Copyright © 2007 riceNpeas
Youth violence is again at the top of the news agenda as the result of the recent murder of Rhys Jones, an eleven-year-old boy from
Liverpool. His callous slaying at such a tender age has shocked the
nation and sparked a series of public and media debates about the
phenomenon of youth
violence and its root causes.
Absent fathers, school exclusions, bad housing and rap music were the
chief suspects touted by pundits and social-commentators when the
phenomenon was more widely thought of as "black on black." But, now
that young "white boys" are increasingly being portrayed in the media
victims and perpetrators, a whole new approach to the subject is underway.
Underage drinking is now prominently featured as a root cause and
the side-effects of consumerism, celebrity culture, and the lack of
manual jobs for unskilled youth are now discussed as contributing
factors. The media's quick terminology edit from "black on black
violence" to the more generic "youth violence" highlights this new
approach toward the problem, rather than blaming
wayward marginalised communities.
I have found it interesting to observe the two-tier manner in which
both the media and the police have responded to the death of Rhys
Jones. In this instance, a press conference was called immediately,
whereby the distraught parents were given the opportunity to state
and dispel any misconceptions the public may have had in regards to
his involvement with gangs or drugs. Days later, the area of the
shooting was still cordoned off and the police could be seen on their
hands and knees sifting through shrubs and debris in search of
evidence. The media
published and televised the empathetic pleas of Senior Police Officers
for individual witnesses to come forward and break the wall of silence
and the Prime Minister himself made a personal pledge to see to it
that Rhys's killer was apprehended and punished.
If this same approach had been applied to investigating deaths within
the black community, perhaps the message would have been clearer to
those who perpetrate such acts that society was not willing to
tolerate such behaviour. Instead, for many years, prior to the
Operation Trident, gunmen and killers within the black community could
set about their deadly deeds with impunity and the arrogant
self-assurance that the media would portray their black victims as
criminal or suspect and that there wouldn't be any determined police
investigation. Further, the lack of any individual witnesses in
murder cases would often be defined as a lack of cooperation and a
conspiracy of silence on the part of the black community, thus
aggravating the already tense relationship that existed between the
media, the police and the black community.
Several years ago, I sat in the office of a Channel Four executive
trying to convince him to commission a documentary about the spate of
violence that was plaguing black communities across the country. His
comment, which has stuck with me ever since, gave me an understanding
of how such issues are framed within the British media. He said: "Such a story would not be appealing to Middle-England."
Rhys Jones's slaying is a tragedy, not just for his family and
friends, but for Britain and society as a whole. The murder of Rhys
Jones has caused outrage and a sense of public indignation in a way
that the fatal shooting of Toni-Ann Byfield, a seven-year old black
girl, never could. It is unfortunate that it takes the murder of a
pre-pubescent white boy to get "Middle England's" attention, but now
that we have it, perhaps we can collectively try and find solutions to
this growing problem of youth violence that threatens to destabilise society.
Ishmahil Blagrove, Jr.
1st September 2007
EDITORIAL: Youth Violence