Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Crime down your way

There's a joke that goes around my neck of the woods that the police round here don't bother taking down those yellow crime scene 'can you help boards' - they just change the wording around. By any standards it is not a good area for crime - especially street crime. 

The recent stabbing of four teenagers - one of them killed - was only a couple of blocks away from my front door. (Incidentally what was originally portrayed as an example of gang-culture now looks to have been  the tragic result of a generation of 'care in the community' policies involving  an outpatient of a local mental health facility). But knife crime here  does seem to an epidemic  and the regular killing of  local kids - usually working class and often black - doesn't even make it beyond the local news.

And that does make me pause for a moment- as a teenager I seem to have found myself in inter-school (pre post-code wars) altercations about once a month. I took a few black eyes and split lips - but there was never for any moment the thought that anyone could die from these incidents. As a parent now  inevitably I feel for my kids growing up with the stakes so much higher. And I'm relieved that I have girls not boys who have to grow up having to  navigate  their way around gang politics.

But generally I don't give it too much thought. And neither I suspect do most other  people here - it is simply a fact of life -  and life goes on. So  I imagine that the police's recent publishing of the UK crime maps, despite painting a pretty damning picture of the area will not have caused much of a ripple locally - or in other areas like mine. 

But I do imagine it is of great interest to those middle classes who discuss house prices at dinner parties, estate agents who use the information as a sales tool, the police themselves trying to manipulate clear-up rates - and of course to politicians trying to play upon fear.   Fear of the unknown - the dark forces that lie only just up the road, and from which they are told they  need to differentiate and protect themselves. 

That's a dangerous phenomenon and one that Micheal Moore explores so effectively in Bowling For Columbine. In the US it's a fear that leads to gun-obsession and white-bread middle class families arming themselves out of fear of invasion from inner-city 'others'. It's different here in the UK  - turning up the heat on fear  is just another step in building up a willingness to extend police powers - like stop and search. And so we become just that little bit more willing to incrementally sacrifice our civil liberties in the name of safety.

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