Labour’s war on working class youth

‘How grim to be murdered outside Lidl. “Waitrose or M&S Simply Food at the very least,” quipped my dark-humoured friend.’ (Janice Turner, The Times, 5 July 2008)

The phrase ‘knife crime’ is on the lips of every British politician and journalist, with most of them keen to point out that it is getting worse and to argue for strong measures. Overall there is not actually more knife crime but it is increasingly the young who are both perpetrators and victims. More than 55% of incidents in the last year were in inner city areas of London, Birmingham and Manchester so those affected are mainly poor and black youngsters. But the government’s solution is not to increase welfare programmes or investigate racism or poverty.  Instead the response is more repression and imprisonment and it is the communities affected that will be made to pay.

Leading the charge is Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. She recently said that ‘anti social’ youths should be ‘harassed themselves’, urging police to ‘turn the tables’ on those who don’t ‘live by the rules’: ‘That car of theirs: is the tax up to date? Is it insured? Let’s find out...And have they got a TV licence?...And as for the council tax, it shouldn’t be difficult to check whether or not that’s been paid. And what about benefit fraud? Can we run a check?’ It is blindingly obvious that this means targeting working class families, particularly the poorest, and is typical of a government ruling in the interests of the middle class. She also called for courts to consider granting a parenting order whenever they issue an ASBO to a young person.

Since 1997 Labour has continued the tooling up of the police and state machinery which began under the Tories. ASBOs, dispersal orders, electronic tagging and stop-and-search have all been part of this drive to protect middle class privilege at the expense of those who have no privileges, and who might one day be forced to fight for their own rights. Like the crusade against ‘hoodies’, the new fascination with knife and gun crime is a continuation of the campaign to keep down working class youth in the poorest areas, and particularly black youngsters.

Knife crime offensive targets black youth
For the last 10 years the annual number of knife-related deaths has stood consistently at about 200-220. But this year more people under 20 have been stabbed to death in London than in all of 2007, and most of them are black or Asian. The number of under-16s getting hospital treatment for knife wounds has gone up 62% in the last five years.

This has been used to whip up panic. Police spokespeople are now claiming that ‘knife crime’ is the biggest threat to society, overtaking ‘terrorism’. Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson said: ‘These measures reflect that tackling knife crime is the No 1 priority for the Met at this time... Everyone is being affected by what is going on and we all have to work together to get the message across that carrying knives has got to stop’.

In response to the recent wave of stabbings, London police launched Operation Blunt 2, ‘a sustained, visible, long-term operation’ in the words of Mayor Boris Johnson. According to police chief Sir Ian Blair the results up until 29 June were nearly 27,000 searches and 1,124 arrests for possession or other knife-related offences. In a sign of things to come a huge 95% of those arrested in one week – 105 people – were charged rather than cautioned.

There has been talk of forcing school students to go through metal detectors and supporters of the attack on working class youth are attempting to ‘reach out’ to communities, promoting snitching and surveillance.

Poverty and inequality
A recent report on gun crime, another ruling class headline-grabber, by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College, said that ‘children, young people, those living in deprived areas and members of black and minority ethnic communities are more likely to be the victims and to be convicted of firearm offences.’ 27% of victims of shootings are black. These are phenomena that rise directly from the conditions of life for black youth in Britain. Youths understandably feel alienated in a society that they have no stake in. Ife Igunnubole, a youth worker in Hackney, London, said, ‘There is a level of desperation on the streets, brought about by poverty, which is creating a culture of fear.’

Statistics have come out for the first time on police powers to demand people on the street to ‘stop-and-account’ for their actions, brought in in 2005. In just two years 3.27 million people were stopped, with the numbers rising year on year. Racism is inherent in this system. Black people are two and a half times more likely than whites to be questioned on the street. Under ‘stop-and-search’, a whole other category with its own shameless set of statistics, black people are seven times more likely to be held and three and half times more likely to be arrested.

The Labour government is once again showing its contempt for the poorest sections of British society. With a deepening economic crisis, things can only get worse for working class communities as Labour seeks more powers to repress the very people who feel it the hardest. We must fight back.

Louis Brehony

FRFI 204 August / September 2008


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