Monday 15 June 2009

Knife crime - an issue of upbringing rather than race.

Reading The Sunday Times like I always do at the weekend, I was reading Rod Liddle's comment column entitled ‘Ben’s murder was not racist – just a matter of statistics’. This was in reference to the murder of the North London teenager Ben Kinsella, whose murderers were convicted last week, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

I was slightly surprised by the title of his column, as I was never under the impression that Ben Kinsella’s murder was actually racist. If anything it seemed to be one of those tragic stories of someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

From what I could gather from Liddle’s piece, it seemed that he wanted to raise some honest home truths regarding the nature of violent crime in the UK, particularly in London. He went onto say:

‘The overwhelming bulk of street crime in London is committed by young black men, and in numerous cases against white people..’

Ok, on this first quote I don’t have any statistics to argue against this, but I’m quite confident in saying, particularly from news coverage, that the majority of victims of violent teenage street crime are teenagers from ethnic minorities.

Secondly, when it comes to the issue of knife crime I’ve read many statistics that say the city with the biggest knife problem in the UK is actually Glasgow, where the black population is almost minuscule, so I wouldn’t say that knife crime is something wholly exclusive to Britain’s black community.

In relation to gun crime he said:

‘…and the overwhelming majority of gun crime, most of it black on black violence’…….‘We skirt around this issue, mostly for decent, if deluding reasons - that a proportion of young black males is more likely to commit violent crime than other sectors of the population

I don't dispute the fact that much of today's gun crime is black on black, but I disagree with the statement that most poeple are skirting around the issue. The problems of gun and knife crime are constantly debated within black communities up and down the country, these debates might not always be played out in the mainstream media, but they’re definitely discussed. Secondly, I’m certainly not going to be offended if people, be they black or white want to highlight this point.

Much of Liddle’s column seemed to give the misguided assumption that much of the black community in this country have their heads buried in the sand when it comes to violent street crime, and that white middle class Liberals are quite happy to bend over backwards trying to make excuses for the criminal youth element in the black community. Liddle said further:

The propensity of some young black males to underachieve at school and later commit crimes of violence has been seen for too long as a roguish expression of cultural diversity, exacerbated by our own inherent racism and economic oppression; in other words, it’s not their fault.

Is it? If this really is the case I’m grateful that I didn’t grow up in a culture where this kind of nonsense was actually accepted, either by my own family or schoolteachers. What sort of people regardless of race or background seriously view committing violent crime as an expression of cultural diversity?

Rather predictably, the issue of ‘gangster rap’ was then raised, with Liddle claiming that liberal white culture likes to lap up this ‘edgy’ gangster culture.

What’s far more likely is that gangster rap is actually just part of Western capitalist culture’s obsession with the story of the criminal gangster. If this wasn’t the case, why have Hollywood gangster movies proved to be so popular and enduring over the years? Films such as The Godfather, Scarface (both versions) Goodfellars, to name but a few are regularly voted as timeless classics by film fans.

The truth is, regardless of race many people find the gangster narrative appealing. I certainly do, and I love those films mentioned above, but I don’t aspire to live that type of existence mainly due to my background and upbringing. My main concern with gangster rap is the depressing way that many black and white youngsters assume that this actually represents the only true and authentic black cultural experience.

Returning to the original issue of youth crime, the real problem is not necessarily about race, but more to do with how some children within this country are being raised. The killers of Ben Kinsella are part of what I would describe as a growing number of socially damaged children who grow up to become socially damaged adults. They do not have the skills or emotional intelligence to function normally in civil society.

Whenever there's a teenage murder, the media look to find answers; particularly form those people who have direct contact with some of today’s troubled youngsters. One person who is frequently called upon to provide some sort of insight is Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder and director of the children’s charity Kids Company.

The charity works with many vulnerable, abused and disadvantaged children who require emotional and educational support. I’ve read a number of interviews with Batmanghelidjh over the last couple of years and when you hear the stories of children that she has dealt with, you begin to realise that teenage knife crime in an inevitable consequence of children who have had such brutal and violent upbringings.

The sad fact is that many teenagers and young adults who commit such violent crimes do not feel any sympathy or remorse for their victims. They have been brought up in such a way that they hold very little value on their own lives; so see no reason why they should value anyone else’s.

Children raised in loving families with mothers and fathers, and extended family members will grow up with a sense of value about themselves and other people, along with good levels of self esteem. This is something which I believe many perpetrators of street crime simply do not experience.

This leads onto another issue, which tends to emerge with such crimes; this is the idea of 'respect' within urban street culture. It was reported in the case of Ben Kinsella that one of his killers believed they had been ‘disrespected’ by Ben and his friends. This excuse tends to crop up time and time again in these cases.

Many of these kids do not know the true meaning of the world respect, and actually have incredibly low levels of self-esteem. People with healthy levels of self-esteem do not feel the need to stab someone based on the fact that someone may have looked at them in the wrong way.

This seems to be the sort of trivial reason that many knife attacks are carried out. Again, I think this leads back to the upbringing of the young people involved. In an interview with the Independent in May 2008, Batmanghelidjh talked about the mindset of some of the youngsters she deals with:

If someone is rude to a psychologically "normal" person, that person might become annoyed, but they will probably dismiss it eventually and get on with their day. If one of these children experiences a perceived humiliation in public, it triggers overwhelmingly stressful memories of being abused as a child. There is no limit to how aggressive they might become. They are, unable to rationalise the situation, and are quite capable of murder.

I couldn’t agree more with such a statement, for many ‘normal’ people they will grow up earning respect. The will learn respect from having positive role models within their lives. At school, children will earn respect and gain self esteem through particpating in and achieving in academic studies or in sporting or musical activities. I believe many of these experiences are totally alien to the people who grow up to commit knife crime.

In interviews I’ve read, Batmanghelidjh has repeatedly talked of how she would like the public to view many of today’s violent youth crime as a public health issue. I understand and agree with this opinion. I think this idea needs to be promoted more in our views on street crime.

As for Rod Liddle, instead of trying to present his piece as a kind of ‘harsh home truths’ form of journalism, perhaps he could have made more of an effort to find out the views and experiences of those people directly involved in dealing with the issues related to knife crime.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article....I agree that it is important for young black people to have positive role models within their lives but I also feel that the upbringing issue needs to be looked into further. As a teacher I have witnessed many young black adults both male and female go the 'wrong path' and many times its only when you meet the parents or learn about their home life that the reasons for certain behaviours are better understood. However, on the other hand I have taught students from very difficult and un supportive home backgrounds that excel at school and on the other extreme students from very supportive stable families that choose the ‘wrong path’ and get into trouble.
    Therefore it is obvious that we cannot give a single one reason for black youth turning to crime even though many factors mentioned in your article do play a large part.