As Liverpool mourns the death of an 11 year old boy, shot by another teenage boy on a bike the politicians are quick to come forward to claim they have the answer and will be implementing a series of strategies, the opposition claim in fact they have the answer and will implement a load of different strategies. Forgive my cynicism but I fail to see either of their chosen paths particularly relevent.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith thinks that a border force will stop people and guns from getting in. I’m sure that the Home Office is not at all jumping on the chance to slip some more anti-immigration legislation through tacked to some rhetoric about it being designed to get guns off our streets.
Conservative leader David Cameron’s answer is to give tax breaks to married couples, amounting most likely to around £20 a week. How they can see this as a panacea one can only speculate. I don’t know if they have really studied the figures or whether they, like Labour, have chosen to tailor make the problem to fit the solution they already wish to put in place anyway. Do they really feel that children from 2 parent families will never offend and that the culture that exists today will go away if parents are given a spare tenner each of a week. This is utter lunacy. I have a suspicion that many of the statistics that the Tories use come from a comparison that transcends local boundaries. Middle class children are less likely to offend, this is because their parents are often able to give them activities, a breadth of experience, some realistic chance of an education and employment not merely the fact that there may be 2 parents still together. It is true that a dual parent income may well enable a different upbringing but if the state provides things as it should be doing this fact will become an irrelevance.
The actual context of this area of Liverpool stems from the rivalry between the Croxteth Crew and the Strand Crew. This part of the city is pretty characterised by sink housing, unemployment, poverty and under-investment. There is little or no infrastructure in these areas nothing for children to do, same old story as in cities across the country. When the news crews did talk to Local councillors the message was clear that they didn’t feel that investment was coming in the area, and this combined with and contributed to a lack of education and jobs. Children from empoverished parents, and it doesn’t matter in this environment whether it be one or two parents present, see large sums of money and kudos changing hands in the gang and drug culture is it any wonder that it is a lure for some. Furthermore there is widespread evidence that those who choose not to get involved are persecuted as outsiders. This sort of peer pressure is already rife in children of these impressionable ages, if all your friends are dealing drugs and making money and carrying weapons…
A recent survey stated that Liverpool and Manchester were the easiest places in the country to get firearms. Whilst still a comparitively new and shocking phenomenon it is clear that this sort of crime is on the rise. As a whole crime remains in a slight downward trend over the long-term but in the short-term violent crime is increasing especially in specific city areas.
Children this age feel they are invincible, this is nothing new, we have all been there, the consequences of actions simply do not happen to us, statistics and warnings are only for those on paper. Kids used to go out mugging when I was growing up, occasionally they’d have got hold of a piece of wood or a flick knife, this was relatively common in the shit parts of West London I grew up in. Guns were pretty much confined to the US and the big boys. There weren’t a lot of guns on the streets but the mentality was there to use them of they were. The idea of carrying to protect oneself was a normal gambit for many I knew who carried knives. I carried one until someone made it clear to me that if you carry it you have to be prepared to use it and after pondering on this a while I decided I probably wouldn’t be.
Every now and again such an example will be deemed so terrible that it makes national headlines, but the events in cities such as Nottingham and parts of London barely make a ripple these days. Gun crime may be extreme but these days only murders tend to make the national news and it is generally put down to gang crime. People are shot with increasing regularity and kids are amongst the dead and wounded all the time.
When this does make the news we have a seeming scrum to offer opinions before 2 days later it has all died down. What is going on in the interim time before the next story? It would apear not a great deal. A policy being floated now is that witnesses will be compelled to give evidence and police claim, as always, that they will protect them. Their record on this is not good. This fails to take account of the fact that it is not cool to be a grass and those who are perceived to be so, whether or not there is any foundation in the accusation, are often beaten up, ostracised, mistrusted etc. Add to this the fact that if you are the wrong colour in the wrong place at the wrong time the police will stop and search or randomly arrest, this happens daily to black and asian youths alike depending on which area you are in and whom the police feel is the greatest threat. A culture of hating the police for their bigotry, harrassment and racism is becoming more and more engrained. This is not a environment conducive to obtaining information and whilst it persists the police will always be fighting a rearguard action.
A big deal has been made of the fact that the parents responsible for young offenders didn’t know where they were when they were committing the crimes. I know full well that when I was younger and went to school on my own on the bus I had the opportunity to get into trouble which I sometimes took and my Mother was not aware of where I was at a specific moment in time because she relied on good faith that I was getting the bus into school as I had been told. Should she have never let me out of her sight, I don’t believe this would have been good for my upbringing or self-reliance or social interaction.
It is being cited that central to this issue is that of home life but to my mind that is largely missing the point. Children do not spend all their time at home nor should they do so. We have to keep a healthy balance between allowing our children progressive freedom in order to face the outside world and facing the people in it and keeping them safe. Were our streets to be safe now we would have far less worry. The lack of social cohesion is always going to bite us in the arse and if we do not tackle this then no money, tax breaks or more plod is going to make much difference.
Looking at the youth as an entity is like holding up a mirror to our future. If we do not want things to escalate as they have done in the US where gun crime is far more normal then we must act now to give young people inclusion and a stake in the community in which they live. You cannot expect them to care for people or places when they have grown up in a culture that sees them only as a nuisance and to be locked up after the sun goes down. To my mind there should be a form of national service, it should be gender agnostic and put school leavers of 16 to work for 2 years and leavers of 18 for 1 year if going to University/Technical College (it is important not to favour merely the academic as this is not the only form of education) or 18 months if they are not going into some form of tertiary education. No buts, no exemptions. The work should be in hospitals, youth clubs, old folks homes, drying out hostels, nurseries. Everyone should get the chance to try these things out it is good for the community and good for the individual.
It can be achieved, even in this modern world but the will has to be there and at present that is open to question. Canada is right next to the US and yet it does not have the same level of gun crime as the US despite gun ownership being of similar proportion. If you invest with this in mind you are taking care of the future, it’s a bit of a no-brainer. But it has to be an integrated policy and it has to be continuous, there is no quick fix and there never will be. Until we start to address this we will watch young people kill themselves.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
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