Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.Of Gum on the Pavement and Graffiti on the Wall: Medieval Handbooks Laid Down Strict Rules about Spitting; Today, Staring May Be an Aggressive Act. Paul Barker Asks If Blair Can Win His War on Antisocial Behaviour. (Features)

By Barker, Paul | New Statesman (1996), November 18, 2002 | Go to article overview

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.Of Gum on the Pavement and Graffiti on the Wall: Medieval Handbooks Laid Down Strict Rules about Spitting; Today, Staring May Be an Aggressive Act. Paul Barker Asks If Blair Can Win His War on Antisocial Behaviour. (Features)


Barker, Paul, New Statesman (1996)


I walk down a local pavement, past a row of shops. Three boys, aged between about 12 and 14, have managed to get on to a single bike and are riding at me full tilt. I shout at them to stop. They get off. The youngest holds up his fists in my face like a boxer, but they all go on past me. Moments later, I'm doused with a stream of cold water. It runs down my neck. The oldest has taken a display bucket from the front of a florist's, emptied out the flowers and thrown the water.

More fool me? Should I have given them the pleasure of seeing me jump out of the way? Questions, questions. I walk, dripping, to the Tube station, ignoring shouts and footsteps close behind me. I resent being invaded by an inevitable surge of angry feelings.

This is antisocial behaviour a few notches higher than most of what the Prime Minister talks about and which, the Queen's Speech indicated, he intends to target. It's a long way up from dropping gum in the street or fly-posting in bus shelters. It's perhaps on a par with letting your dog shit in the park or engraving Tube train window-glass with graffiti. It's somewhere below riding motorbikes, under-age, unlicensed and uninsured, past the gates of a young children's play-space. Except for the last example, all these things are routine aspects of urban life.

But what criteria am I using to rank these delinquencies? Because it involved a kind of assault, should I upgrade my own case? Where does mischief tilt over into malice, and then tipple down into menace? All these events take place, most of the time, below the sight-line of the law. When the law does take notice, the outcome can be unexpected. A young man recently found guilty of using a drill to put his tag on many square yards of Tube glass turned out to be the stepson of a barrister, not a lout from a sink estate. Between verdict and sentence, he did a runner.

The arguments of the Harvard criminologist James Q Wilson underlie Blair's concern. On Wilson's interpretation, tolerate a broken window or similar misdemeanours and you begin to create an ambience in which people go on to ever-greater crimes. There goes the neighbourhood. This is the theory behind zero-tolerance, the programme on which Middlesbrough voters recently elected the former policeman Ray Mallon as mayor. The snag is that, except in some narrowly defined territories, such as Rudi Giuliani's Manhattan, you'll never have enough policemen to do the job. Which is not to say that more commonsensical policing mightn't help. When residents complained about the motorcyclists I've mentioned, the police turned up in a marked car, with all lights flashing, instead of on foot. By then the boys had fled, laughing.

Sociologists struggle to make sense of all this. The idea that, like soccer yobbery, it is some sort of "resistance through ritual" -- an idea advocated by Stuart Hall at the Open University and his sociological colleagues -- has now drifted into history. For a start there isn't much ritual involved. On top of that, it's unclear what the "resistance" -- the imagery is of an urban guerrilla war--is aimed at. Some of the arguments came close to implying that the statistics of rising crime were made up by the police to justify their quest for more officers and more money. By now, all the attempts to present crime as a way for the poor to get their own back on the rich -- the bandit interpretation of burglary -- seem to have died a death. Neighbourhood studies, such as a celebrated inquiry in Islington, north London, by the sociologist Jock Young, showed that the chief victims were poor themselves. They wanted more police, not fewer. On the most crime-ridden estates today, the richest man, in the fanciest BMW or Merc, is a drug dealer.

Most of the lesser misdemeanours are too trivial for the attention of sociology, just as they've been too trivial for the police. They can even be romanticised into art.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.Of Gum on the Pavement and Graffiti on the Wall: Medieval Handbooks Laid Down Strict Rules about Spitting; Today, Staring May Be an Aggressive Act. Paul Barker Asks If Blair Can Win His War on Antisocial Behaviour. (Features)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.