Monday, 26 July 2010

London Killing Fields

Another 'piece' for don't panic -

If you go out on the streets tonight you’d better be beware.
Kids in gangs with knives and guns are lurking everywhere.
They’ll stab you up and bottle your head,
Nick your phone and leave you for dead.
Nowadays the kiddies take their pick what they nick.

When I have toddlers, that’s what I’ll sing to them at bedtime. We’ll be living in some über trendy nook of Bethnal Green in a gentrified shoe-box of an apartment, the type the estate agent would market as ‘cosy’, but it’s the best you can afford on your ‘creative’ salary and at least it’s a rung on the ever-tricky property ladder. I probably wont spare a thought for the family of Sudanese immigrants who used to live there, squeezed out to the other side of Hackney Marshes by genuine poverty, increasing rents and a creeping alienation as one by one their friends and peers were replaced by men with beards and Barbers and ladies with floral Onesies, and toddlers, like mine, dressed in Osh Kosh.

I’ll avoid eye contact as I pass groups of young men consisting of their teenage kids and those like them, late on a weekend. They could have knives. Now they probably have guns too. Best not to get involved (picking up an occasional eighth bag is ok, that’s like an armistice). We all hear the warnings: gun crime is on the increase, but it’s just the gangs isn’t it? Sure, every few years you might have to cede an iPhone or two and a wallet full of 20s to someone in a tracksuit, but you won’t get knifed and definitely not shot. Right?


When it was just knives, the potential for collateral damage from gang warfare was limited to say, a few meters. Now as the arms race accelerates, it seems we’re all at risk from a stray bullet. After all, flack jackets and bulletproof vests make you look fat. They are unlikely to catch on in Broadway Market.

You might say something was bound to happen here, where the vegetarian restaurants, gastro pubs and warehouse conversions full of affluent young bohemians, rub up against grim council estates and a post-code dubbed with the nick name 'murder mile', which can boast close to 200 shootings a year. It’s like putting a hedgehog sanctuary next to a motorway, or an MP’s husband in a motel with a porn channel and an expenses credit card. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.

Last weekend’s shooting on London Fields was a wormhole between two parallel universes, a reminder of what and who gets swept beneath the carpet in Britain by gentlemen such as Jules Pipe, The Mayor of Hackney, who told the BBC with Boris-like myopia, “Despite this very worrying incident, hundreds of people were able to enjoy the event ('Parks for Life' festival - organised by Hackney Council) in London Fields safely and without interruption.” What a knob.

I can’t imagine the mayor’s views were representative on this occasion. I’m sure everyone cared enough to show at least a little concern. It’s a sorry place where hundreds of people are able to ignore their fellow man being shot through the stomach only meters away. A sorry place like Hackney, 199 times a year.

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