Thursday, 23 August 2007

Yobs and racism

I read with some interest Jeremy Vine's piece on tackling thugs and antisocial yobs on Auntie's website the other day, and recognised the dilemma Vine found himself in right away.

For those who didn't read the original posting or the subsequent follow-ups in tehlondonpaper, there was a burly c**t being sexually aggressive to a girl on the tube; he got off and as the doors were closing one of the other passengers flicked him a v-sign. Unfortunately for the passenger, the tube doors jerked open again, as they so often have a bizarre habit of doing, and the thug launched himself back onto the train and started knocking seven bells out of this poor chap.

Naturally, everybody in the carriage just sat back and pretended to hide behind their Metros until he'd gone away.

You see, I've been in the unfortunate position of having some piece of pond scum holding me round the throat and divesting me of a mobile phone, an Oyster card and £45, and during that unpleasant encounter who should ride by but some big bloke on a bike, with headlights blazing, and - probably stupidly given I didn't know if my attacker had a knife - I called out: "Help, help!" And then when he kept going : "Can't you see he's attacking me?"

The unhappy truth is that people seem happy to stick their noses into every other aspect of everybody else's life, but seem less encouraged to do so when there's something blatantly illegal going on.

To give a less extreme example, I commute through Streatham and Tulse Hill every day, both parts of London that seem to have been in the news a lot this year for various stabbings and shootings and other nefarious high-jinks.

Yesterday afternoon, this tall black dude got on at Streatham carrying a shopping bag with two mops in it, and sat down on the bank of seats directly in front of me.

I thought no more of this until about twenty seconds later I caught a whiff of cigarette smoke, looked up, and saw this guy was openly having a crafty fag on the train, something that has been illegal for at least as long as I can remember.

Of course the proper thing to do would have been to challenge him and say: "Either put that out now or get off this train at the next stop."

But neither me, nor the other eight or nine people who were sitting nearby, did anything. You don't pick a fight with a six foot black man in south London, after all. But for a moment everybody was feeling slightly angry and slightly threatened by an antisocial dickhead.

After he had got off the train - of his own accord - at the next station, he leered up against the window, staggered along the platform, and his eyes were as wide as saucers, so clearly there was something else besides tobacco going on there, and I'm glad I didn't tackle him.

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking back from the station and there was another Afro-Caribbean kid, in stupid trousers and a backward baseball cap with its label still attached, openly defacing the front shutters of a pub with a can of spray paint.

This was next to an open grocery with several people picking fruit from the outside display, and a bus shelter with about ten more people in it. Nobody was raising a finger.

Going back to my mugger, who wasn't black but I think - it was twilight, I didn't see his face properly - was probably south Asian. And as we know, nobody helped me then either.

The reason being everyone was afraid that they'd be armed, with a knife or worse.

It's true that once you've been a victim of crime your liberal credentials go flying out of the window, but I haven't quite joined the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade just yet. And nor am I frightened by this silly season epidemic of stories in the right-wing press that are specifically designed to scare us stupid. In short, I don't think Britain's going to the dogs.

Nevertheless there are questions here I think we have to answer:
  1. Why are a disproportionate number of my brushes with criminality with those of ethnic minorities?
  2. Is it actually the truth that white people are just scared of ethnic minorities because of media-hype? Is this a racist position?
  3. What can be done?
My answers below, but I'd be interested to know yours:
  • I think this speaks actually only of my personal experience. London is a diverse city and ethnically homogenous parts of the country, such as Cornwall, have an equal number of white people who are shitheads. However, there is the unavoidable truth that a large amount of the gun crime in the news has been black-on-black. Of course, this begs the question, are we being manipulated by our news sources? Probably, yes, but that doesn't mean that all those teenaged kids weren't murdered this year.
  • I think a number of white people are scared and am certain there is influence from media sources, your own class background, exposure to people from other countries, and so on. But importantly, given the number of Londoners who live quite happily alongside each other without a problem, there's no need to be. I don't think I'm a racist and I don't think most other people are either.
  • Fuck knows.

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