It is sometimes said that evil thrives not because of the evil that evil people do per se but because good people do nothing.
The concept of society is an age old construct, probably as old as the advent of mankind. Societal dynamics have evolved over centuries into various forms and permutations. Regardless of how much societies may evolve over time, certain fundamental principles hold true and are still valued and those who belong to society do have a part to play in it. In this regard, all societies whether contemporary, urban or rural are not dissimilar. As members of UK society or any other for that matter, one of the basic tenets is the duty to value not only ourselves but those with whom we co-exist. This is an integral part of our humanity and each individual possesses the capacity to care, to nurture and to express emotions. The way we get nurtured during our formative years and our various life experiences have a powerful influence on our intrinsic traits, our overall outlook on life and on our human relationships in general. In other words, our roots do matter.
There is a root element and context to who we are as individuals and to what we become. Incidences of violent and knife related crimes has soared over the past 10 years. I don’t have hard statistics at hand but it should be worrying to all of us that a worrying number of our youths who should be the torch bearers of potentially bright futures are caught up in this spiral of wanton, needless and often gratuitous violence. Gang culture fuelled by easy access to drugs, lack of human empathy, emotional desensitization and the lawlessness that so often emanates from these vices has become all too rife on many of our streets. As a society, we have unwittingly become hostage by our inability to curb the disturbing trend of soaring knife crime among our youths. We seem helplessly detached and even incapacitated by the magnitude of the problem; so we watch on helplessly. Our media channels on an almost daily basis relaying horrors of the latest stabbings and the fatal casualties that too often get caught up in this unchecked spiral. It has become ever too easy to shrug off the sense of shock we no longer feel when we hear of these grisly stabbings. We’ve all learnt to take it in stride and therein lies the problem. There are many things we ought to take in stride but youths that spend their waking hours looking for their next stab victim cannot be taken in stride.
The dangers posed by the escalating trend of violent youth crime cannot be overestimated. We are fast becoming a society comprised of a significant minority of our youths in the habit of literally running amok with little regard for boundaries, terrorizing their local communities and prone to committing the worst of crimes with least provocation. At this juncture I must render my apologies to the thousands of decent and truly amazing youngsters and youths out there who remain decent and law abiding and just spend time going about their business. My focus is on the increasing number of violent youths in our midst and the danger they pose to both themselves and others. As a society with a responsibility to save itself from some sort of implosion, we seem either unwilling or unable to address this in a more concerted and targeted way. We seem more easily inclined to rally ourselves together for and to throng through our streets en masse, in protest at comparatively and unarguably less inflictive causes like Brexit or Climate change; yet despite the alarming rise of violent youth stabbings we do not seem sufficiently perturbed to act in similar unison over the epidemic of knife crime perpetrated by misguided, heartless youths who have either been failed by upbringing, failed by society and failed even by themselves. I daresay we all to some degree are dysfunctional, desensitized and negligent and our empathy thermostats probably need some adjustment. In a society where displays of spontaneous human emotion external to our familiar territories of experience can often be regarded with some suspicion or unease, we’ve fallen part victim to the habit of shying away from things that challenge our emotional responsiveness. We must re-learn to be emotionally connected to each other’s pains, troubles and challenges rather than remaining comfortably insulated from the heartfelt empathy we need to have for the social problems that plague us, the people they affect and the impact on society at large.
Emotional connection with our technology gadgets and social media platforms of choice has replaced much of our ability to communicate with each other on both a human and humane level. We sometimes demonstrate more emotional connection with our inanimate devices than we do with each other and the vital emotional connections and communications that ought to be an integral part of our human intercommunication habits is reduced to its lowest quality yet. Instead we have this bizarre situation in which we’ve grown accustomed to humanizing the ‘relationships’ we have with our communication gadgets while de-humanizing the way in which we connect, communicate and relate with each other. Genuine communication has become a lost art form. For many youths, the challenges are even more apparent as they never really get a chance to develop emotional intuition or emotional intelligence and consequently become easily disengaged from those around them. Couple that with an even more dysfunctional upbringing and it is easy to see how such a person could plunge a knife or fire a gun at someone towards whom they have not attached an emotional value. Emotions have become reserved for phones and the inanimate characters on their computer games. A rather simplistic analysis but the principle is basic.
I may be wrong but it seems to me that our politicians, local authority services, schools and other vested parties do not yet have the collaborative and joined up thinking required to purposefully address the issues that have caused these problems to become so entrenched. We need a transformative approach that draws on a comprehensive understanding of the root causes of youth violence and knife crime. Indeed the future cannot be bright but quite bleak for the increasing number of youths who we allow to become socially disenfranchised through facilitating a somewhat easy pathway to violent crime. A society that casually persists in shrugging off the damage that incessant knife crime continues to inflict on our increasingly fragile social psyche. When did it begin to not matter that youngsters could easily get hold of lethal weapons – knives that often resemble machetes; inflicting fatal harm on others in most instances? The question we should all be asking ourselves and posing to our elected representatives is this: how many more lives need to be needlessly lost? How much more bloodshed? How many more families need to suffer the agony thrust upon by these sad incidents when the lives of their loved ones get tragically cut short? What about the ruined lives of the youths who wittingly or unwittingly get caught up in a life of crime and end up labelled as murderers? Blighted hopes and dreams and the tragedy of wasted potential being the only by product of a meaningless existence. What will it take to decide enough is enough?
I do feel these concerns deeply and can’t ignore the stirrings that keep urging me to make some attempt to be part of the solution in some way however small. We have to somehow cajole, insist and force sanity to prevail again among our youths by whatever feasible means necessary and at the risk of sounding melodramatic, yes my heart bleeds. This problem of violent youth crime, spiralling right out of control under our very noses did not happen by accident; it formented over the years as we ignored the warning signs until it came to roost right at our doorsteps, our streets, and across our local communities. Neither will this problem disappear of its own accord so it must be tackled with every vestige of determination we can collectively muster. It should never be acceptable for anyone to take the life of another or to display such wilful and callous disregard for the sanctity of a life while we continue to passively ‘condone’ it. We should never allow ourselves become so desensitized that we are unmoved to take some form of action; even demanding of our elected representatives that they look into the issue of soaring violence and knife crime and its attendant ills in a much more fundamental way rather than reactively knee-jerking our way into temporary fixes. I continue to stress that violent crime is a heart problem more than it is a problem caused by any reduction in police numbers; much as we do welcome the ‘invasion’ of our streets and neighbourhoods by increased police presence. We may police our streets but we can’t police hearts. That ability must come from within us and so we must ask the hard and fundamental questions about what propels such murderous tendencies in many of our youths.
As the statistics of violence continue to rise, we in turn continue to pander to the politically correct semantics of so-called ‘experts’ and politicians whose detachment from the real issues of grief and loss cruelly imposed almost on a daily basis is so evident that it is quite disheartening to say the least. In my quiet moments of reflection, I’ve often pondered that as a society we simply have got to come to grips with this problem. With the greatest posthaste we must begin to seek lasting solutions to avoid losing all sense of societal coherence. I know I am not alone in expressing these concerns but we must find a way to harness the power of a collective voice to bring about a transformation. It simply cannot be business as usual for a society that seems like a mirror reflection of one silently going off the rails. As much as we can be moved to compassion when it comes to the plight of refugees, human trafficking, devastation by war in Iraq, Syria, Yemen etc, we should equally be moved from our complacency, apathy and laissez faire attitudes on these issues. Nothing wrong with us reaching out to assist our global neighbours, and so we should, but shouldn’t we be just as concerned and even more so at the spiralling rate of violent youth crime right at our doorsteps; endangering us all by the frequent randomness of occurrence across our local communities..
Whichever environment our youngsters are raised in, do we understand the need to cultivate and create a balance between tender and tough love, equally counterbalanced by tough discipline and even punishment (yes, I dare to use the taboo word!); all being necessary elements to help shape young lives and to dissuade an ingrained attitude of entitlement or worse? An often misplaced sense of entitlement in which it is more about what they feel is owed to them by society than it is about what they can give back to the same society that has already given them so much. Why on earth is the criminal justice system failing our youths with soft sentences that fail to match the gravity of the crimes and its effect on victims? My personal opinion is that violent crimes should attract the maximum penalties if we are serious about imposing effective deterrents as part of a more comprehensive and long-term approach to reduction in violent crime. Neither should prison life for violent criminals be synonymous with life in a three star resort. Any rehabilitation for violent offenders should happen alongside a regime of genuine hard labour. These are some of the tried and tested ways of reducing re-offending rates and making prison a less attractive option for those disposed towards violent crime. No disrespect to free speech but unfortunately we have the advocates of unsound politically correct theories who irresponsibly persist in propounding the ridiculous and absurd. The sort who honestly would suggest for instance that the most effective punishment for a youth guilty of stabbing a fellow person to death would be to feed them breast milk to compensate for the lack of love nurturing they’d received. Yes, I exaggerate but it demonstrates the extent to which the most indefensible hocus-pocus theories espoused by these ‘experts’ continue to control the narrative and as a society we’ve wound up with a situation where commonsensical approaches have been consigned to the fate of obsolescence.
So back to the issue at hand; why are our prisons filled to overflowing with young lives who otherwise could be such an asset to society had their lives taken a different path? Why is prison not as effective a deterrent as it ought to be? Why is there a high rate of re-offending? The issue remains that too many of our black youths have resorted to crime and violence. Why does criminal behaviour so easily appeal to many of our black youths? Can it be that the lack of commensurate deterrents especially for the more heinous crimes is directly related to high re-offending rates; even an increased tendency to engage in crime and ‘glory’ in it? With all the Equal Opportunities legislation and initiatives in existence why do we barely see black men or women holding the influential positions in the top establishments across almost all sectors and even in government circles?
As a society that prides itself on the strength of its multi-cultural character, why is there such blatant tokenism in the under-representation of black people at the top? Why do we still have tokenistic representation of black men and women in influential positions within UK society? Why are black people good enough to hold the monopoly on virtually every menial job in sight yet not good enough to be more than just tokenly represented in senior management positions as directors, executives in top corporate boards and organisations even within government? Why does society continue to unconsciously foster and promote the stereotype that young black men and women can be successful in the fields of sports, football, music yet not so much in more intellectually challenging fields? What are the dynamics influencing this subtle but negative social bias particularly when our UK universities are filled with black young men and women studying for the very same degrees that enable their white counterparts get openings to the top jobs and opportunities available?
Besides sports, rap and music celebrities, who do our black youths look up to as positive role models that reflect their own aspirations and potential; powerful and positive role models that they can relate to in terms of racial or socio-cultural affinity and experience? Why also do black people often indulge in self sabotage of the worst kind; victims of identity erosion. Why has it become so commonplace for teenage girls to fall pregnant? To become saddled with the responsibility for raising children that they hardly possess the resources, stability, emotional maturity and strength of values to cope with in an already beleaguered society? The fundamental and root causes of many of the social problems experienced with our youths may be found within the context of some of the various overarching considerations outlined here. In other words we all have a slice of blame for the way our society is turning out and the government appears hapless and helpless to address these challenges from a more fundamental perspective. Violent youth crime will remain a festering issue if we fail to take the appropriate measures necessary. A long term solution to this problem goes beyond flooding our streets with more police officers or stopping and searching every suspicious car driven by a black youth or group of them.
Though this piece has focused mainly on the issue of black on black crime, I must stress that youth crime is not exclusive to the black youth community. It is a societal problem that affects youths across the various population demographics, so we should be cautious about identifying the problem solely as a black one. To do so undermines the severity of the problem and fails to address the need for a more holistic solution that takes into account some of the cultural idiosyncrasies associated with the various race demographics. So I’d like to start with my own ethnic race. For instance I would like to understand why these crimes are perpetrated mainly (though not exclusively), by black youths? Why don’t we hear about Jewish youth gangs or Jewish youths rampaging around, constituting a social nuisance and stabbing themselves or others? What are the more obscure factors that might predispose black youngsters to indulging in drugs and crime, even possibly leading to violent crime? How pervasive is the culture of initiating youths into crime and drug gangs? How can the trend be stopped? How well equipped are schools to tackle these issues in partnership with the police? Do we as a society understand the correlation between moral bankruptcy, the dearth of core values and the attendant effect on vulnerable youths and youngsters growing up in an increasingly devoid society?
So why have we allowed political correctness and its brigade of followers to influence our thinking and approach in all of its most absurd presentations. Political correctness has become the ‘de facto’ social ‘religion’ with its advocates who specialize in spewing out mamby-pamby theories that serve to create a trail of societal powerlessness across all strata. The kind of powerlessness that leaves us unable to take the necessary and proven actions that are effective at curbing the excesses of anti-social behaviour and violent crime we have become accustomed to witnessing around us. We are a society being held to ransom by the excesses of a significant few. The young terrorizing the older. An exaggeration perhaps? Maybe, but I have witnessed horrific instances over the years that make my blood curdle and make me want to seriously smack the culprit on the face at great risk to me of course. No doubt some smart ‘expert’ with more degrees than they possess common sense will accuse me of possessing a violent streak! We are scared of our youths because they seem to have seized the power we collectively ought to be wielding in order to maintain social harmony. Perhaps I overstate the points, but that is the lesser offence, all other matters considering. The greater offence is this: we are allowing the lives of our youths to go to ruin by our own apathy and muteness; our lack of understanding and most importantly, the absence of concerted effort. My response is that I feel these things profoundly and with a deep sense of conviction that something much more targeted has to be done. We all need to get on board with our ideas and suggestions; to hold ourselves and our government to some account and to follow through till we get more targeted and concise commitments to the action plans we propose.
It is increasingly imperative that we confront these challenges with the stark honesty required in order to enable us to get to the root causes of these issues. It means that we cannot shy away from the hard facts, issues and questions that need to be asked. It means that when it comes to the problem of knife crime and violence we cannot deny the fact that black youths are disproportionately both culprits and victims of these acts – why? What invisible factors are at play here and why are black youths so prone to stabbing and killing each other? It is not racist to have an open and honest discussion about some of these considerations and where sometimes we get our assumptions wrong or misplaced, we must continuously attempt to create avenues to correct them and to bridge the gaps necessary to improve both social and racial cohesion. That is if we are to truly foster a vibrant and healthy multi-cultural and multi-racial environment. It is politically correct and societally naive or even foolish to shy away from addressing the more difficult facts staring us in the face for fear of not wanting to offend.
As a black woman with a deep sense of conscious awareness, I feel well placed to opine on some of the issues affecting my fellow black community and which my white counterparts might not necessarily feel comfortable expressing even though some of it might well be obvious! Neither will I shy away from stating some of the equally obvious issues that relate to white folks. We have become a society with a tendency to pretend with each other; ever ready to take offence at the slightest blink of the eye, or to have others who take offence on our behalf even when no offence is intended. We are repressed with suppressed feelings that burrow a way within us to cause internal havoc and turmoil at the amount of energy it takes to keep our true feelings and opinions suppressed. I call it the disease of political correctness and we’ve become so twisted with it we can’t see truth spitting us in the very face because political correctness is often not about truth but more about hogwash.
Why does white society not challenge some of these imbalances with more genuine vociferousness? Infact why for our own collective sakes don’t we as a black community do so for that matter; instead of making do with the tokenisms we have had to endure for so long? Still focusing on the topic at hand, we need to examine within the black communities, the typical socio-economic factors that predispose some black youths to drugs and violent crime. I don’t personally buy fully into the socio-economic cause and effect argument as I am fortunate to straddle across more diverse and poorer cultures where poverty is prevalent. I haven’t necessarily witnessed the same propensity to indulge in violent crime as I have witnessed in our so-called civilized environment here in the UK with it being the 5th richest economy in the world (or so I think). So, can it be that our youths (and in particular black youths) need a more structured tough love regime as opposed to the soft touch marshmallow madness that is turning our youths into a law unto themselves? As a society we are yet to figure out how best to systemically and proactively deal with those from disadvantaged and dysfunctional backgrounds who are somehow at greater risk of being sucked into a negative spiral of crime at some point during their life phases. We are either too soft touch, too complacent or too academic in our approach and this has continued to worsen the social problem of violent youth crime and anti-social behaviour.
I cite all these instances anecdotally and without the hard statistics to back but I also go by my experience working as consultant to the Ministry of Justice and National Prison service and being conversant with some of the initiatives around the handling of prisoners and the systems supporting the classification of prisoners and associated offences etc. I also go by the experience of my 7year stint working as a peripatetic social worker for several London and outer London local authorities. This was in the 90’s before I retrained and embarked on an IT and consulting career. I did a lot of work with adolescents in care of local authority and with young offenders in youth offender units and institutions. My decision to embark on a different career path then was largely due to the disenchantment I felt at a seriously flawed and misguided system which was failing the youngsters placed under its jurisdiction of care. The pattern of systemic rot was already in evidence and the current climate of lawlessness among many youths only reflects some of the negative patterns that were an integral part of the care system then and even now. But that’s another debate for another day or perhaps for another cause.
Knife crime is a problem that has arguably become the bane of our society and is fast earning London the dubious reputation of being one of the knife crime capitals of the world. We need a revolutionary, strategic (as well as tactical) hard ball, zero tolerance, no-nonsense solution; yet balanced by an insightfully sensitive approach to some of the more underlying problems and their causation. In other words, a comprehensive approach that will not be undermined by the proponents of political correctness and the false propaganda mindset that often cripples meaningful debate and hampers the implementation of effective solutions to some of these more challenging social issues. Which finally brings me to the Youths of Conscience.org initiative. It is an emerging two-fold initiative and will serve as an online forum and think tank for eliciting and collating ideas and lending a voice to those already at the forefront of the cause. This aims to be a wide and comprehensive informal consultation on how to tackle what has now become an endemic social problem. We owe it to ourselves, our children (who need a safer environment to thrive within), to the perpetrators themselves who unfortunately have become victims of a misguided path. We must do everything in our power to prevent our youths from becoming habituated to violent crime on the unprecedented scales now being witnessed. We become complicit by our own apathy and indifference. The collated ideas will be used to draft a blueprint of wide-ranging recommendations which will subsequently be submitted to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and team.
The second element of Youths of Conscience will be offered as a youth mentoring programme designed to promote and reinforce in the hearts, minds and consciousness of our youths, the universal human values of love, honour and respect towards each other and of the sanctity of human life. The programme will be modular in approach with situational scenarios aimed at getting youths to engage their hearts and emotions with the life situations they typically face as part of life’s experience. Also to enable them to fully understand and develop the ability to assess the consequences of the choices they make (positive or negative) and the impact on victims and their families as well as the impact on themselves The aim is to try and promote this programme across schools, faith based initiatives and other relevant interest groups that have links in dealing with youths. As a coaching programme, it may also be used by parents to help with their parental nurturing responsibilities and to better educate their youngsters on the dangers of becoming involved in criminal activity or carrying weapons. I believe Youths of Conscience needs to become a sloganized term and imbibed by youths as a consciously chosen positive life path towards harnessing their potential. We all stand to benefit from living in a safer and socially convivial environment; one in which our youths can thrive and flourish as they make good on achieving the positive life aspirations that can in turn spur them on to greater accomplishments
Youths of Conscience will commence in the early quarter of 2020. Creation of the Youths of Conscience mentoring programme is currently underway as the subsequent part of the initiative. Much work remains to be done and it is important for the programme to be designed from an inclusive perspective. Your contributions will help in shaping the creation of this programme. The various parameters for consideration in relation to a working draft proposal will fall within the following (but not exclusively) remit:
- Early interventions and approach
- Need for legislative changes
- Soft touch early intervention initiatives
- Zero tolerance initiatives
Increased support for schools to enforce zero tolerance
- Policing strategies (tactical, strategic, additional powers powers (individual curfews?)
- Parental fines for weapons carried by underage youngsters?)
- National service initiative -army, navy, police
Compulsory international youth exchange programmes
- involvement and joint collaboration between a wide range of societal/governmental stakeholders e.g (schools, local authorities, police, faith leaders, parents, youth leaders, local MPs, heads of corporate organisations and other invested parties) etc
Finally, I remind us all that evil thrives not necessarily because of the evil that people commit but because good people sit and do nothing.
More information and updates on Youths of Conscience will be announced in the coming months leading up to launch. Thank you for taking the time to read. Watch out for progress updates in the new year!
From my heart to yours, always