This was both an informative and very frustrating documentary; the latter, the frustration, comes because the answer to this ever growing problem is a very simple but probably an unattainable one; it needs a lot of monetary investment to make it work.
As with most things in life, an improvement to anything costs money, and it’s no different in the war against street weapons and street gangs. But of course the question is, where is that money going to come from? And who’s going to stand up and say that problems that are mostly – but not exclusively – peculiar to inner cities are more worthy of public money than hospitals, education, policing or provision of housing?
Cherie Booth QC is of course an articulate advocate for the proactive interventions which Channel 4’s Street Weapons Commission – of which she is Chair – recommended last year, but her question for last night’s programme was, why aren’t the measures that are proven to impact positively on youth and gang related crime being rolled out across the country?
Again, one could prevaricate and speculate on the answer to that until we’re all blue in the face, but the answer is, money.
Last night’s documentary saw Cherie shadowing police officers as they took those proactive steps to cut down on violent crime by, for instance, searching an estate in Hackney for concealed weapons and drugs. In similar raids, these searches have turned up dozens of weapons, including guns, and it’s a victory for the police in that regard, because of course, those weapons were taken away. However, knives are available everywhere; in my kitchen for instance, I have a block of them. In hardware stores everywhere, Stanley knives are sold in their millions every day. And in some parts of the country, guns are not that much more difficult to find.
Youth worker Camilla Batmanghelidjh told Cherie, “There’s a new kind of child on the block. They shoot you and they don’t even bother to run away. The reason is that, ultimately, these children get to the point where they don’t care whether they live or die.”
And when you see the conditions they’re living in, it’s not that big of a surprise they might feel that way. Endless blocks of filthy, old and box like towers of flats surrounded by nothing but concrete and wire which could be the dictionary definition of poverty and urban decay. What to do about that? Hurl money at it. Has anyone got the money to do so? No.
Cherie also visited Glasgow where a Violence Reduction Unit tackles the issues that surround violent crime – predominantly with youths – on an almost holistic basis. It calls for, and practises, an approach which involves all the agencies who may come into contact with the offender or the victim. From schools to hospitals and of course, the police, they coordinate their data and treat the problem as a “public health issue”. And it’s working.
However, when Cherie met with Justice Minister Maria Eagle and put it to her that the VRU system was working and should be rolled out nationwide, Ms Eagle stated that she wasn’t convinced of its effectiveness, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It is working, it is cutting crime, it is providing answers, but of course, if Ms Eagle acknowledged those things to be fact and true, she’d have to adopt the policies and, guess what? It would be very expensive.
However, Cherie wasn’t going to be deterred by this stonewalling and will, I’m sure, continue to put pressure on those with the power to change the system for the better.
“While teenagers continue to have their lives senselessly cut short, we must not give up the fight. Too much is at stake. Too many lives have already been lost.”
These were among the many similarly understated and quietly put words of intent from Cherie in the film, and I believe her. I don’t think she will give up the fight. She doesn’t shout and scream or get annoyed; she just presents a very rounded case for her cause, and being a barrister, it’s what she does best.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to people like Cherie and the thousands of unnamed men and women who are working every day to reduce crime in our country, but ultimately, if the government won’t or can’t fund ideas such as the VRU nationally, whilst it will undoubtedly save some lives, we won’t see an end to violent crimes or the ever burgeoning gang culture which is one of the less desirable imports from our cousins in the USA.
One of the problems that Cherie and everyone else who works for this cause has is that, despite body counts reducing in areas where these methods have been tried and tested and found to work, nobody can accurately estimate how many lives have been saved. Nobody can estimate how many young people have been kept out of prison – and therefore off the taxpayers budget – by early interventions with them by youth groups.
Proving what works is more difficult than proving what doesn’t and, especially in the current climate, as far as I can see, until gang, knife and youth related crime becomes a pandemic and exposes the more affluent areas of the country to these issues – more than it does already – change on a national scale is unlikely to happen.
What this film did express though is that there are selfless people who are willing to push this cause forward, and thank goodness for them.