It's gone 3am but I'm suffering one of my periodic bouts of insomnia and have given up trying to get to sleep. BBC News 24 is trailing a Government announcement due later this week on new measures to tackle knife crime. It's an issue I've felt I ought to say something about on this blog, but it's difficult to get beyond the 'isn't it dreadful and something ought to be done about it' stage. And yes, I know, people look to politicians to come up with the answers, but sometimes it's not as easy as that. Certainly in Bristol there has been some good work involving ex-gang members and young people talking about gun crime, knife crime and drugs, and I've met with a number of community activists over recent months to discuss what more can be done. (Things like providing better role models, mentoring, raising aspirations, giving young people places to go and things to do). I've discussed the issue with school pupils too but, as ever, that doesn't mean I'm speaking to the right young people. That's why I found Erwin James' piece in Saturday's Guardian fascinating as he actually talks to young offenders serving prison sentences for knife-related offences. I've long been a fan of his writing; I used to read his A Life Inside columns avidly, and bought several copies as presents for people when they were made into a book. He now has a blog, which should be worth keeping an eye on.
On Friday I went to the official opening of Bristol Metropolitan College (formerly Whitefield Fishponds School). The entertainment included some drumming, singing, Cuban dancing and - my favourite - a group of young rap dancers. Some of them were adorable - although I'm sure they wouldn't thank me for saying it - including young Elijah who did a back-flip and stole the show. (I told him I'd mention him on my website. He's definitely a star in the making.)
The performance made me think. The young dancers were mimicking gang culture; bandanas covering the lower half of their faces, and squaring up to each other with their dance moves . Does this matter? It's an old debate of course, whether rap music glorifies guns and violence (not to mention degrading women), and whether young people treat this just as escapist entertainment or seek to emulate the lifestyle. Or are they drawn to the music because it records their own experiences? I think it's probably the latter.
Difficult territory for a politician though; David Cameron got into a little bit of trouble a couple of years ago for saying rap music 'encourages young people to carry guns and knives'. As that article points out, however, it's not unique to rap music: I could point to the Clash's Last Gang in Town, or Morrissey's First of the Gang to Die; they're not glorifying gang violence, but could perhaps be accused of romanticising it, even though both songs have an anti-gang message. But unwittingly encouraging young people to take up knives and join gangs? No. (Actually there are endless Clash songs which could be cited: what about Guns of Brixton? Tho' I think that got a bit of stick at the time).
I'm not familiar enough with rap music to judge whether it's much different; most of the stuff I hear tends to be about girls and cars and drinking Krystal and flashing lots of money around. Which might encourage materialism and misogyny, but not violence. Eminem is a comic book genius, and I can't believe anyone takes him seriously. And a lot of the rappers in the charts are just big softies. I'm inclined to the view that there's not really any difference between the young lads in their bandanas and my contemporaries scrawling 'Anarchy' and 'Destroy' on their leather jackets. Whatever leads them to take up knives, I don't think it's the music they listen to.
It's now nearly 4.30am - where did the time go? That's what happens when you start surfing. Time for bed.