Eyewitness 2008: Teenage knife and gun fatalities hit all-time high

Alexander Rose, founder of the STOP Campaign, on a year when 55 teenagers were murdered in the UK

The reason why people are carrying more knives is that if you are caught with a gun there is a heavier sentence. And knives are more portable, accessible. A lot of young people think that if they stab someone in the arm or leg that they're not going to die. This has been the worst year on record for fatal teenage violence in London, but I believe things are slowly going to get better, on the condition that we keep putting strategic projects in place to address young people's mindsets. We're on the right path, but we need sustainable long-term policies to allow people to make a change in their communities.

I started thinking of making a change a few years ago, but it was only in January that I began to put my message out there. I'm 20 and I can relate to teenagers more than a policeman or an older person could. I grew up on a council estate in south London and I was always hearing that someone had been beaten up or stabbed.

I was used to seeing people getting bottled. I witnessed a shooting. That was all part of my teenage years. I used to walk around with a mask, adopting this badman image; trying to be something else because I thought that's what enabled you to get friends.

The main thing that made me want to make a change was when a good friend of my family, Eugene Attram, was murdered in 2006. It was a real turning point in my life and the first time that one of these deaths really hit me. I went to his memorial service and came out saying: 'I've got to do something.' I wanted to make young people take note and see what was going on - people are dying on your doorsteps, can't you see - and I knew early on that I would do something visual. That's when I came up with the STOP image.

Young people tune in to what people are wearing, and I wanted to tap into that. I'd go to college in the morning then hand-paint STOP T-shirts at night, and give them to my friends. The demand for them grew and I started giving speeches in my spare time - at schools, youth clubs and youth prisons. Now people are looking to duplicate the campaign in other cities - Bristol and even LA. I can relate to the young boys who go out with knives. I don't think they are mindless thugs. It's just that they've made the wrong decisions and they need help. The kids who don't really want to get into gangs but feel they have to in order to survive - these are the ones I'm trying to inspire.

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