It used to make me sad reporting daily stabbings and murders, then it made me angry. Now...Predictably it makes me feel nothing but a dull sense of regularity.
This week was a heavy one by all standards, six people stabbed and killed in as many days. There have been two more stabbings this morning (Saturday).
I can't talk about the incidences happening around the country, but I can talk about my front door.
In London something has gone very wrong.
There are a multitude of reasons for this, some obvious, some not so obvious and some just theoretical. I want to try and explore a few of these in the most basic, pertinent way I can. It isn't the murder of Ben Kinsella, the 16-yr old stabbed outside a pub in Islington, who has since spawned a trendy line in 'No to knives' shirts from the middle classes. This hasn't 'shocked me from my revere' in any way, it was actually the Oxford Street stabbing that hit me hardest.
My first question is 'When is there no law?'
Is it when there are no police, no judges no prisons? Is it when the system is full and slow? Is it when it is corrupt or inefficient? All of these boil down to one thing. A lack of universal, effective deterrent and punishment. Whether you have the money to get off or the system cant deal with you, it all boils down to there being no legal presence.
That presence can be physical (No Police where you live) or metaphorical, 'I'll pay my way out' or 'The punishment is nothing'. Thankfully we dont have rampant corruption within the police, nor do we an (entirely) overflowing penal system.
For me, the brutal murder of a man by a group of men in broad daylight in the busiest shopping district of the capital city of the country in front of hundreds of onlookers tells me definatevely. There is no law.
When children test boundaries and find no punishment, that behaviour is acceptable. There are so many stabbings now, so much regular youth on youth killing and so little follow up that it's basically acceptable.
This isn't entirely the fault of the police. They do their best in an increasingly hostile world. But the truth is they dont have the power. They are constrained, rightly and wrongly, by human rights legislation, lack of effective powers, the fight against other crimes, a creaking system of red-tape and so on and so forth. When kids realise that basically after you've had your name taken, your knife confiscated and a DNA swab done, you're off. That process isnt scary anymore.
I remember fearing the police. I remember when having a police officer talk to you was scary because it had possible impact. They might start writing it up and who knows where it went then? Well, now we all know:
Perhaps a maximum of seven years for murder, out in four with time served and good behaviour to ease the at-capacity prison system. With three meals a day, TV, Playstation, a gym and amenities its more of a spa-break. Prison is a shitty hard place, friends have been in and it isnt easy. But it isnt a Siberian labor camp either. It's the social dynamic that makes prison hard, not prison itself. Other inmates are dangerous, the internal respect and currency system make it hard. But not the prison system itself. Thats relatively easy.
Let me end any debate here by political councils, committees, academics and hand wringers all over London. Most of the time, for these kids, prison isn't scary and they couldnt give a shit.
The police now have no power to deter and prison isnt scary, so what then? Why was prison scary for a generation of kids and not another?
The prospect of having a criminal record counts when you can fail.
When you have possible opportunities removed form you as a result of being convicted of a serious crime. If you want to be a stockbroker, a lawyer a doctor or even a solicitor and these things become unreachable if you have a murder or assault record.
But what when you dont feel like you have any of these opportunities?
What when the best you can aspire to is being a rap mogul or a dealer?
Hold on here. I'm not going to make the shallow and obvious point. These kids do not suffer from a lack of opportunity. There are schools, there are colleges and there are universities for all of them.
They have school places and teachers who turn up to work, and classrooms and books.
They might not be the best schools, teachers or books. But they are there.
It's just that education isnt seen as the route out of anything.
There's a great scene in 'Boiler Room' where the lead charatcer describes the 'white boy' version of 'learning a jump shot or slinging crack rock' and thats becoming a stock broker.
Why dont kids now look to these things? Why do they set themselves up with no possibility of failure? Because the truth is none of this is relevant to them or their lives. They rarely have parents or siblings who've achieved that level, nobody around them aspires to achieve ot that degree and certainly nobody in the media has achieved that.
Who was the last A-List doctor? Solicitor or Physicist?
Those people with money now are almost entirely, devoid of talent. The era of reality-TV and get-rich one shot record deals mean we live in an era where fame for the 'normal man' is expected. 'Being famous' is a career aspiration. As a country we have lauded the stupid and the unworthy for so long that we slaughtered merit as a concept to the gods of reality TV long ago.
Add that to a nanny culture in education where nobody truly 'fails' and there are options for everyone, multiple qualifications, NVQ's, bachaleureates, apprenticiships and its ok not to achieve, because I can 'talk about it' and there will be 'understanding'. When we killed failure and judgement in society, we killed standards.
But what about music? As a keen listener of Hip Hop, Rap and urban music and a sometime maker of it, surely this for me is in the heart and real? Short answer: No.
The reason all the outreach programmes and street kid initiatives teach DJ'ing and MC'ing is not because it's a genuine release for its own sake. Its because its a percevied ladder to being famous.
The truly sad thing about HH going mainstream, which in itself is a good thing, is that using it as a genuine tool of confession, regret and development is gone. The 'tough heartache stories' of Eminem, 50 cent and others mean that its almost now relegated to another 'talking is explaining' initative.
HH used to be a real and genuine thing grasped by people who had few other outlets and used with great effect. It was bought by others in the same struggle, as Jay-Z famously said "I gave a voice to the hustlers" Rarely, very rarely, it still is. But even the confession form of self evaluation rap is now mainstream and overdone.
"It's hard in the ghetto"
"My friends shoot each other"
"But I'm using music to struggle out of this life"
Has become a cliche.
Does that mean music as an outlet is redundant? No. It's just going to have to be more inventive than it currently is. And this is also true, HH reflects life in a way for me, no other art form yet does. Street Bards are alive and well but their progress and chances are radically different. Add to that that the UK HH scene is tiny and growing slowly means there are not record deals out there for many, but a tiny few. Even less than the rhymers coming out of the Bronx or South-Central.
Anyway this is all academic.
The next part involves us, you and me, the general public. See this doesnt really affect us. We shout about outrage and the fear for safety and 'our kids'. But in the main, the majority. They're not our kids and it isnt our outrage.
There is, I'm willing to bet, a large part of the white middle class public who get outraged etc because they're supposed to. It isn't until this shit happens on your doorstep that its a real problem. There is no one ghetto anymore. Most of South London has its problems, just like East London. And north London suffers too.
When we get a killing a street away from the mayors house in Kensington you know its changing.
So now it is our problem.
Choir boy children are being killed in bakerys, white middle class high achievers are being killed outside pubs protecting friends. Holy shit our blind eye, laissez faire approach came home to roost. It isn't just black working class kids killing one another on estates, although this is the majority, to use a crass metaphor it has 'bled out'.
Now the real outrage begins.
And the middle class reacts in a predictable way. Facebook groups, ironic t-shirt campaigns and low-level student marches. We are impotent.
So what about govrnment?
Governments failures are large on this issue, but its partly our fault. See we all accuse politicians of being liars and then give them all trial by media.; A politician cannot give a bad soundbyte or admit defeat or say they are not in control. Because we slaughter them.
We, the sheep, read one or two headlines and decide we think the minister concerned should go and after a week of political assasination by ambitious colleagues, research journo articles and think pieces in higher brow papers the offending member is usually gone. If they survive the week they stay.
Government has become so used to 'massaging the figures' and making the 'compelling argument' that it means nothing anymore. Statistics are utterly meaningless. They are read and reread in different ways allowing no definitive answer. This government has become masterful at setting 'targets' and 'quotas' and showing 'progress' all the while Rome Burns around them.
The vast majoiry of MPs have no idea, none whatsoever of this slide. They live protected lives in jobs where they read reports and when they do 'take to the streets' its with a gaggle of armed police officers.
They dont know you or know me.
They handle the media as best they can by never admitting defeat, taking obviously stupid lines of argument just to say that thats not the case. Look out especially for the following words:
'Deeply troubled' 'Deeply concerned' 'Deeply sadenned'.
These are government stock phrases used at every death or calamity (Soldiers on duty, through to teens on the streets) they are not actually 'deeply' anything. Neither are we.
Oh they care alright, its bad for their image and bad for them and crime is bad so they do actually care, no doubt. But each case does not affect them personally, nor does it give them honesty.
We're partly to blame. Politicians are trapped in a cycle of having to feed the beast good news or deny bad news. We criticise their lack of honesty and integrity but constantly demand that everything be 'all right' or that they are incompetant. The idea that a bunch of legal graduates from decent universities sitting in an old palace in Westminster have all the answers is ludicrous. Just as if we were in charge. So stop expecting it.
Expect leadership in a crisis, expect direction. But do not expect to be spoon fed progress or safety. These things trap us all in the cirlce of constant hyperbole and justification and denial that has seen the death of political honesty in assosiation with the death of failure.
We have to let politicians fail occasionaly or be lost for words or report bad stats openly and honestly without mauling them the one and only time they do it. Also, take pity on them. To them knife and gun crime are reports and statistics, headlines and commentary. It is not thier doorstep, their neighbour or their child.
When it is, expect action.
Finally, government are not police their job is enacting legislation, something this government has done a huge amount of. They setup committees and talking shops, headed by white middle-upper class individuals of good intention who just dont know the problem. They interview some offenders and talk about 'getting to the heart of the issue' they then take months to publish a 'paper' that goes nowhere and does nothing but stimulate a debate before another committe and at best, more legislation.
That is the limit of government power. They can tax you, spend your taxes and create laws. But thats it.
None of those things are going to solve knife crime, its out of their hands.
Now lets look at that other factor which unities and dividies a society. Religion.
Whilst we have those who are ultra religious in our midst (Another debate another time) religion plays no part whatsoever in the current life of a UK working class kid involved in this scene. None whatsoever.
The church is meaningless, they make good open plan flat conversions but thats about it.
Reverends and ministers will give sermons to the older generation, the old and dying looking to God or trying to reach Him. But apart form religious outreach initiatives, there is no role for religion here or in society as a whole. This lack fo faith has combined with the above factors in the lack of punishment. If the police cant stop me and I dont have a soul to judge then who cares?
It's just true that religion and God play at best a passing part in the lives of these kids. Working hard and doing the right thing do not result in an easy life, neither does belief so its irrelevant.
The death of religion feeds into a wider decline in morality. Pretty much everything is acceptable, nothing is tabboo and you cant be punished anyway. The social contract is gone. That idea that even if there was no God or effective police you brought shame to yourself and family by acting badly is also gone. We live in a world of 'respect' and 'my rights' which means nothing. The only person we protect is ourselves and our rep. Beyond that, who cares I dont know them.
Finally we come to demographics and family. Lets state the obvious up front here. The majority of the perpetrators of this problem in London are black and so are their victims. Anybody who denies that this is predominantly a black community problem is playing PC with the wrong issue.
I'm tired. My fingers and brain ache. Familiies with no fathers, mothers on benefits. Children as parent, no formal education of their own a disdain for education and achievment and 'I'm still young and I know my rights attitude' have ruined these kids. Period.
Final thing. The kids themselves.
Dont get caught up in the excuses above, opportunity, environment, family and other reasons.
Some of these kids, by no means all, but some of them. Are lost.
Forget redemeption, social initiatives and saving them. Some of them have gone feral and simply require humanising. Their is no moral, no tale that will bring them round. No gospel, song or t-shirt that will reach them. They are animals.
You can as much tell a dog to stop biting your leg as you can instruct some of these people to change.
I want out. Out of this city and perhaps, out of this country.
This is no longer the country of my fathers generation, but I suspect it could be once again.