had been stabbed to death, a beautiful teenage mum lost in a moment of savagery. They asked me to sign the visitors’ book. I started to write and found the pen was dragging on wet paper. It was a moment before I realised that it was wet with my tears which had fallen as we spoke – tears for the girl, tears for me and tears for anyone who has ever been knifed. The family hugged me. How awful, how generous. They hugged me the survivor as they remembered their sister who had died.

The horror of it all never leaves me. Even now, seven and a half years after the attack as I stupidly walked through a ghastly suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, it occurs to me daily that I still haven’t realised the enormity of what happened in 2016 – somewhat ironically on Valentine’s Day. I was stabbed twice in the leg and kicked repeatedly. My blood was spreading across the pavement. I watched it do so – and then shut my eyes as I lay there waiting for the end. But then the survival instinct kicked in. No one would stop for someone who looked dead already, it seemed to me. I sat up, tried to look alive, tried to look around – and I was rescued by a passing pizza delivery driver. I was certainly losing consciousness by the time he got me to hospital. 18 stitches helped close the wounds – but the mental wounds are just as open now as they have ever been, despite years of therapy. As I describe in my book, Outrunning The Demons (available here), it is only running that centres me these days – plus the love of my family, of course. Plus my undying devotion to the genius of The Stones and The Beatles.

But the fact remains. Seven and a half years later, I know I will never get my head around the fact that I was stabbed. Me? Bloody boring inoffensive me? It just does not ring true. It will never ever normalise… and that’s what makes me worry so much about the knife crime normalisation that seems to be happening all around us. Time and again, you hear people speaking quite causally about a stabbing. Presumably that’s what happens when knife crime becomes – as indeed it has – so much a part of our daily news diet. Another day, another stabbing. Maybe it’s not quite compassion fatigue, but inevitably unless it affects you directly, you move on. You have to. There’s always so much happening in our lives.

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But what is so frightening is the thought that these crimes are happening not so much because of an intent to kill; they are happening because carrying a knife has itself been normalised in certain circles. There was a hideous news story the other day: someone was stopped, searched and arrested. They were carrying a huge machete they insisted they’d forgotten they had with them. Make of that what you will. But it’s the carrying that makes the crime possible – and all the while people are carrying, we are all of us at risk. If you are carrying a knife, then anger is potentially murderous. If you are carrying a knife, then a flick or a slash can be fatal.

My brother, a doctor, told me soon after I had been stabbed that he read of a surgeon calling for all knife attacks to be considered attempted murder – for the simple reason that only a surgeon can cut flesh with impunity. I checked with a solicitor friend what my attacker would have been charged with if caught (he wasn’t): he was adamant that it would have been attempted murder. It’s the strangest of comforts: it helps me think that I haven’t completely lost all sense of proportion.

Surviving knife crime – especially when you know survival ought to mean turning cartwheels – is so very, very difficult. The point is that if you are stabbed, nothing is ever the same again. Knifing – and I know I am biased – is a uniquely evil crime, so personal because it requires such proximity and yet so impersonal that I am convinced that my attacker never gave me a thought as he ran away with my camera.

All these years later, I leap out of my skin at sudden noises, sudden movements, particularly either side of me, especially behind me. And I know my concentration is poor. I know so often I can appear to be listening – but I haven’t taken a word in because my thoughts are utterly elsewhere. I just stand there apparently vacant.

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And I know that the horror of what happened will never leave me. And that’s why the Knife Angel is so powerful, so essential, so deeply upsetting and yet so inspiring. 100,000 knives have been taken out of circulation and turned into something painfully beautiful. 100,000 knives is nothing, but as it tours the country (follow here), the Knife Angel is the sharpest (and yep, I do actually mean that word) reminder that knife crime is horrific. And by making us dwell on the horror, perhaps it can lead us to awareness, to education, to a better world. You’ve just got to hope, haven’t you. And that’s precisely what the Knife Angel offers. Stand and stare at it and you begin to believe that it might just turn the tide… But for that to happen, none of us must ever lose our horror of what happens when someone is stabbed...