Deadly street culture: Lethal posers of Britain's Bebo generation

Experts say younsters carry knives simply because they think it is cool to do so. But what are the implications for the Government's policies? By Ian Griggs

They stare out from the screen: brazen, menacing, occasionally risible, but always brandishing a serious weapon. These young people armed with guns, knives and machetes make little or no attempt to disguise themselves. Their images were all found during just one morning's trawl across social networking sites such as Bebo. Together they present an army of reasons why the Government is struggling to tackle violent youth crime.

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, is about to announce new tactics – which will include taking young men and women convicted of carrying knives to the A&E department of their local hospital to see what stab wounds are really like. They will also meet the families of those who have been maimed or killed to see the grief and pain such attacks can cause.

Last week was the worst so far this year for knife crime. Nine people died, eight of them on Thursday or Friday. Some of their names were released yesterday. Melvin Bryan was knifed in the neck and chest at a bedsit in Edmonton, north London. He was 18 years old. Not far away, in a squat on Tottenham High Road, 42-year-old Gennar Jaronis was found dead. Adnan Patel died after being chased and knifed by a gang in Leyton, east London. He was 20. The police continue to make arrests: yesterday Sarah Anderson, of Bellenden Road, Peckham, was remanded in custody at Greenwich Magistrates' Court, charged with the murder of Dee Wills outside a supermarket in Peckham on 1 July.

The lengthening list of victims has provoked the Government into promising new and more dramatic intervention. But Professor Ellis Cashmore, an expert on consumer culture, believes these measures may be in vain. The problem is rooted, he says, not in policing but in the new status of knives as "bling" for those who can't afford gold chains and fast cars. "The knife has almost been stripped of its instrumental purpose, which is to cut things, and instead people are posing with them because it suggests to others they have status and it is as important as having a new pair of trainers or jewellery," he said. Websites are crucial to this. "They can't walk down the street carrying them, so the internet provides a theatrical setting to display their weapons. It is also saying to others, 'I'm a person to respect, a person of honour in my sub-set.'"

Professor Cashmore, of Staffordshire University, said the knife-crime epidemic was being fed by the media's reporting of it. "The copycat effect is very powerful. There is a buzz and awareness of what is going on," he said. "The reason the posing spills into violence is because it becomes a badge of honour within the tribe or group if you have stabbed someone and the others have not. Everyone has to earn their stripes. There are some problems for which there are no practical solutions. I don't think tougher sentences are a practical solution to the problem, no matter what Jacqui Smith says."

The selection of pictures on Bebo yesterday showed this culture at its worst. One showed two teenagers under the heading "Snub Blaxk Ea5t5ide Grove Boy" brandishing a shotgun, while another, under "Tommy Solly", showed a young man with a 2ft machete.

David Wilson, a professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, said one cause of the problem was distrust between young people and adults. "They feel they have been dismissed by adult society as chavs, hoodies and feral youth, and they are responding to that by taking matters into their own hands," he said. "Some people are carrying knives because they are scared, but a smaller group is carrying them for symbolic reasons. It is about being a man, gaining respect and saying I am an adult and I can take care of myself."

One of the youngest victims to lose his life so far is David Idowu, 14. He died on Monday, three weeks after being stabbed in south London. An argument on a football pitch in Borough escalated into murder when David was chased and then stabbed. One theory is that the argument began because of rivalry between pupils at Walworth Academy in Southwark, where David studied, and another school.

Friends and family of the murdered teenager will march through London in a protest against knives on Saturday 19 July, at midday, starting at the spot where the stabbing took place in Great Dover Street.

Those who knew David described him as deeply religious and a model pupil. His parents, Tim and Grace Idowu, believe their son is now with God. Odunayo Otti, a church elder at the Christ Apostolic Church in Bermondsey, where the Idowu family worships, said the Government had let knife crime get out of control. "They ignored it because they thought it was a black-on-black thing when they should have been doing something about it before it got out of hand," he said.

"If you look at this in a Christian way, maybe a demon has got hold of the youth. The community needs to turn to God." He supported much tougher sentences for carrying a knife, he said. "Young people and parents need to take responsibility for themselves. A single life lost from knives is too much to bear – let alone four in one day, as we saw on Thursday."

Online images...

Shakilus Townsend, 16

Murdered by a gang on 3 July. Pictured posing with a knife near his home in Deptford, south-east London.

S Rillz Man Dem

A teenager from the gang holds a hunting knife and makes no attempt to disguise himself.

Tommy Solly

Wearing a deadpan expression, he wields a three-foot machete with a notched blade.

Southside Blood Thugz

A masked teenager with his gang's name on his sweatshirt holds a rusty machete.

Vernon Chapman

Calls himself Jay Da Bad Azz. He stands in motorcycle leathers holding a handgun.

General Yung Depoh 'Bad Man Killer'

He sits in a bedroom and holds a handgun while staring at the floor.

Snub Blaxk Ea5t5ide GroveBoy

One teenager holds a shotgun, the other poses with a shotgun shell.

Slim The Immaculate

He wears a hood and bandana to cover his features while standing outside a house with a handgun.

Neasdens Most Wanted

The teenager apes the horror film genre by wearing the 'Scream' mask and holding a kitchen knife.

Liam K

He stands against a grubby wall wielding a curved scimitar-style sword and a long curved knife.

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits