On my way to work this morning I realised that the media is slowly indoctrinating me. As I sat staring through the window of the train, day dreaming instead of reading the business analysis text on my lap, I was dragged kicking and screaming back into the real world. A group of young black teenagers (or youths as I like to call them) came stumbling into my carriage, laughing and talking at the top of their voices. I took one look at their hair (I tend to judge men by their hairstyles!) and their style of dress (saggy trousers, hooded jackets, baseball caps) and presumed they were up to no good.
I had already had a hectic morning with my train being cancelled and the replacement being delayed. So when three black teenage boys, whose command of the English language cast aspersions on the quality of State education, came bumbling into my carriage I thought that perhaps my luck had ran out. I was scared enough to turn my engagement ring around so that the stone was resting in my hand, out of sight of any casual glances. I also ignored my phone as it told me I had received a text message. I sat in silence trying to study their faces (so I could describe them to the police) without being noticed. I almost went into shock when the only other person in the carriage got off the train, as I was dreading being left alone in carriage with the young men.
So was I mugged, harassed or stabbed? Well off course not, the boys were simply hiding in that particular carriage because they didn’t have tickets. Irritating and illegal yes, but barely an offence to put the fear of God in my heart at the sight of them. They appeared to be students at the Further Education College near my office and were really just minding their own business for most of the journey, though they did decide to take over the whole carriage and shout across me. They were simply bad mannered, nothing, apparently, to be afraid of.
So why was I scared? Well in recent years several young people have attacked and killed members of the public. Incidentally I was not afraid because they were black youths, I was scared because they were youths, period. Teenagers appear to have been running rampant. The first I heard of the violence that has permeated youth culture was an incident in Canning Town, East London, when a gang of teenagers, who had been threatening a family for several months, shot the young father because he finally stood up to them. This was followed by a several teenagers being stabbed or shot in various parts of London, some killed as they sleeping in their beds. Then there was Mr Newlove, who was beaten to death outside his home in Cheshire after he confronted a gang for scratching his wife’s car. This week the newspapers have been reporting about the stabbing of a young mother whilst she was trying to stop a fight on a night out. It was her first night out since the birth of her child. Then there is the young man who was killed after standing up to two teenagers who threw a half eaten chocolate bar into his sisters car. And these are just the attacks I have paid attention to and remembered.
To exacerbate the perception I have of young people I watched a programme on television that followed gangs in Glasgow and South London, showing the most meaningless violent acts performed by children as young as ten. So what is causing this behaviour in the young people? As always, the youth involved are from the more under privileged areas of the country; people from broken homes and broken communities. Would I have been frightened this morning if the boys had been dressed in public school uniforms and speaking with public school accents? No, off course not, money and privilege would have given them the appearance of being safe to be around and to be fair incidents of Public school boys attacking people on the street are rare. It could be said that they are too ambitious to engage in random attacks on the general public. They are generally conditioned to put their energies into going to best universities, getting the best job even sometimes the best partners. They also tend to be have access to facilities that allow them to engage in sport, learn musical instruments or perhaps nurture artistic talent. In short their time, minds and bodies are occupied.
It appears that for the poorer children in our society, the apparent lack of opportunities to better themselves as well as the lack of entertainment choices manifests itself as ennui. The gangs of Glasgow and South London sighted boredom as the main reason they became involved in violent acts; they simply had nothing to do so they fought with children from other estates. I was quite shocked to watch this, because when I think about the poorer young residents of Lusaka, they tend occupy themselves by finding a job as maids or gardeners. At worst they will resort to stealing to eat rather than killing people for fun. Perhaps I am unaware of what is truly going on in the communities that would be comparable in my country but we simply do not get reports of children killing each other for the sake of it.
What’s the difference? The societies are structured differently. The police officer in the Newlove case sights cheap alcohol and lack of parental responsibility. I would add the break down of community spirit in a lot of these areas. When I was growing up if one of my “aunties” of “uncles” saw me doing something my parents would not like they intervened. I had boundaries wherever I went because everyone was watching me. And, in the UK at least, it is entirely the government fault. Several policies have led to an economic situation that has led to many state schools selling off their sports facilities and excessive health and safety rules have resulted in teachers being afraid to take children on field trips, leading to idle hours where there previously were none. The advent of the Nanny State, in which the state micro manages our lives, has led to people abdicating responsibility not only for their own actions but for their children’s. They do not have to manage their children because it is the state’s responsibility to do so or perhaps they cannot deal with certain issues with their children because the government has not told them what to do in this situation.
This has resulted in children not really being shown the difference between right and wrong. And it is a self perpetuating cycle as these children grow up and have children, teaching them the same amoral violent attitudes. A proportion of the gang members in Glasgow were third generation gang members a situation that makes it difficult for them to see that it is possible to live life differently.
This story however, has a happy ending as several charities have began to take an interest in the plight of these youths and give them something to do beside beating each other with metal objects. They have created clubs where they can hang out together or get involved in sport and generally be in a safe environment. This has given some of the youths hope and taken them off the street.
As these programmes of change continue to rescue our young people, I hope I will be less prejudice against the young. I hope I will begin to feel safer around them. And perhaps I will be less inclined to paint them with the brush created by sensualist media headlines.