Eighteen-year-old Israel “Izzy” Ogunsola loved soccer and studied computer programming. On Wednesday, he cycled away from his home in Hackney, northeast London. At 8 p.m., he was stabbed. He staggered toward police officers but bled to death near a railway bridge as the police, paramedics and a trauma doctor tried to save him.
Police later arrested two 17-year-old boys on suspicion of murder.
Ogunsola became London’s 55th murder victim this year. The next day, crowds gathered outside Hackney Central station, not far from where Ogunsola was stabbed, and locked fists to show solidarity with those killed.
Since then, at least seven more people — nearly all of them teenagers — have been stabbed in London, where police have investigated more murders than New York cops in the last two months.
The sharp rise in killings has alarmed London residents and political leaders. Police are in emergency talks with community groups. Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick pledged to dispatch 120 officers to focus on the most violent gang members and get them off the streets by arresting them for “any crime.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan is under intense pressure to act. On Friday, he tore into the British government for cutting the policing budget, which he said has been reduced 700 million pounds (nearly $1 billion) in the last seven years, with plans for more cuts.
“So my message to the government is please work with us to solve this national problem,” Khan said.
Nequela Whittaker, a former South London gang leader turned youth worker, told the BBC that she blames cuts in after-school social programs that have pushed at-risk youth — who feud over social media — onto the streets.
“Young people argue on social media over nothing,” she said. “A boyfriend or girlfriend is in a feud and it escalates and you get people getting involved in situations that didn’t necessarily involve that young person first hand.”
Many victims are teenagers, including 16-year-old Amaan Shakoor and 17-year-old Tanesha Melbourne-Blake, who were shot within minutes of each other earlier this week.
But because of strict gun-control laws, gun violence is not as common and widespread as it is in the United States. Instead, knife crime is largely fueling the rise in London’s murder rate. Most of the city’s killings this year have been stabbing deaths.
David Lammy, the member of Parliament representing Tottenham, where at least four gang-related killings have occurred so far this year, told The Guardian that the current surge in London violence is different from past rises.
“I am more worried about this spike because the profile of the people getting caught up in it is younger,” he said. “The callousness of shooting into a crowd outside a cinema, shooting at young women, the normalization — never mind the ramping up by social media — all of that makes me alarmed and worried. I am pretty confident that we’re not going to get over this problem unless there is a proper political consensus. This is not going to self-correct.”
Dick, the police commissioner, recently traveled to Scotland to figure out how it drastically reduced its own murder rate.
A decade ago, the Scottish city of Glasgow was the “murder capital” of Western Europe, with emergency staff treating stabbing victims every day. But by treating violence as a public health rather than policing problem, Scotland reversed the trend. Crime in the country hit a 40-year low in 2015.
Karyn McCluskey, a former nurse, directed the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit in 2005. She told The Independent that the unit succeeded because it identified and paid attention to children from troubled homes instead of ignoring them.
“The majority of young people are not engaging in this, they don’t want this,” McCluskey said. “You’ve got a number of alienated, hopeless, disenfranchised people, and you need to involve them. And sometimes you just have to listen and let them get their anger out. Because they are angry about it, they feel let down.”
On Friday, Michael Gallagher, the head of the London Metropolitan Police’s organized crime command, told The Guardian that a “societal change” is needed to stop the killing.
“It is beyond the police,” he said. “We cannot prosecute our way out of this.”