“We should not be burying our children; they should be burying us”,
We often see images of inconsolable grief from mothers whose sons’ lives have been snatched away from them long before they have experienced life’s mysteries.
The pain of losing a child, in situations where their life was needlessly taken is no easier for a mother if their child is 13 or 33.
The old West Indian saying, ‘we should not be burying our children; they should be burying us’, are words often heard through the tears of a mother grieving her son.
Have we become desensitised by the many recounts of a mother crying for their stolen sons?
Meeting six amazing mothers, who are part of the ‘Circle of Life Ignite’ support group, brought home the reality of violence against children happening every day.
Previously, knife violence was often associated with late at night or in the early hours like many violent crimes.
Over the last ten years, we have seen an increase in knife violence at school leaving times, with open street fights and stabbings involving large knives in the mid-afternoon and young people being killed while the public shops.
The latest incident of a man in his twenties took place at three o’clock in the afternoon on a high street in Leyton, East London.
What is really going on in the minds of people who think it is okay to take a life in the street in public view, in broad daylight, without any remorse whatsoever? We know that knife violence is not going to go away overnight.
We need to prevent this escalation of senseless violence and stop this from being seen as a social norm in the mindsets of society.
If we take the spotlight off the abhorrence that is knife crime, we are in fear that the behaviours of the knife carrier and knife user will become ingrained and seen as the natural way of doing things, forgetting the impact and the human consequences of their actions. This is how social norms come about.
How do we tell a mother who has lost her son as a result of knife violence crime that it is a norm? Only those of you who can feel the emotions of loss because somebody decided they could place a knife in the chest, the arm, the stomach of your child will understand that this must not happen.
Knife violence can never be seen as the norm. How it is reported, how victims are treated, and the severity of the sentences of these perpetrators of violence, must never be predicated by one’s ignorance.
Recently I was invited to a meeting of the ‘Circle of Life Ignite‘, a group of mothers who had lost their sons to knife violence.
The six mothers who were in attendance, sat and listened to an emotional story of the life of Shaquan Sammy-Plummer, a 17 year old boy who was destined for great things but had his innocent life snatched away because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Shaquan was stabbed and killed in Enfield in January 2015. He was an academic, a very popular young boy and at the time was working for Waitrose. Jessica, his mother, retold the story eight years on with uncontrollable emotions like his murder took place yesterday.
She said, “We celebrate Shaquan’s life but we never lose the pain of not having him here with us every day.”
Every story I heard was harrowing; it was not just the story of their son being killed but also the stories of the pain which exists eternally after. Jessica said, “Eight years on the pain seems like it was only yesterday.”
Jessica and her family did receive justice as Shaquan’s killer was jailed for 25 years, but the criminal justice support, police support and societal judgment are all things she has had to deal with after the death of her son.
I spoke to another mother who lost her son, Matthias, in Brixton, in 2021. He was brutally shot in the back and stabbed several times until he died.
The last time she saw her loving son, he was two metres in front of her, outside of her house.
As he laid on the floor, she was not allowed to touch him or hold him in her arms as he laid dying before her. Nearly 18 months on, the family are still yet to receive the justice for his brutal murder.
As Jessica retold her story of Shaquan’s life, every emotion poured was mirrored by Vina’s pain. For legal reason this case cannot be discussed but V’s pain continues to adversely affect her and the family every second of every day.
A mother’s pain is never healed.
We need to change the narrative associated with knife crime and knife violence.
How many more families must mourn the death of a loved one before these senseless killing end?
Saying goodbye to your child, not imagining that will be the last time you will speak to them, is unimaginable.
We need to change the mindset of people, society and the ones who think it is not their problem.
Knife violence is no longer a youth problem.
Of the 68 homicide victims of knife violence in 2022, fifteen were under the age of nineteen. Knife violence is a societal problem that needs a societal solution.
We need to change the mindsets of people who believe carrying a knife is a solution to today’s issues, their conflicts, or their personal challenges.
The pockets of programmes run by well-intentioned grassroots organisation are not addressing these problems quickly enough. The risk of knife crime becoming a social norm is real.
We need to also make sure the systems, authorities and public offices designed to support victims who have lost their loved ones as a result of violent crime, deliver this without bias or judgement.
A number of parents and grandparents at the ‘Circle of Life Ignite’ event shared the many failings their families were subjected to from the organisations who should have supported them.
I am calling for all grassroots organisations who are delivering pockets of good work across the country to come together; let’s build a strategy of continuous change where we can hopefully shift the epidemic that is knife crime away from our communities.
We cannot remove the pain many mothers will carry to their end, but we can prevent other mothers and families having to endure the tremendous pain that child loss brings.
Anthony Peltier 2023