Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stop The Violence

Recently, a series of shootings involving young people have hit the headlines in Britain. These tragedies have ignited a debate about the issue of gun use among young people. Most recently, an 11-year old boy named Rhys Jones was shot dead by a youth riding a bmx bike while walking home in Croxteth, Liverpool.

The number of murders involving firearms in Britain is far smaller than in the United States, which is why they have had such a national media impact. Murders involving hand guns have actually fallen in the past year, and killings involving young people have actually fallen dramatically - by half - in recent years, not risen. The worry is that this could be a temporary lull. Woundings involving firearms have risen from around 850 woundings per year five years ago to around 4000 last year. Possibly more worrying is the much higher rise in the carrying of knives. People involved in the drugs trade are bringing weapons onto the street as part of their business and needlessly putting young people at risk. Even more irresponsibly, they are putting some of those weapons into the hands of young people, either when they dispose of them or when they recruit the impressionable into doing their errands. Worse, many of those young people who choose to carry a knife are not doing so because they want to be criminals, but because they feel scared in the communities that drug gangs are preying upon.

What is so sad is that young people are no different today than at any time in the past fifty years, and nor are the problems they encounter as they enter young adulthood. We should be able to surmount most of them and give every child a meaningful future. And most young people are reaching for that future. Young people today are working harder and achieving more in education than ever before. They are not irredeemable, as some tabloids like to assume. The trouble is that for the ones who do drop out and become dissaffected, they are less prepared for technical and trade careers, and there is now an established underworld that habitually uses guns and knives for 'respect' to fall into, should they happen to live in areas where the trade in drugs has grown. Over half of all incidents involving weapons occur in a handful of cities: London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool amongst them. So for those young people that we miss, the ones we fail, the consequences can be higher than they used to be in these communities.

So for all of us, if we want to stop the violence from escalating, we have to try harder to support young people. Spend time with them, do our jobs as parents and families, talk with them, set an example, work with our neighbours to put our neighbourhoods in order, help them with their schoolwork, make sure they do it, provide training in trades as well as academic subjects and office skills, improve the surroundings so they are safer, talk to them about the adult world before they are faced with it, stop bombarding them with commercials and commodities, play with them, set up clubs and run activities that give young people hobbies and interests, teach them how to talk to people and communicate, get young people involved in helping others, get the police on the beat again and people talking to them (people, you have to talk to the police if they are going to solve murders). As an aside, it wouldn't hurt if we could cut out the casual drug use at dinner parties and in university digs. They exacerbate the problems of communities they don't live in. Where do those people think drugs come from? A fairtrade stall?

Britain is still a remarkably safe place to grow up. What better time to start to make it even safer and fulfilling?


Gil Scott-Heron wrote today's song to comment upon the impact of hand-gun violence on urban communities in the USA, and the false sense of security that a weapon provides.

We have to get the message across to young people, across the world, that carrying a weapon might feel as if it provides protection and a sense of power in an adult world, but that in fact it will actually make their lives and community less safe. In the United Kingdom, the overwhelming majority of gun and knife wound victims (for in fact it is the carrying of knives that has actually risen more steeply) were carrying weapons of their own. It can act as a provocation to others who are carrying a weapon if you are known to carry or produce yours - the chances are that the other boy or girl is going to want to live up your your challenge, and you have just raised the stakes to a dangerous level. Now you are in this situation, the next step is more likely to be that you will use your weapon. The consequences are enormous and hard to take back.

Is that where you set out to be when you picked up that weapon and put it in your pocket?


Gil Scott-Heron - Gun (from Arista LP 'Reflections') 1981



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