Saturday, June 25, 2005

Things Fall Apart ..

Even twenty years ago, one of the things I noticed living in London was that strangers never spoke to each other. I remember a friend ('but why would you want to speak to a stranger') saying that he never intervened if he saw someone being attacked or harassed.

Every few months the Guardian publishes an article, usually by a young, white, middle-class London mother, about the street culture inhabited by their children.

Here's a Jenni Russell with another one.

"That kind of thing happens all the time," she said. It was only a few months since another friend of hers, a girl, had been beaten up by a group of teenagers on a bus while the adults on board stared studiously out the windows.

"For this generation, growing up in London, the assumption that there is safety in numbers no longer holds true. That assumption only works if you can trust that the people around you are ready to help if you are threatened. But people appear increasingly reluctant to intervene in public places. They are scared, or indifferent, or embarrassed, or afraid of being accused of assault themselves. Nor does anyone have any confidence that, if they do intervene, they will be backed up by others."

She puts her finger on the problem here. And being a Guardianista fails to draw the relevant conclusion.

In all the discussion of antisocial behaviour, we seem to be missing an essential element. The police cannot prevent crime, intimidation or harassment. All they can hope to do is occasionally catch a perpetrator. They are meant to be the enforcers of the rules that we as a society have decided to live by - not the only upholders.

The point is - what does "upholding" the law mean in practice ? If it means anything, it has to mean "enforcement". When an assault is actually happening, the only way to stop it is by force or intimidation.

But this is 'taking the law into your own hands' - exactly whhere it ought to be, of course, but verboten for a Guardianista, and an option which is is hated by the criminal justice system far more than any crime. Let's say you tackle the villains on the bus and you don't get stabbed. You have just carried out what a lawyer would call 'an assault on a child'. The underclass are well supplied with 'their' tax-funded lawyers and social workers. You could well be the one facing charges - and if one of the villains is from an ethnic minority (other than English) then heaven help you. Racist assault on a child - it doesn't get much worse than that, does it ?

If we see people being mistreated, then surely we cannot just turn away and thank God that we are not the targets. If that is what we are doing, then we are starting, literally, to become less civilised.

Got it in one.

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