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.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Shaun Bailey - the Tory tough guy

Shaun Bailey - the Tory tough guy

The fog on the Thames hung over Hammersmith as if from a Dickensian scene. I was out freezing my fingers to the bone, waiting for Shaun Bailey, prospective Conservative MP for North Kensington, who was meeting a mainstream men’s fashion magazine for an interview about his clothing. When, exactly, politicians became associated with style, I don’t know, but that, it seems, is the world we live in now. I took this opportunity during my internship to ask Mr. Bailey a few more pressing questions in an effort to get some insight in to what direction Mr. Cameron was taking the party.

Shaun Bailey is by no means your average Tory. He is a heavy set, bald headed black man, who was brought up by a single Mum in his constituency of North Kensington. He’s is proud to represent the community he grew up in, saying, “I understand it better than I do a community of pig farmers in Berkshire!” Perhaps having a dig at me, A Berkshire country boy, hijacking this photo-shoot for my own unsolicited and unauthorised interview. He claims he avoided the perils of an impoverished black community - drugs and violent crime - by getting involved in the army cadets, which taught him discipline and gave him what he describes as an appreciation for British culture.

I don’t doubt Mr. Bailey when he says he cares about his community; he has worked for years as a social worker and running charities to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds in Britain. Despite his admirable CV, his views come as a surprise on some issues. He says that Labour is ripping off the working class of Britain by making them dependent on the state. In his words, “we’re born with only one instinct, to suck.” I can see where he is coming from, but I wonder what alternatives he could propose to the welfare system.

Youth crime is a major issue to Bailey. He says he was stabbed, that crime is a problem and he blames things like MTV, which he says subjects impressionable young men to graphic sexual imagery, and glamorised violence which encourages dissidence and anti social behaviour. Despite this, he admits to being a fan of MTV bass and challenged me to watch the channel without feeling horny. I think I’ll pass. This struck me as somewhat ironic; I am not keen on MTV myself, and modern society is undoubtedly somewhat desensitised to sexual imagery in the media, but if he hates media institutions that broadcast sexual imagery so much ,what’s he doing on a shoot for a magazine whose front covers are often plastered with the greased up, spread legs of pop stars and actresses?

He has no time for liberal policy on crime, “The liberal democrats are ludicrous!” he says referring to the rival party's policies on crime. Clearly Bailey isn’t a supporter of the softly softly approach on young offenders, but I was unable to pin him down on exactly what measures he would like to see taken to reduce crime. Maybe something along the lines of the military discipline he experienced in his youth? After all, Cameron is calling for a return to conscription.

Race is clearly going to be an issue for a man like Bailey; he just doesn’t fit into the stereotype of a Conservative MP candidate. Race aside, he has an obvious London accent, and an easy-going humorous nature. He says his black mates see him on TV and are amused by his extensive vocabulary and tuxedos, although he admits, he only dresses very smartly when his party require him to, saying “you have to be a team player.” He feels that race is still an issue that needs to be resolved in Britain, supporting the notion of a public apology for the "atrocities of racism", which he believes would not only resolve feelings of victimisation amongst black communities but also would relieve middle class white guilt, which he identifies as being a source of a lot of problems in the nation. But how would yet more grovelling and apology relieve the issue of white guilt?

The photographer had asked him to bring some items with him that he liked, he brought an RC car, a CD of Martin Luther King speeches and most interestingly from my perspective, Frank Miller’s version of Batman “The Dark Knight Returns.” I couldn’t resist asking him about comic books, being a fan myself. His comic book fascination started for him, as with most, as a child. He got a job at a comic book shop on Portobello road (weirdly, so did I), which he said was the best job he could have imagined having (although his Mum was pretty pissed off when his boss used to pay him in comics). I said I was surprised he was a Batman fan, what with Batman being the rich kid of the superhero world; he didn’t seem bothered by this, saying that it was only Miller’s batman that intrigued him, on the grounds that the heroes he prefers are the ones who really "fuck up the villain". It seems you have to be cut throat in modern politics. His favourites in childhood were Hulk and Thor, and he admits that they had two major effects on him; firstly that he did a lot of weights to get beefed up like the toned bodies of his illustrated idols and secondly the idea that those who are strong should protect the weak.

So, is Shaun Bailey a super hero for Black British citizens? His intentions seem sincere, he is well respected within his constituency (several passing joggers and cyclists stop to pay their respects to him, one even asking how he could make a donation to the party, another bursting into a round of applause after overhearing his passionate speech to me and the stylist on the shoot). But I am ever the sceptic, whilst it is refreshing to hear some common sense being spoken from a politician, I get the feeling Cameron is assembling a team of faces that look good as opposed to a team of people regardless of race and gender who are best for the job.

Bailey stresses a difference from his beliefs and that of the Conservative party of the 80's. A Thatcherite he aint. He believes the NHS is a symbol of Britain and is appalled at how the Labour government have constructed a system of targets that are set by people with no real understanding of hospitals. He suggests giving power to the hospitals to run themselves; I inquire whether he supports any system of privatisation of the health service which, to my relief, he denies.

He is an outspoken euro-sceptic, saying that New Labour have put us so far in debt that even the French with their spiralling national debt are warning us,
“When the French say you're in too much debt, you’re in trouble!”
 He doesn’t go in to much detail about his mistrust of Europe, but makes it clear he thinks that European authorities and New Labour are ripping off the British public, and I could see he was pretty angry about that. He say that it is easier to jump onto a band wagon late than to jump from a sinking ship.

One issue which we touched on really intrigued me - getting back onto the subject of crime and the streets, I ask him about the new proposals for stop and search. Although these proposals are being made by Labour, its obvious the Tories will lap them up like a bat at blood. I realise that Bailey is likely to have a far better understanding of the realities of police oppression than me so I was surprised when he said he supported restoring police power for searching.
“You don’t seriously support a return to the suss laws do you?” I asked. His reply was difficult for me to argue with, “We’re the ones who get stopped and searched yeah?” referring to black men,
“but we’re also the ones who get shot and stabbed. I’ve been stabbed, It’s not fun!”

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Your Body is not Your own!

And so it came to pass that all men would unite and become one in the eternal struggle against their own limitations!

The following is a satirical article written in 2008 regarding the threat posed to bodily integrity.

Put aside the arrogance of the sociopathic belief that you may allow your body to bend and twist in the ceaselessly flowing waters of time! No longer shall it be acceptable for a man’s skin to wrinkle and temples grey, just as an oak’s trunk twists and knots, and its leaves wither and die with each autumn. Repent those among ye who believe your bodies to be your own! Like a rented vehicle on a lost weekend, you dare to call damage to your body irrelevant as long as the present is a time which brings meaning and joy to your life. You are sick for thinking this and shall not be forgiven; not by your god, not by your employer, not by society and not by your government!

You have been lent a tool for the benefit of others. Whether or not you wanted this gift is irrelevant. It is yours and you must carry it to a death that is no more yours than life. To prolong the usefulness of this implement is the means by which you may earn praise from your masters. The maintenance of these tools is an extremely costly and tiresome affair. The NHS saves the weak and the selfish with the credit earned by the sweat and blood of all those that have preceded you and those with whom you coexist. Give thanks to your superiors for they are merciful to spare you the uncertainty of death in favour of a guarantee of unnecessarily prolonged suffering, and increased productivity. For the harder you work, the more the suffering of your existence will become apparent and the more grateful you will be that you exist. You prolong the lives of countless others who would sooner be dead, had they the means to comprehend the futility of their efforts. If they were selfish enough not to see the glory of the communal will, they would merely exist as individuals with the concerns, hopes, fears and convictions that an isolated mind must suffer instead of choosing to shut out those negative thought processes and acknowledge one's existence as a part of a whole, a whole whose movements and intentions are beyond the simplistic understanding of individual thought.

It is these selfish thinkers who are draining our society of its momentum. They disrupt the productivity of the hive by refusing to acknowledge it as a greater form of good. Any work done against the will of the whole is counter productive and a naïve waste of precious life resources. Any communication made to gods outside designated centres of worship, is not worship but insanity. It is the mind of the individual turned in on itself and against the rest of us. It is time these types were rooted out and made to pay for their arrogance!

You see, whenever a man chooses to stay home with his family, he abandons his responsibility to the whole. Whenever a man takes a drink, he vandalises the vehicle which is a part of the whole and in his ungracious arrogance insults those who have nurtured his life to this stage! It is time that all men in our land are made to eat, drink and lead lifestyles which ensure their body projects an image that is pleasing to the eye of those that perceive it, particularly the all seeing eye of your master. Ageing has been accepted as an unstoppable force by those weak willed fools who would bow before death as inevitability. Those who bow to death turn their heads on our great society! Decay is to be hidden, so as not to offend those, who, upon beholding the grim spectre of age are reminded of their own mortality and thus may be fooled into believing their contribution to the whole is futile!

When your teeth fall out you must wear dentures,

When your hair greys you must dye it to feign youth and deny death!

When your interests become outdated, speak not of them to the young, lest you remind them of how easily ideals and cultures are trodden under foot as the stampede of modernity presses on ever harder, crushing those who can’t keep up, just as those who push in the opposite direction shall be crushed also.

When your face becomes wrinkled you will buy the appropriate creams, balms and lotions to defy time itself. So too must you follow the command of your superiors made clear for you in bold print on glossy paper, you will buy exactly what you are told to;

what berry from foreign land,

what teas,

what chemical supplements and new-age dietary requirements are dictated to you.

You are responsible for maintaining your body, because it is not yours, it is ours and if you fail to look after it sufficiently, you will have to answer not to a God, but to us, and the We. The whole is what really matters!

If you should fail to heed the relentless warnings from your masters, from magazines and TV screens, then you should feel the shame that the whole will bestow upon you for your arrogance. It is sociopathic in this day and age to expect your comrades to endure the sight of unconventional aesthetics. Your face, your body, or even your character shall be surgically restored so as to be comparable to a model of youth, subservience and functionality.

Technology must be used to make up for the mistakes of nature!

Not only shall time be our enemy, so too shall space!

Your thoughts must be made public as mine are now; your visage must be broadcasted to all who wish to see it. Your movements must be recorded and monitored, for your safety and for the safety of society; to remain in a small community is to accept inferiority, to be an object of ridicule for all. How dare you think you have the right to restrict the potential contribution your body could make to society by serving those only in the immediate area of your origin. You will not be able to stay anywhere for long now, as movement is to be a necessity, and all movement shall be monitored by your masters, as every movement is a drip of water added to the information ocean that is assembled for our protection. Do not avoid the watchful gaze of your electronic guardians, perched atop schools, banks, post offices and churches, these cybernetic gargoyles are our new angels, informing our lords of all our activities, punishing those who oppose the will of the masses.

Do not participate in public protest, know only what you need to. You need not identify your enemy, nor ask yourself moral questions, for the limitations of acceptable ethical boundaries will be made clear to you by the media. Your enemies may be your neighbours or they may be of a strange alien culture, in any case, you need not know of their beliefs, nor their motives, only their intent to disrupt the stability of the whole. You will ostracise and victimise those who attempt to distribute information that makes people feel uncomfortable. For the discomfort of the listener is surely evidence that the words falling from the speakers' lips are poison, and that they are intended to cloud your judgement and undermine the integrity of a united society. The discomfort felt when you hear people speak of difference is evidence of your loyalty and obedience. Be proud of this and hate those who would challenge our belief system. They are demons and disorder is their only desire. Suspect them everywhere, seek them everywhere, and when you find them, show them no mercy. You need not pity those who turn their backs on the stability of united society; they have polluted their minds with hatred and their bodies with toxins.

For your own sake, be pure of mind, think of yourself only in the pluralistic sense, be pure of body, accept only the toxins authorised for consumption by your superiors. For your body and your mind are not your own and are needed for the pursuit of higher things than you could possibly comprehend. Above all remain useful.

Rowsell 18/02/2008

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