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Monday, March 19, 2007 

Scum-watch: Knife crime? The Sun has the solution!

Let's start out with some caveats. There is undoubtedly a problem, especially in inner cities, with youths carrying knives and not being afraid to use them. They might be carrying them out of fear that they themselves may be attacked, mugged for their iPod or mobile phone; they might be doing so as a status symbol; and they might have them in their possession to rob others. Whichever reason it is, and gang culture and youth culture itself play a part as well, there are ways in which the problem can be tackled. Jackie Ashley in the Grauniad today puts forward a few good ideas on how it can be done.

One of the bitterest ironies of the death of Kodjo Yenga is that he had been featured on a MTV programme about knife crime, where he mentioned that although it was a problem, he thought the media were exaggerating it. Even though Yenga himself has now become the latest tragic victim of something he spoke out against, he was in fact probably right. When someone is murdered, we like to think that there's a motive behind the slaying, looking for meaning in the meaningless, anything to distract us from the at times cold-blooded reality. Yenga's murder, and that of Adam Regis, both appear from what we currently know to be utterly senseless crimes; the motive may not have been in the case of Regis's assailants to kill him, and the apparent chanting of "kill him" by the mob who chased Yenga was likely typical bravado, similar to how schoolchildren will quickly gather around a fight in a playground cheering on the writhing combatants, but neither death fits the narrative which we like to think is always behind violence. It's when this insulation from the fear and horror we associate with murder is removed that we then start looking for other explanations and for answers that we might otherwise ignore or dismiss.

The Sun is not perhaps the greatest example of this in action. By nature, the Sun takes the banal and routine and tries to turn it into something it's not. The sensationalism it relies on, especially as sales inexorably decline, means that a single crime or murder necessitates a radical or over the top response. When a few come along in a cluster, as they recently did with a number of shootings, which were as usual quickly forgotten once the story had moved on, then the Sun becomes even more certain and hysterical in its editorial outpourings.

IT is a sick society where children murder children with such apparent glee.

Saturday night’s stabbing of 15-year-old Adam Regis in London was just the latest in a series of five teenage killings in the capital.

It is not only areas of London where this madness reigns. There have been young victims in Manchester, Nottingham and Birmingham.

Right, so society's sick. This slaughter is not confined to one area, but to other big cities as well. So far, so typically Sun. Next step: bash a minister.

Instead of Communities Minister Ruth Kelly dismissing these nightmare murders as “isolated incidents” she should be urging her fellow cabinet ministers into action.

Kelly's statement that these were "isolated incidents" was indeed crass, although her point in general was that we shouldn't rush to all jerk our knees in unison and delve straight into "why oh why" type dramatics. John Reid however, who wants to ingratiate himself so much with the Sun that he perhaps ought to move in on Wade now that she's available, has heeded the Sun's advice:

"We need to take action before, as well after, the awful headlines we have seen," he told Parliament during a debate on the subject.

Here's where the Sun comes up with the solution(s):

Like ending the crazy situation where only ONE in every 58 policemen is on the beat at any given time. Too many of the rest are struggling with red tape and form-filling.

OK, that fills the quotient for a statistic which makes absolutely no sense because we don't know how many police officers actually are "on the beat" at any given time, although apparently it's only one in 58. Still, it looks like it means something. That's the attack on bureaucracy done, next, come out with that completely bat shit crazy idea that can be easily knocked back but is an typical right-wing point to make:

Like introducing ‘zero tolerance’ even for the smallest crimes — a policing strategy that turned New York into one of America’s safest cities.

Presumably not the type of zero tolerance which resulted in Tyrone Brown, who mugged a man of $2 dollars with a gun, and in the same year tested positive for marijuana who spent 17 years in prison in Dallas as a result. Is the Sun prepared to build the thousands more prison spaces that would be required were "zero tolerance" to be imposed, especially at a time when prison overcrowding is resulting in re-offending rates spiraling? Will the smallest crimes involve smacking your now ex-husband? Does it include motoring offences? Doesn't zero tolerance just inspire further resentment and grievances from those who are harshly punished for relatively minor crimes?

Then there's the whole issue of just how safe New York has been made by zero tolerance. There's firstly the question of whether it was zero tolerance that has made it safe, as others point to the CompStat crime analysis system. New York is indeed safe - by American standards. A quick look at the crime statistics, especially the the number of murders, shows there were 889 in New York in 2004. By comparison, London had 221. Even taking into account the population difference, with New York having 19 million and London having around 13 million, that's a huge difference. The 889 figure is in fact higher than the number for the whole of Britain in 2004 - the British Crime Survey reporting there were 820. Rape is a much less authoritative figure, but again shows the difference: 3,636 in New York, 576 in London. Burglary - New York 70,696, London 6,950.

Like having drugs-testing and automatic knife searches in schools.

Not that any of the recent murders have occurred in schools, and recent figures showed that although teachers were concerned about weapons being brought in, only 1% had been in a situation in which they were involved. Making school even more unpleasant is a tough job, but the Sun seems to want to step up to the plate.

Like ignoring the human rights lawyers and INCREASING police stop-and-search operations.

Which are generally a waste of time and only increase tensions.

The kid glove approach has failed us all. But no one more than the children whose lives ended almost before they began. Kids like Adam Regis.

Quite right. Bring on the American "solution" when we don't have an American problem.

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Thought I'd add what I'm expecting will be the comments on the Sun's site:

"It's the only way they'll learn!"

"It's the only language they understand!"

"Hanging's too good for them!"

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