Magazine article The Spectator

The Mean Streets of Britain, Where Life Is as Cheap as Food

Magazine article The Spectator

The Mean Streets of Britain, Where Life Is as Cheap as Food

Article excerpt

Instead of the heavy police presence I had expected to find at Brixton's underground station, I was greeted by a canned rendition of Beethoven's 5th Symphony. To cool tempers in the notoriously volatile south London hotspot, classical music is being pumped through the ticket hall's sound system; unfortunately, like the flower power 'make love, not war' ideology of the 1960s, this latest gimmick is straight out of the politically correct rulebook.

Graffiti already disfigures the huge glass sign outside the newly refurbished station and dubious characters continue to congregate, oblivious to the banks of CCTV cameras. I turned left after leaving the station; it was the middle of the day but the air was already thick with menace. I had walked barely a dozen yards towards the Coldharbour Lane, now more closely associated with Yardie gangs than John Major, before being accosted by my first drug-dealer of the day: 'skunk, crack, weed, ' he muttered under his breath. Seconds later, two more approached me.

I studiously avoided making eye contact.

Instead, I looked over Brixton Road to the local branch of McDonald's, where two youngsters were shot at point-blank range last week. Across Acre Lane, next to the Town Hall, is the Fridge, the nightclub outside which two men were sprayed with bullets last week and which was raided by 200 police officers in April. But it was the scene of the first shooting I had come to see: with its lurid combination of gun crime and seemingly random use of extreme violence, served up with huge helpings of unhealthy food, it epitomises everything that distinguishes today's underclass from the rest; it illustrates how in our inner cities the devaluation of life has gone hand in hand with the devaluation of eating habits -- even though McDonald's is an honest company and is itself a victim of this trend.

Fortunately, nobody died in those shootings; and in terms of pure evil none of these attacks can match the horrendous massacres in America over the past few days, especially at the Amish school in Pennsylvania on Monday, when a deranged lone gunman sought out young girls from a classroom and killed them one after the other. There is outrage in the US, and the Bush administration will hold a school violence summit within days. The reaction in Britain has been quite different; the sense of shock so obvious on the other side of the Atlantic is palpably missing here, where nobody can even be bothered to call for yet another anticrime conference.

On the face of it, this lack of urgency is bizarre. In the UK in recent days we have suffered from an epidemic of gun and knife crime of such intensity that one murder or attempted killing simply melts into another.

But while the violence still makes the headlines in newspapers and prominent slots in the TV bulletins, it no longer shocks a public numbed by the regularity of it all, and disillusioned by the apparent powerlessness of the authorities to do anything about it.

Americans know that crime can be tackled and they expect their politicians to do so.

We don't, and as a result Britain is suffering from an almost unprecedented outbreak of mindless violence. First of the latest batch of victims was a man shot in the stomach near the Old Kent Road in London; then Jason Gayle-Bent was pursued and stabbed in New Cross by a gang of 40 youths roaming the streets on bikes and firing shots into the air; 2,000 pupils in Peckham and East Dulwich were sent home because of a looming gang war between the Peckham Boys and the Ghetto Boys; a man was left paralysed after a shooting in Kennington; Carley Furness, 17, was stabbed in the neck in Orpington on Saturday; and on Sunday Stevens Nyembo-Ya-Muteba was stabbed to death in the stairwell of his Hackney flat after asking a group of youths to be quiet. In Nottingham, Nathan Williams, 17, was shot dead in a shopping centre. In Manchester, where an average of more than two firearm offences are committed by 15- to 20-year-olds every day, 15-year-old Jessie James was recently shot dead in Moss Side and, in a separate attack, 25-year-old Mark Daniels suffered the same fate. …

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