Colin Brazier: There are lots of good reasons for the police to adopt more stop-and-search powers and punish young men who carry knives
While knives are widely carried, they will continue to inhibit the natural, decent and honourable reaction of some brave men to fight back.
Jamie Markham was a quiet family man in his forties. A father-of-three. On Monday evening his daughter, Chloe, was apparently getting some unwanted attention from three boys near her home. Mr Markham, 45, reportedly sought to defend his child, as any loving father would. Moments later, he was stabbed to death…. we think by one of the boys hassling his daughter.
Neighbours on this quiet residential street in East London report hearing the shrieks of his wife, widow as she now is, when she came to see what was happening. Even more depressingly, no arrests have been made.
If accounts of what happened to Jamie Markham are true, and there’s no reason to doubt them, they brutally underline the dangers faced by brave Britons who try to take on the men, often young men, of violence.
Even as police were cordoning off streets on Monday night, we were discussing this very topic. It was a discussion prompted by a piece from Theresa May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy in Monday’s Telegraph, in which he’d considered the importance of have-a-go-heroes, and also how fighting back can end in tragedy.
It was a discussion also prompted by my own experiences on Saturday evening. I’d been on a train returning to London from Nottingham. Two passengers had got on, off their heads on drugs, and had proceeded to cause mayhem.
Even though a ticket collector was present, they were allowed to complete their journey. To my shame, I didn’t intervene. Partly because I’d been at the Test Match and had had a drink, but also because nobody else in the carriage was stirring, even though there were a couple of children having to listen to the terrible language being used, and threats being made, by our fellow, and very unwelcome passengers.
Well no quantity of soul-searching will bring Mrs Markham’s late husband back. But there’s a question here, and it was posed by Nick Timothy on Monday. He gave the example of an incident last month, also in London, when five thugs ran amok in a supermarket. They attacked a female member of staff and threw a disabled customer from his wheelchair. One victim was hospitalized. Inevitably, at least one person chose to film the whole thing on a smartphone, rather than intervene.
Nick Timothy asked: “Before we rush to condemn the bystanders, consider whether you might put yourself in harm’s way. There were five perpetrators, apparently fit, strong and violent. Would you be confident you could overcome them? Could you be sure they were not carrying weapons?”
It’s that last question which is central to the times in which we live. I believe, as I think Nick Timothy does, that a healthy, cohesive, trusting society, will produce citizens who – and it’s entirely down to them – will choose to have a crack at criminals who are committing a crime.
This need not be a conspicuous act of gallantry. It might be rebuking someone who throws litter from a car, or in fact, someone who swears and makes threats in front of children in a train carriage. But the sad reality is that many would-be good citizens hold back. Why? Because, though they’d trust themselves in a fair fight, they’re fearful, rightly fearful, that a knife might be pulled.
There are lots of good reasons for the police to adopt more stop-and-search powers and punish young men who carry knives. It might stop the bloodletting in London, where this year alone 22 predominantly young black men have died. But there’s another reason to aggressively get knives off the streets. While they’re widely carried, they will continue to inhibit the natural, decent and honourable reaction of some brave men to fight back.