Bill's Archived Comments

for the week beginning: Monday, 6th January 2003

The first comment page of another year. I wish everyone a very happy, peaceful and prosperous 2003.

Contents of this page (scroll down the page to see the full text of the article which interests you)

- Blunkett's latest crime stunt unworkable, as predicted (7 Jan 2003)

- Repercussions from the mindless slaying in Aston (Birmingham) (6 Jan 2003)

(If you wish to see other articles, please click on the 'Archives' link above to go there now)

Blunkett's latest crime stunt unworkable, as predicted (7 Jan 2003)

Just one day after the Home Secretary's latest attention-grabbing announcement of minimum prison sentences of five years for those who carry firearms in public without authorisation, it has become clear that this is just another of his talk-tough policy announcements falling foul of the law (see the article below). If the UK was Iraq or North Korea or any number of other totalitarian countries, then no doubt an edict from someone such as Blunkett would be slavishly implemented. We, however, have the due process of law to take into account - it's a pity Mr Blunkett doesn't consider this before making his knee-jerk announcements.

Even judges appeared in the media today, insisting that they had to retain the right to pronounce sentences appropriate to the case being tried. Whilst the police seem to be the driving-force behind introducing minimum-sentences (notably Sir John Stevens, Commissioner of Metropolitan Police and some other Chief Constables), there are others campaigning for frontline police officers such as Norman Brennan of Protect the Protectors who think differently: "Armed criminals committing offences that carry a life sentence anyway will laugh at this knee-jerk legislation. There is so much contempt for the criminal justice system that they don't think twice about shooting a policeman or even a member of the public."

In any case, we live in a parliamentary democracy, so Mr Blunkett will have to frame his legislation in a way that will prove acceptable to his own parliamentary majority. A significant proportion of them are barristers, so they can probably be relied on not to allow too many of Mr Blunkett's more outlandish ideas through the legislative net - or at least, I hope so.

Repercussions from the mindless slaying in Aston (Birmingham) (6 Jan 2003)

Two teenage young women were shot in a hail of semi-automatic gunfire on leaving a New Year Party in Aston, Birmingham. Charlene Ellis (18) and Latisha Skakespear (17) are said to have been the innocent victims of a 'shoot out' between two rival gangs, the 'Burger Bar Boys' and the 'Johnson Crew', who were apparently involved in a 'turf-war' for 'possession' of Birchfield Road, Aston where the party was held.

Now our illustrious Home Secretary, David Blunkett, is proposing to ban the carrying of imitation firearms in public, as part of his 'plan' to deal with gun crime. My immediate reaction to this particular knee-jerk response is that it seems to be yet another of Mr Blunkett's announcements of fine-sounding 'plans' which never seem to result in any concrete result (e.g. the ban on handguns in the wake of the Dunblane slayings, since which time gun crime has 'almost doubled' (according to a report in today's Daily Telegraph, referring to statistics which it reports will be published by the Home Office on Thursday). Mr Blunkett wants to be seen to be doing something, it would appear - whilst one cannot really blame him, for the problem is undoubtedly a difficult one to resolve, his credibility as a competent Minister suffers in the process (mind you, his municipal record in his home-city of Sheffield is hardly stellar, so this latest fiasco is no surprise to me). The 'legal' handguns which have been banned were never the main source of weapons used in gun crime; then, as now, illegal weapons are the major cause. It would appear the earlier ban has had no (or perhaps at best little) effect on gun crime.

It is apparently the case that amongst some young urban black males there is a culture of 'swagger' which favours the open display and use of firearms as a way of enhancing their 'street cred'; many of those who think this way are said to be of Jamaican origin, where such displays of macho bravado and reckless flouting of law are said to be common. It appears that police forces in urban centres throughout Britain are well-aware of this phenomenon and have found themselves unable to control the escalation of the problem (I do not imply criticism here, because I am quite certain that it is a horrendous problem to try and tackle).

What seems to have brought this dreadful incident under intense public scrutiny is that the two young ladies seem to have had no involvement of any kind with the gang culture which led to the crime; in most cases, both perpetrators and victims tend to be members of rival gangs.

One other aspect of popular Jamaican 'culture' that exercises me is the extreme homophobia of much Jamaican 'rap' music - I laughed (in despair) a few months ago when one of the so-called 'artistes' who performs such music tried to tell listeners, during a radio interview by a British journalist of Jamaican origin who is gay and was revisiting his parents' homeland to try and find out how wide the problem is, that the lyrics were really attacking corrupt government in Jamaica and were not directed at gays; from what I can gather, such an interpretation can best be classified as 'novel' or even 'audacious', in the language of Sir Humphrey.

So what is to be done? Frankly, I have no ready answers - but I am quite certain that knee-jerk reactions against activities which some in the government find it convenient to scapegoat are not the answer.

It seems to me that the first step in even beginning to formulate effective strategies to beat lawlessness is to have an honest look at the culture which gives rise to such violence - and to have long-term plans to change the mindset of people who think that such behaviour is going to be tolerated. Too often the only aim seems to be to convince the elecetorate that enough is being done to allow the government to win the next election. The same might apply, incidentally, to our own British indigenous 'gangster' culture in cities such as London and Glasgow. For example, recent decisions not to jail serial burglars, using a tortuous interpretation of the law, but to sentence them to so-called 'community service' instead, send entirely the wrong message to those who may be tempted to flout what most people consider are reasonable codes of behaviour ('Thou shalt not steal' or 'Thou shalt not commit murder' for example).

Knee-jerk changes in the law, such as the repeated attempts to weaken rights which citizens have struggled to achieve over many centuries, such as the right to trial by jury or the proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill now making its way through Parliament to abolish the bar on double-jeopardy are NOT the solution. This government, and in particular the present Home Secretary, seems to have no desire to tackle the real problem - they seem much more keen to curtail citizens' freedoms - and the crime statistics continue to spiral out of control.

Protection of human rights, in which I am a fervent believer, seems too often to be a euphemism for making excuses for those who commit crime, rather than educating such people so they understand that there are certain things general society is simply not prepared to tolerate - and  at the same time giving them the credible opportunity to better themselves.

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Copyright © 2003 William Cameron