By Omotolani Shokeye, Rohma Ejaz and Shannon Eades
Knife crime, racism and the use of police force were hotly debated yesterday, as five influential members of the London community came together to discuss what being a Londoner means to them.
The “What is a Londoner?” event took place at London Metropolitan University, with roughly 150 journalism students asking questions, taking photos, writing articles and filming the lively discussion, which at times produced lively and frank exchanges of views.
Panelists included Foteini Aravani, a Greek-born museum curator; Jennette Arnold OBE, a London Assembly member; documentary filmmaker and London Met graduate Kartel Brown; popular historian and author Catharine Arnold, and Maurice Mcleod, a social commentator.
Kartel Brown said: “I was born in Bristol and I do feel like a Londoner… I feel like to be a Londoner is someone who is very tolerant and accepting of the constant changes that are happening around us. A Londoner is a spirit.”
The debate continued as students raised questions for the panelists on the impact of immigrants, and how they contribute to the London economy. Second-year student, Omotolani Shokeye directed a question to Jennette Arnold and asked her whether immigrants were putting a strain on London resources.
“From the Brexit campaign, I found out there was such a lot of misinformation, they had taken on board this myth that Europeans or the outsiders are a drain on London,” she said.
Knife crime was the most deliberated topic, which ignited the panelists and also brought up racism, and the use of police force. Many questions were asked by the audience, including one from third-year student Dominika Kubinyova, who asked Kartel Brown: “What is it about Londoners that makes knife crime such a big problem?”
“I think it’s firstly important to point out we have a problem in knife crime across the UK,” he said. “We have to go back into how we raise young men and how we see young men, and how young men are represented in the media.”
Jennette Arnold stressed how knife crime is endemic, saying that “innocent young men are caught up in the situation of doing warfare activity”. She added that the knives used today are “machetes and swords,” to which Brown pointed out that kitchen knives are often a weapon of choice.
He then talked about what he called the Tottenham uprising, saying that politicians such as Tottenham MP David Lammy are not doing enough for their constituencies. “He’s doing all he can,” Jennette Arnold responded.
First-year student Channette Williams was right on the mark, saying that her cousin was shot dead by a gang in Wood Green, north London in 2005. Lammy came to her family’s house and made a lot of promises, such as getting the family out of the area. But when he left they never saw or heard from him again, she said.
Jennette Arnold then gave the example of a young black boy, who was put upside-down in a bin by a police officer, saying that this was the act of an individual. “Are you suggesting there is no such thing as institutionalised racism?” Williams asked.
The students felt positive about the event at its conclusion. Tashko Mihaylov, 21, from Bulgaria said: “I found the topic about Black Lives Matter, Brexit and foreigners interesting because I am a foreigner.”