Sunday, 13 July 2008

First of the gang to die

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.


Glenn Vowles said...

I'm for putting a lot more resources into crime prevention and restorative justice, whatever the crime (but in particular violent crime).

We need to get people who commit knife/gun crime to confront reality, realise what they have done to all those who've suffered due to their actions. Get them meeting face to face with victims, their families and others in communities who've suffered.

Get them to take compensatory action as far as is possible, as part of their sentence eg it might sometimes be appropriate to get them working with teachers and pupils in schools or talking with key groups in communities. Its the beginning to positive change in the criminal and it can help victims and communities.

Its wrong-doing on a different level of course, but whilst teaching I've seen a lot of success with this kind of approach applied to bullying in schools.

A kind of local community level restorative justice project was being initiated in Knowle West this yr but with the loss of Neighbourhood Renewal Funding money for it may be in short supply now.

DaveA said...

I have to say I am disgusted by the politicians and "liberal" establishment, especially Labour. Eye catching initiatives, sympathy for common criminals and the assumption that you are dealing with rational human beings. Believe you me at from first hand experience (two atempted muggings, numerous physical threats) these subdegenerates are bullies, cowards and general scum. The only way you are going to reduce violent crime in this country is by jailing these people.

Frankly, in my opinion Labour has bordered on the negligent on crime. 10% of criminals in jail are non British nationals, why cannot we pay for them to serve their sentances in their country of birth (Human Rights Act). If we have to have 3 people to a cell so be it, another incentive not to commit crime. Carrying a knife in a public place should carry an automatic 2 year jail term.

Also marriage and two partner realtionships should be encouraged by taxation, discipline in schools restored and expulsions by the headmaster should be entirely respected.

The only person who, excuse the pun arrested and reduced crime in modern times was Michael Howard who sent more people to jail. His example should be followed.

DaveA said...

Beg your pardon David Blunkett also increased the use of prison and reduced crime too.

"Crime is falling - because prison works. Crime has fallen chiefly because more offenders are in prison. David Blunkett's plans to reduce prison numbers would see crime on the rise again".