Saturday, April 16, 2011
The problem seems to be with two groups in society – young kids, and older teenagers/ young adults. The young kids are local and, in general, well brought up. I suspect they just don’t think there’s a problem with litter and window-knocking, or making a noise in the street or playing football mainly in the street, but straying into front gardens occasionally. And, indeed, if all the neighbours are happy with that, then it isn’t a problem.
The older group are more difficult to assess. They certainly appear more threatening. They seem to roam over a wider area, they drink, and I suspect they are completely aware that their behaviour is intimidating. A few weeks ago we had a call from a neighbour who wasn’t at home, but who had been phoned by his teenage children who were in the house on the own. An older group were playing football in their drive and the children were scared. He asked us to go and take a look but by the time we arrived they were gone.
The police have responded well, however compared to what they have to deal with elsewhere these are not major incidents. My concern is that nowadays society leaves too much of the responsibility for anti-social behaviour with the police and not enough with the citizen. Of course it could be argued that in Northern Ireland this is less the case than many other places, due to the residual vigilante practices of paramilitary organisations, but I’m talking about areas – such as my own – where this doesn’t happen. The police have told us not to confront anyone, and not even to take photos (they are concerned about child protection issues), but to call them whenever we see anything untoward, and not to worry about it seeming unimportant.
You couldn’t ask for more from your neighbourhood police, but I’m not afraid of these kids and I want to confront them. I want to say to them that certain types of behaviour are not acceptable in my neighbourhood and that it has to stop – and keep on saying it, if necessary. I think that by giving up the right to do this to the police, we as citizens are hiding too much behind the state and, in fact, that it means these young people have achieved the dominance of public space which they seek. Needless to say, both the younger and older groups are usually boys.
The received liberal wisdom is that children and young adults need to be provided with things to do, to stop this kind of behaviour. Well, I was brought up in a town with very few activities for young people and I didn’t end up hanging around on street corners. Much more to the point is whether parents know where their children are. If your children want to meet up with friends, let them do so in someone’s house and garden. If your children say they are going to visit a friend, phone to check they are actually there. Don’t let your few hours of peace and quiet be at the expense of somebody else’s. If your children are older, you can’t police them, of course. But let them know certain kinds of behaviour are not only despicable (which they probably won’t care about), but illegal, and it’ll be hard to get that first job or J1 visa with a criminal record.
I’m for zero tolerance when it comes to anti-social behaviour and I see no contradiction between that and being a socialist. I believe that if you allow incivility to take hold and boundaries to be crossed, then the problem escalates. Remove graffiti at once, clean up litter, and speak to people who may not understand that their behaviour is causing a nuisance. Socialism is about the collective, and anti-social behaviour is about the power of the (usually male) individual to cause distress to others. Citizens need to be able to make that clear.