A youth knife crime "epidemic" is how the British media is describing the steady climb in stabbing deaths among teenagers in London. Hardly a week goes by without a disturbing headline about a teenage stabbing.
A recent victim was 18-year-old Rob Knox, who had a small part in the film "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Police say he was fatally stabbed while trying to break up a brawl outside a bar.
Two weeks before that, 16-year-old Jimmy Mizen, described as an extremely popular teenager, was stabbed to death outside a bakery with a piece of glass.
At a bus stop, 15-year-old Romeo Peacecraft told ABC News that he was recently stopped by two knife-carrying youths, for no apparent reason.
He recalled their words: "Yo, we're gonna kill you, fight you if you talk back or walk away. We're gonna shank you."
Peacecraft added that he talked his way out of the situation by remaining calm and trying to act in a non-threatening way. Other teenagers have not been so lucky.
A 13-year-old boy, Ben, who would give only his first name, told ABC: "Some of the guys are carrying knives because they are trying to act 'hard' in front of their mates."
He added, "I'm worried because if someone doesn't like the way you talk, or the way you look, they can just walk up and stab you."
Ironically, this is happening in a major world city with a relatively low murder rate. London has about a third the number of murders as New York City, which is roughly the same size.
But the number of London murder victims under 18 is on the rise.
According to police, 17 teenagers were killed in Britain's capital in 2006, and the figure jumped to 27 in 2007. And less than halfway through this year, teenager killings have already reached 16.
Eleven of those 16 have been stabbed to death, and most of the killers are believed to be other young people.
"It's not even a shock anymore," said 16-year-old Vogue Huell from south London. "It's the whole gang culture, I think. As soon as one person gets stabbed, someone goes after another person."
The British Government Takes Note
Recently, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared that "Carrying a knife is completely unacceptable."
Brown announced a new national policy for cracking down on the teenage knife culture. Until recently, warnings were given to those under 18 who were found with knives.
Now, anyone over 16 who is caught with a knife longer than 3 inches will be automatically prosecuted. If convicted, a teenager over 16 could face up to four years in prison. That is just for possession, not for actually carrying out an assault.
"Young people need to understand that carrying knives doesn't protect you, it does the opposite — it increases the danger for all of us; destroys young lives and ruins families," Brown told reporters.
He touched on one of the main reasons many teens give for carrying a knife — fear of knife attack.
Twenty-one-year old Monique Morrison, a youth counselor who recently met with the Prime Minister, told The Associated Press: "It's increasing. Its stupid things 'you have spoken to my girlfriend, I'll slash you up,' or 'If I see him out, he's having it.'"
The London knife crisis has ignited an intense public debate over what to do to stop kids from killing kids.
One of Britain's most prominent religious leaders, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has criticized Gordon Brown's plan to lock up more teenagers caught with knives.
Williams told the BBC that an "alarming" number of children were already behind bars. "I think compared to the rest of Europe we are in an obviously punitive frame of mind … [which] suggests that sometimes we don't really like them [children] very much," said the archbishop.
He added that there are lots of ways of getting tough on youth crime without throwing young people into jail for long periods. Instead of imprisonment, he recommended so-called "restorative" justice in which young offenders have to come face-to-face with victims and/or their families to understand the impact of their crimes, which, he says, could prevent further crimes.
But Londoners seem to be in no mood for cutting teenage knife criminals any slack, and the politicians have sensed the mood.
The city's new Mayor, Boris Johnson, told reporters: "Everybody is shocked by the level of violence we are seeing, particularly towards young people in London and we must work as hard as we can together to reverse this dreadful trend."
The Mayor's suggestions include airport-style metal detectors at train and subway stations, and tighter restrictions on drinking alcohol on public transport.
Already, police have begun a new, more aggressive program of searching anyone they wish at random, without having to justify their suspicions.
An unarmed Community Police Support Officer, who gave her name only as Cass, told ABC News: "There is definitely an increase in knives being found on kids, and maybe that is because police are now searching teens more often now."
She added that teenage gangs often show up on the buses she and fellow officers patrol.
"You get up to 20 on a bus at the same time," she said. "And that's where we come in. We safety officers get on the bus and they are less likely to do anything."
Johnson said he wants police to do "more intelligence-led police initiatives focused on key estates, more handheld scanners and knife arches to detect guns and knives and a huge drive to get kids off the streets and into activities which raise their aspirations and help turn their lives around."
Poverty, sub-standard education, lack of public facilities, and broken families all contribute to the gang culture, teen experts say.
"They get sucked in when they're about 15, "Cass explained. "They want to be in a gang. They'll say 'oh, that's really cool, lots of bling, fake jewelry.' There is no father around for a lot of them, no father figure, and they see the gang as like a family. And to prove themselves to the family they start by doing a little damage with a knife, then they might go further and it escalates until someone is suddenly dead."
Some experts on youth crime warn that most of the new crackdown measures may not work, and amount to little more than political posturing.
"I'm skeptical about whether the latest measures will have an effect," Enver Soloman, deputy director of the Center for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London, told The Associated Press.
"The clear message from research is that kids carry knives because they don't feel safe," Soloman said. "Unless you address that feeling of insecurity, you are not gong to have a big impact on the number of kids carrying knives."
By the way, Romeo Peacecraft, the 15-year-old who narrowly escaped being stabbed, moved to London two years ago from Dallas, Texas.
"I know that the U.S. has a reputation for violent crime," he said. "But London is where I, and other kids, feel unsafe."