Sunday, 24 February 2008

Youth Gone Wild - Violent Crime in the UK

You’ve probably seen the way the media have been crazy over youth crime for the past few months, but it’s hard to tell exactly what the deal is with young men in England being so prone to violent crime, what with the government telling us that crime is getting lower while public perception sees it is worse than ever.

This January’s headlines seem to have set the precedent for 2008, with 7 serious assaults committed by teenagers on victims whose ages ranged from 13 to 19 years.

  •  1st January – Henry Bolombi, 17 of Wyldfield Gardens, Lower Edmonton was stabbed to death near his home in Edmonton north London.
  •  14th January – a 16 year old girl was taken into an abandoned house in Tottenham by a gang of youths who raped her then burned her skin with caustic soda, police speculated this may have been an attempt to remove any DNA evidence. A 17 year old boy was charged in relation to the incident.
  •  16th January – A 13 year old girl suffered injuries to her leg and chest after being attacked with a craft knife. Her assailant, a 14 year old boy, had taken the knife from the art department at the sacred heart Roman Catholic school in Camberwell, London.
  • 21st January – 14 year old Jessica Knight was left fighting for her life in Manchester children’s hospital after she was found with multiple stab wounds by a passer by in Astley Park, in Chorley, Lancashire.
  •  21st January – 18 year old Louis Boduka, a student who was studying art and design at Southgate college was stabbed to death and another seriously injured outside shops in silver street, Edmonton. Detectives are investigating the possibility that the attack was connected to the murder of Henry Bolombi. Three youths aged 20, 16 and 14 were bailed to return in February, following their arrest and questioning at North London police stations.
  • 24th January – Alvin Cutts, 16, was seriously injured when a group of six teenagers attacked him, smashing his face with an iron bar, in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.
  • 26th January – Fuad Buraleh, 19 from Hayes, Middlesex, died from head wounds after an assault with a blunt instrument, in Ealing, West London.

The tabloids have been wallowing in the horror of these incidents, spitting their misdirected hatred and confusion at whatever scapegoats come to mind. The home office statistics show that the perception of crime is out of step with the reality but even they have had to acknowledge the fact that gun and knife related violent crimes are becoming more common place, and after all, these are the only crimes that really matter. Who gives a shit if the police are getting better at catching speeding motorists and shop lifters, when the streets are so unsafe that even Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was forced to admit (damaging the carefully spun web of New Labour lies) that she is afraid to walk the streets alone at night in parts of London. Fortunately for her, they managed to re-spin it later with a transparent statement about Smith visiting a kebab shop in Peckham.

A quarter of all gun crimes last year were committed by under 18’s according to a channel 4 documentary last month which also claimed that in Glasgow, children as young as five are joining gangs. The British Crime Survey statistics for 2006/7 showed that young men aged 16-24 were most at risk, with 13.8% experiencing a violent crime. I know from experience that being a young male makes you a target for gang violence as well as police oppression, but despite the fact that the media are demonising the youth of Britain, the BCS stats show that the majority of the British public (75%), are not confident that the criminal justice system treats young offenders fairly.

So we all know that young men are the most likely victims of gang violence, and also of the misguided police procedures and reactionary media responses that arise from it, but it is also the case that young men are the most likely cause of this phenomenon. An issue that prevents the problem being addressed effectively is that the most outspoken people on the matter are those who have the least understanding of it. Misinformation is widespread and figures are often taken out of context. In 2005 a survey carried out by MORI for the youth justice board, found that 32% of children said they had carried a knife in the last 12 months, but 85% of those said they did so only for protection. The fact is, that carrying a knife, despite police warnings, is a form of protection, more often than an assault weapon. As a youth I was myself challenged by a gang on an occasion I happened to be carrying a blade so I whipped it out and saw them off. Without it I have no doubt I would have been beaten and mugged, possibly worse. However, those found carrying weapons are thought to be aggressors when usually they are nothing more than scared children.

The use of the word gang is dangerous and inappropriate in most cases. If I had a son, I would be far happier he was out with a group of friends than alone, because in a group they are far less vulnerable. Young men who take initiative to protect themselves from changes in society that are beyond their control (rising crime and immigration) are being made to carry the cross for legislative mistakes made before they were even born. Roger Grimshaw, research director at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London, agrees. "What we might be talking about is a few friends or acquaintances getting into a conflict," he says. "It's talking it up to say 'gang'."

Identifying the source of this change is a politically loaded subject that should be approached with caution. The right wing press point the finger to immigration, break down of the family unit, rap music and video games. There is a lot of truth in these arguments, but the fact that all these have been about for decades does not explain the more recent acceleration in violent crime committed by teenagers. The liberal press and politicians blame the legal system and the police for victimising young men, following the idea that if you give a dog a bad name it will live up to it.

Despite the questionable intentions of the press and politicians I believe there may be elements of truth to these arguments, but they are by no means an explanation. There are, however, some people like psychologist and doctor, Leonard Sax, who have identified what I believe is the first hurdle at which young men fall and turn to gang violence, 21st century British education. Dr.Sax made this statement to The Times.

“The message that boys are getting from the age of 5 is that doing what the teacher wants is un-masculine. Let boys tap the table; let them jump up from their seat when asked to spell a word. It won’t disturb the boy next to them, Girls are bothered by extraneous noise levels 10 to 40 times lower than the levels that bother men.”

The educational system is clearly biased toward female learning, the competitive instinct is being suppressed and young men are being thrown out of school so that schools can meet targets for examination grades. It's better from the governor’s perspective to “ask them to leave” than be the school who has students achieving low marks which reflect badly on their teaching abilities. There is of course no reason for everyone to be an academic, but what with many retail and manual labour occupations being taken up by eager foreign workers, usually willing to work for less, the prospects for those entering the world of employment without skills or qualifications are grim.

Working class white boys are the worst achievers in modern education with the exception of gypsies. The reason for this is hard to determine, but we can be certain a large number of young men are being forced to leave school without any qualifications and little hope of employment, feeling nothing but resentment for a society that pushes them around like animals, labels them scum, kicks them out of school, takes their DNA on record and gives them ASBO’s for hanging out with their mates.

I certainly don't think new measures like the proposed metal detector gates in schools will do anything to alleviate feelings of victimisation in the minds of Britain's young men.
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