Monday, 2 November 2009

Gun Crime - No Easy Answers

I've written and rewritten this piece several times now - hence the delay in posting anything for a few days, for which I apologise.

I've rewritten it so much because it's hard to comment on the violent death of a 15 year old with anything other than tired platitudes. It's particularly difficult to do so when that person died not five minutes walk away from where you live. It's even harder still when you are certain that his death won't be the last of its kind in the area.

I am, of course, referring to the shootings on Howard Road last Monday - shootings which seem to have involved one group of local teenage boys trying to kill another group of local boys - and in one case, succeeding.

There's one school of thought which argues that, in cases like these, politicians shouldn't say anything at all. I can understand that - after all, so many political proclamations are nothing but thinly veiled pleas for electoral support...insincere and counterproductive pledges to 'get tough', or equally vague references to 'Broken Britain'. Despite this, I think that it is a duty for politicians to try to understand situations like this...because they are, without a doubt, political.

Yes, there will always be murders, and yes - young boys will always act out their aggression in some form or another - but the form which that aggression is taking in our communities today is a result of the society we live in...the society that has been fashioned for us.

In some previous posts, I've talked about the impact that inequality has in the UK, and pointed to the shocking rates of poverty in Hackney. In the hope that a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps this map of deprivation and gang activity in London (thank you to The Communard for pointing me to this) might make my point on this topic, too.

These young people, these children (because that is, usually, what they are), are not inherently evil. They are not born sociopaths. They are reacting to a society which tells them that they are worth nothing, which fails to support their development and growth, which destroys their communities and tramples on their dreams - and they are reacting by forming for themselves the only communities which they know - communities of violence, of tightly knit bonds between peers for whom status competition is everything, because they know nothing else will get them anywhere.

No politician can give an easy answer on the topic of gangs, violent crime and youth disaffection. There are no easy answers, and indeed politicians can only do a limited amount. This is a political problem, not just an electoral one, and it involves the whole 'polis'. It will only really be solved in the way that inequality will really be solved - by ordinary people organising in their own communities, from the grassroots up, and by society as a whole providing a future for these young men that is worth living.

I'm going to try to support initiatives that recreate solidarity, cohesion and power in our communities - but support is all I can do. It's up to all of us to do this - and if we wait for MPs, or the Council to wave a magic wand, we're going to be waiting a long time. Lets take this Howard Road wake-up call, and resolve, today, to start modelling in our own lives and neighbourhoods the way things could be...the way they should be. And at the same time, lets keep fighting for an end to the economic system that is keeping so many people of all ages in the kind of despair that breeds this violence.


  1. I agree with you, although obviously would state out that there is still the minority of people that are born psychopathic or develop mental conditions when they get older that lead to violence.

    I lived in hackney last year and live in mile end now, I guess I'd be suprised if i didn't see a crime scene due to a fatal shooting or stabbing every six months.

    The problems are to a large extent created by the social systems that we live in however. It is interesting how Borris Johnson has suddenly stopped talking about youth crime culture when it was all he ever did talk about before he got into power and has done next to nothing about it.

    Putting temporary metal detectors into the odd tube station for 2 or 3 days isn't going to solve it. The reality is that this is indicative of the existing political system, even local councils, although better, have priorities that in themselves produce inequalities and social problems that mean the poor are always pushed to the bottom. Such priorities include - promoting big buisness, sporting events etc...

    And i did like your diagram. If someone is priviledged enough to have a wide variety of opportunities avaliable to them, the likelihood of them carrying out some hate or anger fueled attack is incredibly diminished.

    It also doesn't help that what is left of local communities tend to, and to a large extent this is justified, put up enormous barriers against groups of youths. This climate of fear, isolates the youth even more from a society in which they could gain great fulfilment and pleasure from contributing productively.

  2. Matt,

    I could not agree more with your systemic analysis of youth crime and violence. We must work on the causes of these challenges. While deterrence and punishment are also necessary, we are only treating symptoms when we fail to address the deprivation and hopelessness that underlie this disease.

    I admire your courage in speaking out so thoughtfully about this issue when - in their alarm - voters are more interested in 'getting tough on crime.'

    Thank you!

    Rev. Andy Pakula