Children and Violence

How can we let children live in fear? As soon as we saw the gun, we knew what was going to happen. We all leant forward, hundreds of us watching the flickering film, and all around me in the school in east London I could see the anxious faces of the children. Some of them were averting their eyes, or staring through splayed fingers; and then - Bang! - came the inevitable shot, and a gasp went up from the audience as the life of another child began to leak away, like the lives of the 21 teenagers who have died in London this year, shot or stabbed at the hands of other teenagers. And then it was the climax of the show, and a hip-hop group called Green Jade came on, and started singing a very catchy number all about what it was like to be caught in the crossfire. It was called Brah-kah-kah, and on the instructions of Wizdom, the lead singer, we all started waving peace signs in the air. It would be an exaggeration to say that I understood every word of the lyrics. But I certainly understood the chorus, and I can still hear it in my head. "Brah-ka-kah", sang Wizdom, ducking and weaving his body like a man dodging bullets, and I looked at the singers making their Eminem gestures, flicking their fingers as though trying to rid them of a particularly irritating piece of Sellotape. I looked at the sign on the stage behind them, proclaiming that the project was called Gunz Down; and then I looked out again at that sea of rapt and innocent faces. And I had a flashback, and I remembered when I used to sit, just like these 11- to 13-year-olds, in the morning assembly of my inner-London school, and like them we all squatted in rows, cross-legged, and like them we chorused obediently at whatever the head teacher said. But I tell you something, folks. When we had morning assembly at my ILEA school in 1970s' Camden, we didn't have songs like Brah-kah-kah, all about what happens when someone starts firing a sub-machine gun - and nor, I bet, did any other pupils across the Greater London area. We had All Things Bright and Beautiful by Mrs C F Alexander and Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens. We didn't have people imploring us not to shoot each other. At the very most we were urged not to take sweets from strangers; and as I thought about my childhood, and the childhood of these children today, I realised how much had changed; and on behalf of my entire fortysomething generation, I had a spasm of collective guilt that we have managed to create a society so alarming that it seems quite normal for morning assembly to consist of an hour of sketches, homilies and songs about the dangers of guns. Worse still, you only have to talk to the head teacher, and to the police, to realise that the risk to some of these children is real, and terrifying. In some parts of the city, there are schoolchildren facing daily acts of violence. Bicycles are stolen. Mobile phones are stolen. The other day, a pupil at this school was beaten up for just crossing the road, because he had strayed from one post code to another. There have been two recent killings in the immediate vicinity of the school, and, though the school itself is safe, the warfare goes on outside - and it fills the rest of us, the bourgeois public of London - with an awful mixture of paranoia and indifference. We know about the hair-raising names of some of these 257 London gangs, such as KDM (for Kill Dem Pussies); and we scuttle ever more fearfully through certain areas. The public has become more alarmed about the risk of gun and knife crime, with 56 per cent believing that it has increased in their neighbourhood in the past five years; and yet we have also become desensitised to the horror, and every new stabbing or shooting seems somehow to slip lower and lower on the news agenda - to the point where murders of children, taking place a mile and a half from Westminster, have become as banal as a bus crash in some far-off country. We have read enough to become experts on the causes of the problem: the absence of parental control, the shortage of male role models. We know that the children are themselves afraid - afraid of failing to conform. We know that the gang has itself become a kind of sanctuary, where children can find affirmation and esteem and respect, even for doing terrible things; and yet we are failing to take the kind of urgent practical steps needed to address the root causes. We can do more to intercept guns, and we can have yet another crackdown on knives; but we can pass all the laws we like, and we can sweep every Kitchen Devil from the supermarket shelves, and we will not deal with the fundamental problem that, as long as children feel safer with a knife in their pocket, they will get hold of that knife. That's why I believe in the work of people such as Wizdom and Patrick Regan of Gunz Down. There was a brilliant passage in the show, in which Wizdom and a colleague acted out a classic flashpoint between two youths, over a £20 debt, and showed the children how to draw back from the brink of anger; and you could see the way it struck home. But a show such as Gunz Down takes time, and commitment, and money. The school paid £300 to have them, and yet it cost the group £2,000 to put it on. It would be tragic if good organisations such as this were not funded, just because some of its members are Christian in their inspiration, and when there was not a word of Bible-bashing or preaching from any of them. It would be tragic, because these organisations are helping to tackle the emotions behind the attacks and the killings. It's not the guns and the knives that are killing young people. It's the yawning lack of boundaries; it's the yearning for the wrong kind of respect, and above all it is fear.

16 thoughts on “Children and Violence”

  1. Two or three weeks ago a Chinese girl was attacked by the teenagers here in Southampton. The girl’s right eye was badly injured. Fortunately she is able to see with her right eye now, although not very clearly.

    When attacked, that Chinese girl was on the way to the University campus with her other nearly 10 classmates to attend the celebration party of the language course after her entry to the UK for about one month. She is supposed to begin her master’s degree now.

    This kind of tragic events do happen a lot here in Southampton.

    I am also a Chinese student and have been living in Southampton for more than four years. I can not remember how many times the teenagers here have thrown small stones, apples and whatever that are handy to me and my friends, not to mention their rude racist words, especially during the past two years.

    I am getting more and more scared. I am wondering why some of the parents in the UK just do not educate or care about their children.

  2. It is sweet that community/theatre groups try to re-educate school kids about guns but it really isn’t going to work is it?

    I mean, it should be clear to someone of the meanest intelligence that killing your schoolmates isn’t nice.

    Gang crime is due to changing populations. It

  3. Who would have thought Anthony Burgess would have hit the mark so accurately?

    No role models with an IQ higher than their football boot size or mass of gold around their necks (expressed in kilograms); violent movies and video games; the inability of the public to confront anyone without being hauled up before the police themselves; lack of community concensus; mass immigration. All the latter are contributing factors to lawlessness in modern society.

    My view, is very simple: As soon as someone steps outside the bounds of the law (mugging, violence, intimidation etc.), they should lose their rights and protection under the law.

    Bring back the birch! Hang some sense into the little b**t*rds!

  4. “Plus moral vacuum capitalism–a lot of it is as a consequece of that” (Peter)

    Yes, but NOBODY wants to look at the problem of capitalism in our society properly – not even those who aren’t actually profiting greatly from it – so nothing is going to change. Guns and crime are here to stay.

    It does surprise me how little discussion there is in England about capitalism as a phenomenon in itself. In Europe, on the other hand, there’s far more awareness of ‘good’ capitalism and ‘bad’ capitalism (or neoliberalism, as some groups call it) and not just amongst idealistic students or young people, but amongst adults around the dinner-tables.

    What do we get over here? The SWP (Socialist Workers Party) banging on about bringing down capitalism and “revolution as the only solution” (and who can take that seriously?), whilst those capable of more intelligent argument just don’t even dare touch the subject.

    I find it incredible. I can only put it down to the fact that the Europeans have so much a better quality of life than we do that they are far more wary of anything that might endanger it, and that includes the demands of excessive capitalism. The work-ethic over here, on the other hand, has worn everyone down to such an extent that nobody can tell the difference any more between what is pleasurable and what is not.

  5. What happened to the much-hyped gismo that can see metal through thick clothing from 20 paces?

    Police should watch every street gang with this equipment. At the first sign of weapons, shake them down and watch the hardware drop like autumn leaves. Then haul every one of them into court the next morning and give ’em hell.

    Persist with the operation, every night in every town and these punks would soon get the message.

    No random frisking involved, could be used at school too. The answer is staring us in the face but, once again, it needs police manpower.
    [Ed: didn’t it end up as an airport stripper – um, sorry, scanner?]

  6. It’s interesting; the points you made about the emotional reasons for joining gangs in the UK (“sanctuary, where children can find affirmation and esteem and respect, even for doing terrible things”) are exactly the recruiting sergeants for the favela gangs in Brazil.
    We really don’t want to see that horrific level of violence and utter lawlessness here, but it looks like we’re heading that way.

  7. That’s a Gordon Brown solution – try and deal with people problems with technology. They tend to be expensive, and largely ineffective.

  8. That’s a Gordon Brown solution – try and deal with people problems with technology. (Cap’n Badger)

    Heaven forbid! I agree entirely that throwing technology at a problem often doesn’t work, but a tool designed specifically to target this kind of menace would be extremely useful – and morally more acceptable than CCTV.

    It wouldn’t stop the formation of gangs but would certainly help to rid them of their most dangerous accoutrement. Isn’t that the whole idea?

    Ed – airport stripper? You’re teasing. No, this device is quite different from an airport metal detector which just… er… detects metal. It is an imaging device showing a clear outline of the object at some distance.

  9. To do what you say, it would use ultrasound and do a bunch of pattern recognition to put together the shape of hard objects under soft clothing.

    Don’t know too much about that, but I guess it doesn’t work yet or it would be used heavily in Iraq.

    I think the most dangerous accoutrement of johnny yob is his p*ss poor attitude. Ridding him of this will take more than some clever gadgets.

  10. Sorry to change the subject but I’m so very angry. I have just watched the BBC News on Al Gore getting the Nobel Prize, sharing it with the IPCC.

    Reporting the fact is fine. Making it the lead story, and letting it run seemingly for ever, smacks of poor news-value judgement. Furiously plugging a “climate change special” they have put together in celebration of the prize (magnificent excuse) is highly suspicious, since the BBC has already been stopped from staging its Warm Nose Day, or whatever it was to be called, after strong objections from people questioning its political balance.

    But what really wound me up was a short phrase from the commentator – the “dwindling number of climate sceptics”. Dwindling number? Almost everyone I talk to these days is deeply sceptical of the whole business. Their scepticism will now turn to disgust at the sight of a failed politician being sainted for pushing dodgy science at vast financial advantage to himself – ratified, if you please, by the once respected academics who pick the Nobel winners.

    Is there anyone left to respect? How much more if this can we take?

  11. Nice to see Boris getting his incredibly large brain around London and the present social (and future economic) problems in our capital city.

    I think the solution is more cricket in our schools. All schoolboys (how sexist of me) should bat and bowl in the nets instead of basketball in the winter, and outdoor cricket instead of softball in the summer.

    Nothing like a good net to work off that junkfood bowling and release that frustration with a few rasping cover drives.

    Can you imagine the Americans making their schoolkids play cricket instead of baseball, or rugby instead of American Football?

    We’ve imported too much US culture, not that I have anything against US culture, but our cops don’t have guns and most people want to keep it that way.

  12. All, or mostly true, both Boris and the comments. However, a good part of gang culture is also centred on finance and territory, capitalism in the raw, the drugs trade. It would be difficult, and probably pointless since gangs would simply grow new tentacles, to tackle one without tackling the other. The propensity of kids to use a knife might perhaps be better tackled as a separate problem.

  13. Boris (and the Gunz Down team) make a telling point that often kids don’t know how to back down / walk away – particularly if their home life features high levels of unmanaged aggression or histrionic behaviour. Showing kids that there is another practical way to deal with confrontation has got to be a good thing. Next step is to get the football “heroes” to accept referees’ decisions like the rugby players have to.

  14. The lack of physical recreational facilities aside; scouting, swimming and sports programmes, we live in an age when kids have more peaceful and beneficial pursuits available to them than ever before. We do seem to have the challenge of a child obesity problem to avert but still, in real terms, today’s generation of kids have more to do than my own peaceful and innocent generation of thirty years ago. So what has changed? It seems to me that the most obvious change has been the de-sensitisation of violence that has come about largely as a result of much more violent films and television being shown. In the same way that US war veterans who fought in Vietnam were de-sensitised our children are becoming so, encouraged by the decapitations etc. that they now see in all forms of media including their video “games”. From this new “entertainment” they are seeing the action but missing the pain it causes. In an age of DVD players an “X” certificate has no meaning. Do we really have to stop and think so hard to understand why they are using knives and guns?
    When I was ten, Zebedee told me to go to bed just before the six ‘o clock news and I did. The ten-year-olds of today could would never bother with The Magic Roundabout in the first place but if they did, they’d have “miles to go before they sleep” (perhaps in the form of “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”).

  15. I just spent a day in glasgow jail locked in with six prisoners waiting trial. What struck me was that these were grown men, several in their 30’s even 40 plus, yet when they opened their mouths absolute shite emerged. The jail talk made no sense whatsover, except to each other. It was like a parallel universe of fast talking, bullshit. Nowhere in that day did i hear anything that resembled a normal group interaction, except we had a black migrant in that cell. He was having a great time, speaking their game as well as playing his own. It appears that criminal behaviour attracts even more intelligent criminals to come here, so you can expect the problem to increase.

    My experience being on the inside rub, hearing the moral level justified prisoner to prisoner in the cells revealed to me that violence is the gateway to the majority of crime. These men percieve that they can resort to violence and still have some piece of their life to live for. The answer is to double, even triple sentences for violent crime, and think of non custodial ways to punish the other offences.

    When you have a clear line between violence and everything else, you effective shut the door to the majority of crime, as most if is relies on violent struggle or the threat of violence.

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