Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Shooting The Breeze

by Candice Carboo-Ofulue @Candaloo

Is it just me, or does anyone else feel that we need to refresh the debate on black-on-black gun crime? Yes, the media are still salivating over stories of “shootings” and “gangsters”, but it seems that the Government has left the building. Meanwhile cases such as Nathan Harris; a teenager sentenced to 16 years in prison for ordering the shooting of 20 year old Craig Brown saturate the media. Except, what I didn’t see anywhere in all of the coverage of this heartbreaking story was anyone asking why. Why has a teenage boy taken this track in life? Why does a teenage boy know how to get his hands on a gun? Why do we have a lynch mob style “death by reputation” media inquest, instead of having real solutions put in place to prevent this happening again? Why has this issue slipped down the political agenda? Now, more than ever we need to tread those murky waters of “underachievement”, joblessness and poor housing.

Recently, the only noise around this issue is that being created by the tabloids spitting stories of “gangsters” and “villains” infesting our streets. Like the Medieval morality plays, these stories have no intention of raising debate; they are designed to instill fear, entrench stereotypes and ultimately sell papers. And of course, there is also the unmistakable sound of the police cracking down. Meanwhile, black boys slide deeper into the abyss of gangs, guns and violence.

To a large extent, gun crime has traditionally been linked to the seedy world of drug dealers. However, the uncomfortable truth now is that gun crime is spreading its tentacles beyond drugs. Turning black youth culture into a delinquent sub-culture. What morals and values are we instilling in our youth? Our most recent attempts to engage, mostly driven by the media I should add, have sucked us into discussions of “callousness” and “gangsterism”. Unfortunately, this type of analysis uproots solutions from the social realm and drops them into some of kind of fantasy world made up of good guys and bad guys. Unfortunately life is not that simple. Call me cynical but is this not just a deliberate attempt to ignore our societal responsibilities? I wonder.

What is the basis for our unwillingness or inability to address the problems? Or is it that we’re just unable to understand? What is perhaps unsettling for some is that when we start to analyse the human behind the monster, we discover that his desires and aspirations are not that different from "our" own. Success, power, affluence – these are considered normal aspirations. So as the fog of fear begins to clear, what we see is a parallel sub-culture, with a unique set of skills and values. In this world violence and guns are normal methods of achieving respect and success. Here, the “gangster” is functional, entrepreneurial, likeable. Could this be an alternative society that accepts those rejected by the mainstream?

Oh, and before anyone starts on about rap music providing unsavoury role models again, please don’t. Instead, perhaps we should be looking closer to home before casting blame elsewhere. Let’s talk about why our young black boys are so poorly equipped emotionally to be able to deal with anger and frustration? Where are their vocational or intellectual skills to access society? How do we broaden their horizons?

Last week, as most of us were sucked into the frenzy around Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, the news that the Metropolitan Police plans to deploy armed police units to patrol estates in Tottenham, Lambeth and Haringey slipped surreptitiously into the BBC evening news. This, they said, was to “proactively respond to the increase in gun crime" and is only a “temporary” measure. Hmmm, when did the definition of proactive include a semi-automatic weapon?

I’m no expert but this will probably result in more arrests, increased marginalisation and evidently more shootings. Come on people, let’s start talking before the Government commissions Brazilian style death squads to clean our streets.

There is a big blue elephant in the room, and he’s angry and holding a gun.


  1. I think you're absolutely right Candice, at some point we all just stopped talking. Talking about the problems, the causes, the solutions and by so doing we've created a "them" and "us".

    Essentially this whole conversation revolves around responsibility. So whose responsibility is it to start facing up to these problems? Is it the government, the individual, parents, teachers, you, me, all of us? Because someone's got to face up to it. Marginalised and demonised youths are not going to wake up one day, eat a bowl of cornflakes and decide to put their guns down and go out and play nicely.

    Here's another thought. I'm not saying this is an exclusively black problem, but we're talking about a sub-culture of black youth at the moment, so within that context, do black figures in the public eye have more of a responsiblity than others? Should people like Ashley Cole and Ian Wright be standing up, taking it on the chin and doing their bit to find a solution. Now I'm not talking about "being good role models" and leading exemplary lives because we all know that that doesn't work.

    Any kid out there who sees a celebrity figure, aspires to be like them and actually manages to make it, well those people who are few and far between and they make it because they are amazing, not because their celebrity hero had shiny white teeth and remembered not to swear on TV before the watershed. No, what I'm talking about is black men and women getting their hands dirty and helping to pave a future in which our black youth feel that they are able to positively contribute to the society that they live in. Clearly the two black men I referenced above are never really going to be able to be part of a solution because they've both become genuine dicks and there's nothing anyone can do about that.

  2. Candice Carboo-Ofulue28 October 2009 at 16:08

    You raise an interesting point Rachel - to which I agree.

    Surely, the idea of black public figures getting their hands dirty alludes to the notion of community? Black community? Society?

    However we refer to it, the underlying premise is the notion of people living collectively and being responsible for each other.

    Being responsible for people who fail and not just taking credit for those that achieve.

    It could be argued that we live in fear of each other. Of young people. What message do we give each time we turn a blind eye to an intimidating youth on a bus or train?

    Could it be: You're not worth it?

  3. Richard John Grayson28 October 2009 at 18:08

    I think it needs to totally out in the open. I think the way that gun crime gets labelled as a 'black' problem or a 'gang' problem or as I have personally heard a 'london' problem is counterproductive to ever finding a solution.

    In my overly optimistic view i'd like to say just ban the manufacture of guns but as this is unlikely to happen one needs a more structured solution. But as rachel puts it whose responsiblity?

    As a practicing teacher I would say that currently there is no room in the curriculum for this to be explored in any real sense. Please don't misunderstand me, there is room and a genuine desire to get to grips with it, but where to fit it in? I remember planning a series of lessons on Knife crime when that was (and it still is) big news but it was literally impossible to find anywhere to fit those lessons. Our education system is there to create a workforce and that is it. That is ridicously if you consider that for around 5 hours a day young people are in one place.

    There are moves or plans to bring various social institutions into closer partnership, so linking Schools and social services and youth services but so far it has been tokenistic at best. I would love to work in partnership with families and other institutions to tackle serious issues like gun crime or gang culture, whatever. But some body needs to empower me to do it.

  4. Too much American modern culture. All that music glorifying violence and gun crime. You can't blame people being afraid and the newspapers reporting it. How about apologizing to the white community for making English area's like Aston in Birmingham dangerous hell holes?

  5. It's easy to hate. It's easy to drive a wedge between people of different colours or cultures in places like Aston. It takes more gumption and bravery to display empathy, to understand the history and attempt to understand the problem.

    Black on black gun crime, I would imagine is a more preferable situation to members of the BNP than black on white gun crime? I ask this question because the seeds of black violence and anger in this country were undeniably sown amidst the violence, anger and hatred meted out by white British local people to decent, honest hardworking Caribbean immigrants in areas of London and the West Midlands from the 1950/60s and continuing until the end of the 1970s. In some respects it is a surprise that the anger still present amongst young black men (the descendants of these immigrants) is not directed towards white communities but instead towards other black people.

    I am not for one second saying that it should be. There should be no targets of gun crime. There should be no guns in this country. We should live in a non-violent society free of gun crime. It is just an interesting phenomenon that black gang members turn on other black men and not their historical haters or oppressors.

    I have been to Aston. It's not a dangerous hell hole. It's an ok place with quite a strong sense of community. There is also a remarkable amount of integration in Aston and other surrounding areas of Birmingham. It is only the BNP and other fascist organisations who do not recognise this, do not want integration and prefer instead to blame and to spread hatred.

  6. If anyone should "apologise to the white community" it's BNP Nazis like "ic1male" for pretending to speak out on their behalf. Here's hoping you choke on your racist poison.

  7. Well said bat020

  8. Candice Carboo-Ofulue29 October 2009 at 18:33

    The suggestion that [non whites] should apologise to the "white" community for turning places such as Aston into a "hellhole" is not only short-sighted, but also completely unproactive in tackling the issue of gun crime.

    If gun crime is a problem in Aston - I'm sure that the people there would prefer a more comprehensive solution. Since apologies are not very helpful in keeping our streets safe. I'd like to think we've moved beyond this type of playground politics.

    Unfortunately, members of the BNP would prefer to maintain the dichotomy between "them" and "us". Why? Obviously, exploiting fear is the only way the BNP can get votes. But unfortunately for the BNP, we are smarter than that.

    The fact of the matter is that non whites, black people in particular have made a powerful contribution to the UK. It was Britain's colonies which made it "Great". What about the role played by blacks and and Asians in the second world war, or the contribution to the economy made by migrants during the windrush? Non whites continue to contribute positively to our society and our economy.

    Let's remember that most young people, which includes young black people, function positively in our society - we are talking about a small minority.

    If we seriously believe it's about culture, then we have to ask why. What is it about black youth culture that has legitimised gun crime? And then we have to make policies.

    Let's demystify rather than perpetuate the monster.