Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Layer 57 Summer In The City V . . . Knives and Death on the Streets

A young woman in her twenties was stabbed to death in the Bellenden area of Peckham last night, according to the radio this morning. I drove through that part of the city at the weekend, and to look at it on a sunny afternoon you’d never imagine such things could happen there. Decent streets full of decent Victorian terrace housing, nice shops and restaurants, good-looking people going about their business. So much for appearances.

Because of my personal connection with this area - I have friends who live there and friends who work there - I now find myself wondering about the victim and the circumstances of her death. What was she like? Was she one of those well-dressed good-looking people I noticed on Saturday? Or was she one of the noisy, rowdy, aggressive types you can come across on buses and in bars and pubs? Women with ‘attitude’.

Not that it should make any difference. No-one deserves to live more than anyone else, and no-one deserves to die more than anyone else. Killing is vile and obscene, no matter who it happens to.

Whoever was responsible for this crime was either in the grip of dangerous and destructive emotions, or was a psychotic, a psychopath. We can be sure of that. If the latter, then were they being treated for their illness? What sort of treatment were they being given? Had they been identified as being in need of treatment? And if not, why not?

If the former, then why has this individual not been taught how to exercise control over destructive emotions? Has their experience of our education system made any difference at all to their ability to recognise the onset of overwhelming and destructive emotions, and their experience in school offered them strategies for coping with such swamping?

Has their experience of formal education taught them anything at all about allowing anger to grip them and drive them? Have they learnt anything about self-control? About the sanctity of life? About the foolishness of carrying dangerous weapons, and a willingness to use them? About human values?

And if not, why not? Was it because there are no exam passes to be gained in these areas of learning, and because time taken to concentrate on these forms of learning is time taken away from the ‘subjects’ that will be examined?

Did they spend any time studying the effects of desires such as revenge? Maybe this was a revenge killing. Maybe it was another girl who committed this crime, or someone committed it on behalf of a girl who had been insulted by someone, or who’d had her boyfriend taken from her by a rival. Have any of our young people spent sufficient time studying phenomena such as jealousy and envy, and how these afflictions often turn into destructive and seemingly uncontrollable emotions?

How on earth are young people supposed to know about combating and neutralizing intense and harmful emotions? How on earth can they be expected to resist the surrounding culture’s insistence that you must to inflict physical violence on anyone who shows you ‘disrespect’? Anyone who ‘cuts their eyes’ or ‘sucks their teeth’ at you? Anyone who ‘blanks’ you? Anyone who comes on to ‘your’ estate or ‘your’ part of town who doesn’t live there themselves?

Well-meaning commentators really have no idea about how life is really lived on the streets in the inner cities. Those same streets of respectable terraced houses contain hundreds of angry and explosive teenagers and young adults, even older adults, who live all their days with anger and hatred in their hearts, often with drugs in their veins (including legal drugs like alcohol) and no understanding of why they feel the way they do, let alone what they should do to change anything. The same applies to the sprawling estates and the tower blocks.

They feel lonely, unloved and hopeless. They can even be one of those who live with family and friends - because those people are also suffering from various sorts of emotional and spiritual sickness. They hate themselves, they hate the world, and they’re ready to inflict their unhappiness and their hatred on other people. Nobody who is basically happy or even content most of the time will go out with intent to kill, with intent to use a weapon. We’ll come to the pursuit of happiness in a moment.

Sullen, resentful, angry, mean-spirited individuals roam our streets. They don’t know why they feel this way, and they have no idea how to stop feeling this way. And in a sense, why should they? Why should they care? Nobody ever cared about them. Their lives have been full of bullying and regimenting, often by a system of schooling that makes them do the very things they hate doing and deprives them of opportunities to do the things they most enjoy doing. There are hundreds of wonderful teachers, but they’re not at liberty to really affect the timetabling, the scheduling, the cramming, the rote-learning, the deprivation of individual liberty, and choice, and self-determination.

I even fear for four year olds, who, on entering many a nursery soon find that they are expected to fit a mould, and do everything to order, everything to suit the teachers. Some can ‘fit in’, and some can’t. The roots of disaffection and low self-esteem can start here, or in the home, or both. God help those for whom it’s both.

Is it any wonder that kids bond together on the basis of their mutual resentment and hostility to what they’re made to endure? Even if they can’t love one another, because they have no capacity to love, they can at least ‘respect’ one another, and earn extra ‘respect’ points from one another on the basis of how rebellious, how assertive, how aggressive they can be. And so it goes.

They need smart trainers, they need drugs, they need ‘bling’, and they’re prepared to go out and rob and steal to get these things. And why do they concern themselves with material things to such a degree? Well - what else is there? They have no-one to love, no-one to love them, no capacity for love, and nothing else in their miserable, mean lives that could be called a passion. Nothing that fills them with delight, or a sense of accomplishment, or enthusiasm, or plain enjoyment.

They watch violent DVDs, in which tough guys ‘take care of business’. They play video games, in which the same things happen. It’s kill or be killed. This is how the world is, isn’t it? They listen to music whose lyrics extol aggression and ‘toughness’, whose ethic is basically do your own thing, get what you want, show the world how rough you can be, especially if anyone tries to get in your way. Ideal music for wimps and losers and messed-up teenagers trying to work out who they are and where they belong, if anywhere.

Because they certainly don’t belong in the world where decent people who have studied and worked hard have a decent life. They don’t know how to do those things and they don’t care to either. They have no idea how to engage, and no-one reaches out and shows them either. It’s play the game our way, or get out.

None of these things are new, of course. It’s just the intensity nowadays. Nobody dares to challenge feral kids on the streets and on the buses because of the likelihood they’ll be kicked or stabbed, or even shot. They was a time when an adult might receive a mouthful of ‘cheek’ for intervening in rowdiness or disorderly or drunken conduct, but nowadays that would be a mild comeback compared with the likely consequences for trying to be a good citizen. We’ve all heard the cases of guys killed or stabbed outside their own homes because they dared to challenge a noisy gang.

A couple of weeks ago I was visiting Ashburton, in rural Devon, and heard about a shopkeeper who was stabbed in his shop in the middle of the high street, in the middle of the day, for no apparent reason. It can happen anywhere.

Nobody who is spiritually and emotionally intelligent can possibly carry a knife. Therefore nobody who is spiritually and emotionally intelligent can possibly commit knife crime. This is the glaring truth. So why aren’t we helping young people to become spiritually and emotionally intelligent? The glaring truth tells us that it’s because we don’t care to, we don’t see the need to, and all too often we don’t know how to. We might pay lip service to these things, but we don’t seriously do anything about them, especially in our toughest areas, our toughest schools.

Whereas - there are lots of kids who have done well in examinations and tests of so-called academic ability who have committed, and will commit in the future, all sorts of crimes. What does this tell us about where our priorities lie as a nation?


Here’s the latest news report from the ITN website:

Gang culture based on drugs and violence has replaced family to become a way of life, a leading chief constable has warned.

Barbara Wilding, the Chief Constable of South Wales, said tribal loyalty had replaced family loyalty in some deprived areas.

She said custody could only provide a short term solution, with policies based primarily on enforcement "set on sand".

Ms Wilding reportedly said: "In many of our larger cities, in areas of extreme deprivation, there are almost feral groups of very angry young people.

"Many have experienced family breakdown, and in place of parental and family role models, the gang culture is now established. Tribal loyalty has replaced family loyalty and gang culture based on violence and drugs is a way of life."

The remarks come after the murder of 16-year-old Ben Kinsella, who was stabbed to death in Islington, North London, at the weekend. He became the 17th teenager to be murdered in London this year.

Ms Wilding, a former Deputy Assistant Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, said the focus should be on tackling the complex social and economic causes that underlie criminal behaviour.
Ms Wilding, who read criminology at London University, was awarded a CBE for services to policing in the Queen's 80th birthday honours list.

Home secretary Jacqui Smith has vowed to tackle knife crime in the UK in the wake of the latest fatal stabbing. She said: "This is only something that we can solve if we come together - Government, police, young people, community groups - in the same way that we've done tackling guns and gangs."


Oh really, Ms Smith? Has anyone ever heard such a load of platitudinous and meaningless nonsense? If they do it in the same way they’ve tackled guns and gangs then surely they shouldn’t bother? Her ‘vow’ doesn’t mean a thing. She’s completely missing the point, which was very well made by Barbera Wilding in the speech reported on by ITN.

But as for doing what Ms Wilding suggests and “tackling the complex social and economic causes that underlie criminal behaviour“ - we haven’t even begun to reach a consensus on what they are and how much effort and resources we’ve prepared to devote to such work. Time to begin, anyone?

More news from ITN:

A woman has died after being stabbed in south east London.

The victim, believed to be in her 20s, received a wound to her upper body during the attack at around 11pm outside a Lidl supermarket just off Peckham High Street. The woman was taken to Kings College Hospital but was pronounced dead shortly after midnight.

The controller of a nearby taxi firm said a group of ten to 20 girls were seen at the scene of the crime shortly before or at the time of the incident. The man, who did not wish to be named, added that it was a well-known trouble spot.

He said: "It is happening around here almost every night. At around 7 to 8pm people arrive and start drinking in the streets. They lose their brains and it turns violent."

The incident comes amid growing concern over knife crime in the capital. Hundreds of teenagers took to the streets as part of a protest following the death of 16-year-old Ben Kinsella over the weekend. He became the 17th teenager to die a violent death in London since the beginning of the year.

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