Those responsible for keeping us safe need to offer leadership and a sense that we are in control of our streets, a prominent Catholic peace campaigner has said.
Barry Mizen, of The Mizen Foundation, has expressed concern at recent comments made by the West Midlands police and crime commissioner David Jamieson after he warned that a rise in violence is “almost inevitable” due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
His comments came in the wake of a spate of stabbings in Birmingham, which resulted in the death of a former Catholic schoolboy and seven injuries.
Mr Jamieson told reporters that “in the context of Covid-19, there is a lot of pent-up feelings, and combine that with people who are unsure about their future and it is almost inevitable that we would see a growth in violence,” he said.
But the view that violence was inevitable was rejected by Mr Mizen who, while acknowledging that the pandemic had built up tensions, stressed that leadership is needed to give a sense of control, adding that Jamieson’s comments were “worrying”.
“A couple of years ago the current Mayor for London observed that violent crime is all part and parcel of living in a major city,” Mr Mizen told The Catholic Universe.
“I wonder if he regrets these comments as they could be construed, as indeed Mr Jamieson’s could be, of a ‘fait accompli’, in effect what can be done to stop the violence?”
“Unfortunately there is a sense of resignation that these crimes, although thankfully very rare, are going to happen from time to time.
“However, those with the responsibility for keeping us as safe should still give leadership and a sense that we are in control of ‘our streets’.”
He explained that in the first instance the perpetrator should be charged and brought to trial, and if found guilty to receive the full consequences of his actions.
“Although this won’t completely alleviate the families pain it will however bring some respite,” he said.
Mr Mizen said he believes the big issue raised by the Birmingham knife attacks and the comments arising from it raise far-reaching issues of what is happening to communities, cities and the country.
“At the moment there are many causes for concern, which in turn lead to further division rather than co-operation,” he said. “Not only is the pandemic creating division, we are still dealing with Brexit, Black Lives Matter and the climate change campaigns.
“Are we now saying the anger and violence are an outcome of these deeply divisive issues and to be expected? Or do we say ‘it doesn’t have to be like this’, and then accept we are all drawn into these issues, therefore we all can all react in a more open and understanding way, to hopefully reach a consensus,” Mr Mizen said.
He recalled how at the start of the current pandemic crisis there was “an air of optimism that this is the opportunity to create a more inclusive and caring society”.
“Have we now given up on that and retreated to our own trenches and simply passed the responsibility? Or can we rediscover love of neighbour?” he asked.
“We cannot stop some things happening but we can be a voice for change, it’s what has led us as a family, and indeed many others, to respond to the awful trauma of the sudden violent loss of a loved one with a positive message of change.”
The attack that prompted the debate has seen Zephaniah McLeod, 27, of Nately Grove, Selly Oak, charged with the murder of Jacob Billington and seven counts of attempted murder.
Mr Billington, 23, from Crosby, Merseyside, had been in the city with friends to celebrate with one of their number who was studying in Birmingham.
The 23-year-old had been working as a library intern at Sheffield Hallam University, after graduating there, and was a former pupil at Sacred Heart Catholic College in Crosby.
Picture: Barry and Margaret Mizen. (Victoria Jones/PA).