Gun and violent crime has become a big issue, with several murders this year alone, many in London. The media and politicians don’t help us to understand this issue.
We may have ideas about why gang violence happens, and some of us will have experiences. As working-class people, we need to start rejecting our government’s ‘solutions’ and thinking about what we would put forward instead.
After a spate of gun crimes in south London in April, Tony Blair blamed ‘black culture’ as ‘a specific problem within a specific criminal culture’. He turned gun crime into a race issue, rather than a problem with the society he ruled over. He blamed the black community as a whole and used old racist stereotypes of black people as criminals, which have been around since anti-immigration writers invented this as a scapegoat for society’s problems.
Blair’s ‘solution’ is to say black people should sort their own communities out. Police measures target black people: you are six times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black than white.
David Cameron weighed in with a Tory ‘family values’ accusation that single-parent families and absent fathers are the problem. Again, this shifts responsibility away from causes within government control. He’s saying that the working class needs to solve our own problems. And if we don’t, we need more police to whip us into shape.
Neither of these look at the context of gun and violent crime. While it’s not a ‘race’ issue as Blair insists, black people are especially likely to be affected by or involved in violent crime. Shootings and murders involving black people under 20 in London have more than doubled in the past 4 years from 31 in 2003 to 76 in ’06. Over 50% of murder victims are black.
Black people face huge discrimination. In 2005, there was 11% black unemployment, compared to 5% for white people. 22.7% of African Caribbean boys get 5 A-C grades at GCSE, compared with 36% overall. More black people are in prison than in university.
In 2001, a quarter of London’s homeless households were African and Caribbean, although they are only 12% of London’s population. Racism, not ‘race’, is an issue.
It would be too simple to say that black people commit crime simply because they are face racism: the causes are more complex. But that should not be an excuse for our politicians to do nothing about racism and deprivation, which provide the context for much of the crime we see.
In our class-divided society, the people at the top who have never seen an estate or known anyone affected by gun crime, are interested in maintaining the unequal system they rule over. They moralise to us, and demand that people correct their behaviour, because, unlike social problems, this can be done without interfering with their interests.
Crime does not happen in a vacuum, but in a capitalist society where people are scrambling to survive, with no access to resources unless they work punishingly hard. It is not just that people lack opportunity to get out of poor backgrounds, and ‘get to the top’. It is that there is a ‘top’ and a ‘bottom’ at all, where the majority are kept low to make the profits for those higher up.
The ruling parties are not serious about sorting society’s problems. Working-class people, in unions and communities, need to come up with solutions that we would like to see - better education for everyone; publicly-owned, cheap housing; jobs and wages that lift people out of poverty; facilities for young people instead of closed youth clubs and expensive leisure centres.