Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Heroic Struggle of Black Parenthood

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Heroic Struggle of Black Parenthood

Article excerpt

The news that three children aged 16 and under had been murdered in the UK took Trinidad by storm. Newspaper journalists and radio and television announcers plagued my brother's phone, seeking me out for comment. Mum's the word, was my slogan. I was in Trinidad on holiday, and I learned long ago that the instant analysis in extreme moments adds little insight to the issues.

My first certainty is that these are Tony Blair's children. New Labour came to power ten years ago, when these kids were barely out of their pushchairs. Responsibility, offloaded on to parents, should instead be placed firmly at the door of 10 Downing Street.

South London is my turf. I have lived here for close to 35 years. Scores of friends and a stream of associates, dead and alive, have inspired my journalism. I am sure of one fact: there exists here in our communities an unrelenting struggle, mounted by families and friends, young and old, to restrain our young black men from crime, and gun crime in particular. Without this intervention we would be living in a state of siege.

But parents can do only so much. In 2005, I went public with my personal agony, authoring a Channel 4 documentary, Son of Mine. Since then, everywhere I turn in south London, parents stop me in the street to ask: "How's your son getting on?" This is not just curiosity, but a sharing of sympathy with someone engaged in the same struggle as they are.

The official response to these problems, however, is all stick and no carrot. The brutish approach of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Home Secretary has been to argue that mandatory five-year sentences be handed down to younger people caught with firearms. Two points here: what about those who manufacture and import them? And second, our prisons are already filled to bursting with young men found guilty of gun crimes who will be released well into middle age, when their parents and grandparents will probably be dead. …

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