In the Media

Youth violence: a London village tradition

PUBLISHED October 10, 2011

I opened Craig Taylor's new oral history Londoners at random. Here's what I read: In my youth arts centre I done a workshop with the police. I played a police officer and the police officers played young people, so we put ourselves in a police officer's shoes and vice versa. We had a whole discussion about how it felt being a police officer and a young person. A lot of conflict was happening between police and young people, and young people always thought that the police are against them, because the police can stop and search anyone, for any reason. So young people feel that the police are picking on them. They don't know what the procedures are, so they don't know what to say to a police officer if they get stopped and searched. I've been stopped and searched before. They said I looked suspicious and that this [Lewisham] is a drug hotspot. So they stopped and search me and because I really know the procedures and why they do some things, I was cool about it. I've done nothing wrong, so what can they say? They gave you a record of why they stopped and searched you and that was it. But other people don't know that. They'll be like, why are you touching me for? Why are you trying to stop me? What have I done? Don't touch me. And that cause conflict and it makes it a bigger affair. It's frustrating. But it happens a lot. You could be in a group with your friends going home and they just stop you, saying, why are you in a group? They can stop you for any apparent reason. Nowadays, you can get into a conflict for the dumbest reasons. By looking at someone wrongly. Bumping someone by accident. Stepping on someone's trainers. There's been fights over that. And it spreads from one generation to another. The older lot recruit youngsters and give them their name. So say, for example, you're called Killer and you recruit someone who's younger than you. You give them the name Younger Killer. And they do most of the things that you don't want to do. For example, say you're selling drugs and you don't want to do that. You would give it to your younger to do it and then you're younger will do it because he wants to keep up with your name. He sees you as a big boss, so he'll do it just to keep up the name. You know about postcode wars? If you live in SE13 and I live in SE14 then we might not get along with each other. Or you live on that street and I live on this street, and there might be conflicts because we don't like each other. A lot of people don't know what they're fighting for because there's this old thing about Peckham and Lewisham. But the people in this generation don't really know why they're still doing it. It's just one of them things that has been passed down, and they don't know why they hate each other. If you ask a lot of young people in Lewisham, why don't you like Peckham? They will say, oh, because I don't like them, innit. That's the reason. There's no deeper thing. They're not like us and we don't like them. But why? They don't know. There was a gang fight the other day, in Lewisham. There were these young schoolgirls and this group of boys were insulting them. The schoolgirls called some other boys, probably their older brothers of something, and then they all came down and there was this whole conflict near the town centre, by the police station. This is a biggest police station in Europe and they want to be having a big old conflict over there. It's like they don't care about the aftermath. When they've been arrested and get sentenced, that's when they start worrying about things. They're living for the now. The speaker was 19 year-old Martins Imhangbe, a young actor. Reading his words made me think about Boris's "Village London" riff, which was given its widest airing yet in his Tory conference speech. "Everything we do at City Hall is about putting the village back into the city," he said, and went on to talk about cycling, tree-planting, street parties, volunteering and, of course, crime. The community spirit fostered by a village mentality, he argued, would help to keep crime down. Fair enough, so far as it went. But the attitudes of the contemporaries Martins Imhangbe described also have something of a village mindset about them: narrow, suspicious, territorial, destructively insular and, unlike, Martins, with little vision of a life beyond it. There are some aspects of "village London" that a Mayor must do all possible to help destroy. London politics Youth justice Boris Johnson Police London Dave Hill © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds