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Rooney, American Rap and Britain's Violent Streets
Last uploaded : Monday 2nd Jun 2008 at 01:48
Contributed by : Carol Gould



Tonight we learn that Pat Regan, a brave and tireless housewife-turned-anti-gang campaigner in Leeds has been found murdered, apparently by her own grandchild. Her own grandchild!

The United Kingdom is in a terrible and tragic crisis as more and more youngsters kill and maim one another with knives and guns. Gang violence is beginning to consume police resources whilst the public discourse obsesses on this insanity. After all, most British parents look at those young faces on the front pages and think, ‘There but for the grace of God go my children.’

Lest we forget that the whole premise of the 1957 Broadway musical drama ‘West Side Story,’ with its searing lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, stunning book by Arthur Laurents and turbulent score by Leonard Bernstein depicted a world of violence and perpetual murder amongst the warring gangs of New York in the 1950s. Until ‘West Side,’ Broadway audiences had never heard such discordant music, written by the courageous Bernstein to match the brutality of gang wars in the streets of their own Manhattan.

From the first note of the opening sequence, which, incidentally, was, instead of an overture, the first ‘action with music’ to open a show since Carousel in the 1940s, audiences were jolted by the power of the Jerome Robbins choreography. Here were teenagers invading the stage, leaping and dashing about to attack each other for no particular reason but whose Puerto Rican and white skins drove them apart with a palpable hatred. In one heartbreaking scene in the show an elderly shopkeeper, most probably a World War I veteran, laments the violence; he is unable to understand kids killing each other in this otherwise magnificent city.

What happened to these gangs? The young men in ‘The Rumble’ are now senior citizens. The black power movement and unbelievable economic prosperity saw the white and Puerto Rican youth of the Bernstein-Sondheim scenario evolve into entrepreneurs, sportsmen, coaches or even Vietnam war veterans, serving side by side. By the 1960s violence was political and murder was a problem evolving from civil rights rioting and urban warfare, later to be dominated by drug-related crime.

Like the despairing shopkeeper in the musical , commentators on television and radio in Britain seem unable to comprehend the anger and barbarism that seem to be consuming the British-born youth of so many different ethnic backgrounds. (Please note Hindu and Jewish youth seem to be minimally involved in this nationwide epidemic of crime.)

When I was on the Jonathan Dimbleby programme ‘Any Questions?’ on BBC Radio Four, I pointed out that American youth have been kept off the streets because of the massive amount of money poured into sports in high school and college varsity enterprises. Young people are afforded superb facilities and equipment, sports scholarships and television exposure whilst learning the skills of teamwork. What can be more exciting than being on a small-town team that makes it to a tournament shown on ESPN and attended by 100,000 people? Conversely, how can we expect our British youth to behave in a civilised manner when their hero, Wayne Rooney, shouts ‘Fuck off! ’ followed by a stream of arrogant invective at the referee during a ‘friendly’ match at Wembley Stadium and broadcast to the nation on BBC in primetime?

Do British youngsters need to see boxer Joe Calzaghe simulating anal sex behind his black-American opponent Bernard Hopkins whilst mocking him with monkey-like gestures? Needless to say the Americans in the audience in Las Vegas on April 20th were stunned by this racist and indecent display; I was outraged and wished he had been disqualified for this utterly disgraceful behaviour in front of a worldwide audience. This is a role model for British children? His being allowed to continue and win the fight an example to our troubled youth?

Likewise the lyrics of rap music have been linked to violence on America's streets. Parental innfluence is also a factor. On this site in 2006 we wrote about Alan Senitt, a young British charity campaigner who was murdered in Washington, DC; his killer later told police he 'just wanted to go out and cut somebody.' Apparently he had said this to his aunt earlier in the day. Did she not take him seriously or had she become numb to the violence around her? As in London, many communities are suspicious of the police and refuse to cooperate with murder investigations or with gang control.

On the night of my appearance on the BBC Radio Four broadcast panel, which was transmitted from Blackpool, audience members from the coastal town crowded around afterwards to ask me more about the issues of sport and youth. What struck me was the difference between the American and British tradition: British children leave shcool at sixteen unless they are academically promising; American children are encouraged to stay in school in the United States; even those who receive a sports scholarship must achieve reasonable grades and are thus able to pursue other career placements if they do not make sport a lifetime occupation. Last year over 500,000 American sports-scholarship graduates went on to postgraduate training as pharmacists, teachers, accountants and even choreography!

On the day after my BBC appearance Dimbleby received a call from a listener who said I was spot-on; he had just visited the United States and was bowled over when the family he visited said in the afternoon that their children were ‘off to basketball practice’ at a massive sports centre. The young people opened it up, cleared up after practice and made sure the alarm was on when they locked up and left for home. Knowing how my friends in the United States discipline their children, the ones who come home from practice then embark on written homework.

The ‘Atlantic Monthly’ magazine had a long feature three years ago about the profound effect the church had had on black youth. Crime and gang warfare had hit such a critical level in the 1970s that the black clergy decided something had to be done. In this painfully secular Britain it is difficult to imagine young knife-wielders suddenly singing Gospel but this is exactly what happened across the USA in the 1970s and 80s: a concerted effort by the black clergy to bring youngsters into the church and to enjoy the experience worked. They did indeed set about visiting the elderly, becoming apprentices to successful black businessmen and joining the Gospel choir.

It could be argued that violence in Hollywood films and television programmes that humiliate human beings has led to the wave of anger and knife crime filling the streets of Britain with blood. The late Enoch Powell delivered his famous ‘rivers of blood’ speech forty years ago, but his vision was of blacks and whites in open warfare. What is so tragic about the present epidemic of murder in London and in other counties is that black children are killing other black children. White children are killing other white children. Gangs of children are beating adults to death.

America has serious street crime but the volume of adversity in little Britain seems to loom as a larger problem than that in the well-policed cities of North America. (Try finding a Bobby on the beat in London: I was mugged in North London a few weeks ago and had to wait for two hours before I could get an overworked cop’s attention in the station house.)

Britain has some very serious problems with violence: ten days ago thousands of crazed Glasgow Rangers football fans rampaged through the centre of Manchester because a screen had gone dark during the broadcast of the Uefa Cup final. Their televised savagery beggared belief, and one piece of footage showed a grown woman trying to scratch the face of a policeman whose shield prevented him from having his eyes gouged out. These were adult Britons rioting for hours and trashing a city centre, not to mention battering, stomping on and nearly killing several policemen. Is this an example for British knife gangs? Violence at Birmingham City football grounds and in Moscow at the Championships League final have revealed a level of barbarism that is not exclusive to teenagers. Some say this is the fallout from ‘boredom.’

So, what is the remedy? The aggression in Britain is evident to all of us even when one ventures out to the corner shop or bus stop; it occurs to me that many American men and women find joining the armed services a way to escape boredom and poverty. Perhaps Britain needs to restore conscription into National Service. The improvement of sports facilities and the opportunity to be on professional teams could be a remedy. The idea that most British youngsters are carrying weapons these days is chilling.

How to stop football violence ( I have not even mentioned the vicious anti-Semitism and racism that appears to consume large swathes of adults attending these events) is a puzzler. In Britain fans of opposing teams are required to sit in separate stands. (When I tried to buy a ticket to the USA-England match this week, Wembley Stadium would not sell me a ticket. Apparently this was for our own safety! Only 1,600 seats were allocated to American fans who had come over from the USA. )

America is regarded as a violent country but minor and major sporting events are all violence-free. Alcohol is available at baseball and other events but nobody chants racial abuse, there is no hooliganism and fans of opposing teams sit together with their families. Grannies and toddlers have a wonderful night out and police are almost nowhere to be found. Is the fact that Americans are the most religious people in the world an element here? Does the fact that children go to church each week and then go straight to sports practice or to a live game with their family stop them from getting into trouble?

I fear for Britain; violence is on the rise and as the economy falters it could get worse. The irony is that USA-hatred is the national pastime; soon it may become necessary to turn to the Americans for advice on how to defuse the epidemic of crime and hooliganism that is blighting this green and pleasant land.

Related stories:

http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/story/0,,2283181,00.html .

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/7421648.stm .


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