Monday 1 August 2011

Inner city youth violence: more casualties than Afghanistan

The last decade has seen inner city youth violence kill more black youth in the UK than British soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

The current scale of youth violence in UK black communities is rarely understood by white mainstream society. There is a strong view among black communities that if such levels of serious youth violence and murder were occurring in white middle class communities this issue would be a matter of national concern.

The implication is clear: that as long as black youth are killing each other then nobody really cares. I was interested to try to get some scale on the scope and impact of these murders on our communities. How best could this be illustrated was my challenge and so I did a little research and what I found was quite shocking.

The black community experience over the last decade of serious violence and murder is comparable to that of a country at war. The numbers are compelling.

Since 2001 up to the 4th July 2011, a total of 375 British forces personnel or MOD civilians have died while serving in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001. Of these, 331 were killed as a result of hostile action.

Over the same period 298 black men and 67 black women were stabbed to death. 228 black men and 14 black women were shot dead. That’s a total of 607 black people murdered over the last decade.

The reality is that there is what can be reasonable described as a ‘small war ' going on within our communities.  There is no real support from either local authorities or central government for black communities seeking to deal with the wider consequences of such high levels of death and serious violence.

There is no real strategy or understanding from central Government or the media about the crisis we face or how best to deal with it.

As a result our suffering is largely in silence, there is little empathy for our plight and no acceptance that the drivers of violent crime, unemployment, poor schools, bad housing, the fear of crime and the dysfunctional families that result, are in need urgent attention.

What is equally not understood is the profound scale of the social and psychological damage, the damage to community morale and feelings of safety, the rampant fear of violent crime, and the tragedy of young people who survived but are disabled or walking with colostomy bags and razor scars across their face.

This is the desperate reality of black deprived communities. Add to this the fact that the recorded figures whilst accurate on deaths, significantly under records the extent of violent youth crime. Many, many young people are treated for gang related violence in hospital accident and emergency units and refuse to report these crimes to the police.  These are the walking wounded and when combined with the official figures illustrate the sheer scale of violence that deprived black communities are forced to live with.

Young people are becoming increasingly desensitised to this intense level of violence, primary school children understand the vocabulary of violence and the need for protection that is a major dynamic in driving vulnerable young people into gangs.

Whilst pathways to employment and education opportunities have largely been closed down, inner city areas are awash with hard drugs and guns.

In Inuit folklore there is a tale of a wolf hunter who plants a sword in the ice. The hilt is buried in the snow with the blade pointing toward the sky. The hunter covers the blade in blood and waits as wolves smelling the blood begin to lick the blade and as they do so the cut their tongues and bleed to death. Who does one blame for the deaths of the wolves, the wolves or the hunter?

Black youth who live in the most deprived areas in families made dysfunctional by long-term generational unemployment and high rates of income poverty, being taught in failing schools and living with high levels of knife and gun crime can be compared to the Inuit wolves.

The drug and gun importers represent the hunter here. The flooding of our areas with arms and narcotics results in some of these vulnerable bored, unemployed young people being seduced into crime.

They are alienated, angry and unemployed and are easy pickings for criminals that are intent on controlling their local markets and in need of soldiers to provide protection from rival gangs.

One cannot however escape the simple fact that the black community must also accept primary responsibility for the number of single parent families and the dramatic effect of fatherless homes have on the attitude and behavior of black boys. 

Black men who are estranged or disengaged from their families must take responsibility for their offspring. Black women must themselves be open to constructive dialogue with the fathers of their sons. SACYRD will be discussing the possibility of holding a national black family’s reconciliation day next year; such is the urgency of this crisis.

The current disjuncture between the status of black men and black boys must be repaired and reinforced. Parental responsibility is key to beginning the process of turning the tide of violence engulfing our communities.

However, no community immersed in poor neighborhoods, suffering generational levels of unemployment and high rates of income poverty can sustain itself over the longer term without these issues being addressed. Whole families and communities have suffered long tem unemployment in largely workless households over the last four decades.

Our young people have boundless energy and are bursting with ideas and talent. That latent talent is then wasted through want of real opportunity. As a direct consequence of long-term poverty we have seen develop a culture of poverty, bringing with it poverty of imagination, of ideas, ambition and the necessary resources to fully commit to and sustain family life.

Long-term poverty and unemployment, poor schooling, poor rates of health and worse housing all combine into a multi headed hydra of social problems that undermines the human moral propensity to do the right thing and that vacuum is filled by a moral decrepitude. With dysfunctional parents and no real social support, the culture of MTV and Hollywood rap videos become the model for the surrogate family – gangs.

Whole families and large minorities within communities unable to cope with the strains of modern family life, disintegrate and fragment. 

Such areas as we live in become permanently associated with violent crime and deprivation. The places where we live are flooded (some would say that this is a conscious decision by the authorities) with drugs and guns. Add to this an under reporting of violence that would increase the recorded level of crime by around 50% and the real scale of the problem we face begins to emerge.

And in our weakened fragmented state we turn on each other. Even relatively stable families living on such communities find it difficult to repel the culture of despair and the glamorisation of youth violence.

Remember the Inuit tale of the hunter and the wolves?

Government has to fully address the woeful lack of constructive opportunities for employment and education black youth. The economic state of our communities is acting as a recruitment sergeant for violent criminality. The grave worry is that in the current context of the austerity budget and public spending, these social ills will become gravely exacerbated exacting a terrible social and human cost. 

How are we to prevent another failed generation of our communities? The answer lies in America and Northern Ireland and the adoption of Affirmative Action is the only policy response capable of responding adequately to the scale of the current crisis. Overnight, young black people would have thousands of employment opportunities, as did Catholic youth in Northern Ireland when this was introduced in 1991. Our youth unemployment situation is much worse that that of Catholic youth at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland. If it’s good enough for those who face religious discrimination why not those who suffer more as a result of race discrimination? This is the only Government policy capable of having a dramatic effect on all of these issues that would result in bringing to an end, in less than a decade, this cycle of long-term deprivation.

Short-term palliatives and incremental short lived project initiatives, however well intentioned, are not sufficient in scale to address these issues. We should reject these conscience saving gestures in favour of a much more radical approach: Affirmative Action, which is likely to finally break the on going cycle of deprivation characterised by racism, poverty and crime.

In addition to this Government should adopt a proactive public health anti violence policy approach to violence and give the confiscated assets of criminals back to the communities that suffer the detritus of their foul endeavors.

Of course parents and black men in particular must also address the issue of responsible fatherhood if we are to see the cessation of unacceptable levels of violence. But a call for a community to ‘do the right thing’ is meaningless in the context of run down deprived neighborhoods and discrimination in education and the labour market.

Yes there is a war going on in our communities and the loss is unimaginable for most other communities. It is a sad fact that the level of death, injury and other collateral damage is not empathetically understood.

The conclusions some have come to is that Black lives are simply not worth as much to the media and some sections of the Government as white lives.

On that score we are degraded as both British citizens, human beings and as people worthy of compassion.

We need to tackle statutory indifference, institutionalized racism and community complacency if we are to save our communities from a violent descent into the kind of mayhem and chaos we have seen in some US cities.

It’s time for action.

Lee Jasper