Comment: Boris Johnson and youth violence in London

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"Stop n Search at Notting Hill Carnival 2011", by belkus (Flickr)

On April 23rd, The Guardian published an article entitled “Boris Johnson ‘has done virtually nothing to tackle youth violence’“. Professor Gus John commented on the news story, saying:

Ron Belgrave is finally lifting the lid on the sham that passed as Boris Johnson’s engagement with the issue of serious youth violence in London and in particular the relentless spate of killings of young black people by their peers.  The ‘Time for Action’ strategy had a grand title but was never going to deliver very much because the Mayor was clearly committed to two courses of action that are typical of the political class, irrespective of the colour of their rosettes.

The first was to treat young black people’s involvement in knife and gun enabled crime as if it arose from their congenital propensity to evil and had nothing to do with the state of Britian and the material conditions and structural marginalisation in which that generation and their fathers before them were nurtured and continue to exist.  The second was to indulge in a crude form of benign racism by attaching to himself a black special adviser who had already been publicly discredited and made to resign his post as Deputy Mayor, someone who had no proven expertise to match the complexities of the task facing any Mayor in getting to grips with the scandalous number of murders of black young men and the similarly troubling number of their assailants being given life sentences for those murders. 

A source close to the Mayor is quoted as saying that Johnson ‘embarked on the most intense programme of engagement with the black community ever attempted by city hall through his community conversations’.  Those so-called community conversations were an utter disgrace and totally disrespectful to those families who had lost loved ones through serious youth violence.  They were largely an exercise in Boris Johnson and Ray Lewis attempting to trump each other in buffoonery, with Lewis bringing even less sensitivity to the pain and despair those communities were expressing.

Tackling youth violence

As I have argued time and again, the killing streets of London are a British phenomenon involving young British citizens who know no other ‘home’.  Even if Johnson, Kit Malthouse  and Bernard Hogan-Howe manage to lock them all up for life, the conditions that gave rise to them in the first place will undoubtedly continue to create many more like them.  There is an increasingly toxic mix of school exclusions, poor schooling outcomes, joblessness, visibility on the streets, harassment and racist humiliation by the police, lack of self worth and self esteem and a total absence of fear of the consequences of and remorse for their actions. With this toxicity, it surely is only a matter of time before victims cease to be only or mainly black.

Perhaps when the phenomenon can no longer be described as ‘black on black crime’, the society will finally own up to its responsibility to find solutions that are more sensible than tooling up the police with more sophisticated weaponry and filling the jails with succeeding generations of Black British men who are surplus to the requirements of the labour market and who continue to be treated as a canker on the body politic.

Picture: “Riot police”, by Chris JL (Flickr)

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