Anti-social Andytown

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Considering that the number one issue of public concern in West Belfast is crime and anti-social behaviour, this is a good time to be reading the Andersonstown News. Round about this time of year, the Andytown News normally runs a “Don’t let the hoods out” campaign, due to the Brits emptying the Young Offenders’ Centre. Following that, the released hoods go buck mad for two weeks, and in January the Andytown News’ unmissable texts page is full of punters giving off about their Christmas being ruined by the seasonal crime wave.

Unfortunately, last Monday’s Andytown News doesn’t have that, but it does have plenty on crime and anti-social behaviour. On page 3 we read of the ongoing saga of Jin Zheng, owner of a Chinese takeaway on the Suffolk Road, who is thinking about leaving the area after suffering nearly two solid years of harassment and racist abuse. This culminated on Friday 30th with bricks being thrown at the premises. Mr Zheng says that, due to the large gangs of drunken hoods who congregate outside the takeaway, both customers and staff are afraid to come in. And this is in our brave new multicultural Belfast.

But there’s more. Turn over to page 4 and you will learn of thieves nicking lead from the roof of a care home in Poleglass. On page 5 the city council is yet again trying to get off-licences to sign up to a code to tackle underage drinking, which must be at least the fifth or sixth such initiative I can think of off the top of my head. On page 8 you can read about arsonists burning out phone boxes on the Glen Road, which used to be a nice area that got through the Troubles more or less unscathed.

And that tells you something about what concerns people in West Belfast these days. So I was tickled to turn to the letters page and read a contribution on “Youngsters and crime” from People Before Profit, which is the Socialist Workers Party in a funny hat. The comrades tell us:

Areas containing high levels of poverty naturally have high crime levels. Poverty affects your level of health, education and the prospect of a decent job. Those living in deprived areas turn to crime because it seems to be the only solution to their poverty.

I don’t buy that for a second. Twenty years ago, when the area had much worse poverty than it does now, crime was a fraction of what it is today. Of course, then you had the Troubles, and as an offshoot of that a highly effective regime of vigilantism. The hoods these days aren’t scared any more, and moreover they are strikingly affluent.

We also have a reference to the recent Save Our Barracks campaign, and what seems to be an attempt to appeal to the Provo audience by slagging Margaret Ritchie:

All over Belfast recently the Department for Social Development has been trying to sell off public land to private developers. Surely the children in Belfast would benefit from government initiatives designed to build facilities of leisure etc on pieces of publicly owned land. The handing over of public land, services or facilities to the private sector does nothing to address the issue of poverty and exclusion, it exacerbates it.

I don’t buy this either. Not that I’m a friend of property developers or an advocate of privatisation, but it seems to have the whole issue arse about face. Belfast is coming down with leisure facilities. There are no less than three council-run leisure centres in West Belfast alone, not to mention all the private gyms and the salons where the proletariat go for their spray tans and Brazilian waxes. And these private facilities have mushroomed precisely during recent years when the area has been hit by this crime wave.

It’s also worth recalling the reason why the Brits built the big centres, as part of a “bread and leisure centres” policy in the 1970s. The theory was that if you gave young people something to do then they wouldn’t riot. What happened was that the young people availed of the new facilities to pump iron, and then they rioted. This is why I’m not convinced that you can reduced crime by putting up a corrugated iron hut for kids to play pool in.

Our correspondent also says that “putting people into jail or demanding tougher sentences for trivial ‘crimes’ such as not paying TV licences or for young people drinking on the streets creates problems.” Well, not paying TV licences may appeal to the scally end of the working class, but I must advise the comrades that there aren’t many votes in saying that street drinking is a trivial matter. And this is actually one of the major reasons for the rise in anti-social behaviour, in the shape of ridiculously cheap booze available 24/7. Look at the groups of street drinkers hanging about the place – these aren’t generally schoolkids. These are lads of drinking age, who could and should be in the pub. But why should they go to the pub and pay nearly three quid for a pint when you can buy lager at 26p a can in the supermarket? And, because the law against street drinking isn’t enforced, they can hang around street corners in large groups and harass the public, instead of drinking at home where they wouldn’t bother anybody.

Before I get an irate response from the local SWP, I should say that there are also good points in the letter about things like underinvestment in public services. But the whole thing is dreadfully confused. And I would also point out that, if you’re in the business of seeking votes in West Belfast, this sort of liberal flapdoodle won’t get you very far. Most of the working class, and old age pensioners are especially strident on the point, are all in favour of cracking down big time on the hoods who make their lives a misery.

So we turn to the texts page in the same issue and find the following trenchant comment:

There should be a group that kneecaps scumbags, which would be drug dealers, joyriders, rapists and burglars. I heard a woman in her 70s say it at a bus stop and I agree, she is right. The PSNI do nothing.

There’s your authentic voice of the working class. Put yourself about a bit and you’ll hear the same thing every day. And while you may baulk at putting it in your manifesto, these are the concerns you’ll have to deal with.

10 Comments

  1. johng said,

    December 8, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    For one moment I thought this was to be a satirical piece on SUN. You missed a trick there Splintered.

  2. Madam Miaow said,

    December 8, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Some say kneecap scumbags. Others say “permanent termination” of other lefties. It’s all the same saddo mindset. I’m not surprised “The Party” are incapable of offering meaningful support on the ground instead of cliches and platitudes.

    If there are any socialists out there who are helping to defend Belfast Chinese from racists, I take my hat off to you.

  3. Garibaldy said,

    December 8, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    We’d be better using the public land to build publicly-owned companies rather than leisure centres, I’d have thought. Which would also be a more socialist approach than extra leisure centres, of which as SS says, there are many.

    On the vigilantile mindset, it is indeed deeply ingrained, partly a consequence of the authoritarian way in which paramilitaries behaved towards all sorts of opponents throughout the last four decades and parlty a consequence of bad policing. Also the total disregard for authority engendered by the Troubles, from throwing rubbish on the ground to throwing petrol bombs at firemen. Now the paramilitiaries have become the authorities they are facing this problem. But, in fairness, they are showing some leadership on this in refusing to carry out the beatings the public wants. And it may well be costing them support. If the RIRA were to shoot more hoods and less policemen, they may well find their support growing more.

  4. Liam said,

    December 8, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    Part of this is that the Provies have forfeited their moral authority. When my aunt, who lived off the Springfield Road, was having trouble with some youths she spoke to the Shinners who spoke to the youths. I don’t know what was said but the trouble stopped overnight.

    Now that they are an enthusiastic part of the state there is no reason for anyone to listen to them. And their authority did once derive from their politics as much as their facility with baseball bats. While the baseball bat approach is not something socialists would support I never once heard much sympathy for those on the receiving end.

    Another point is that even the most brutal punishments had a fair degree of support. A friend of mine once told me that her neighbour had just bought new pyjamas for her son. He would need them in hospital when he was kneecapped the next day.

  5. Phil said,

    December 8, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    While the baseball bat approach is not something socialists would support I never once heard much sympathy for those on the receiving end.

    Is that really the point?

    Tony Blair, 2002: “As you know some families have been evicted with the anti-social behaviour orders. But in the end what happens is in those areas the other families can live in a bit of peace and quiet.”

    I don’t endorse summary justice by ASBO on the grounds that lots of people think the scallies deserve it – I’m certainly not going to endorse summary justice by baseball bat.

  6. Ciarán said,

    December 9, 2007 at 1:10 am

    Here’s an Andytown News editorial from a few weeks ago, which mentions some of the themes addressed here. I can’t seem to find it online so I’ll just post the entire thing…

    Setting families adrift

    25 October 2007

    A family about to be put out of their home have contacted British Irish Rights Watch and the human rights group is currently looking into their case. As of today, it’s not known what line the body will take, but there’s no arguing that families being ejected from their homes in areas of high tension by statutory agencies such as the Housing Executive is something that should not be done lightly.

    That said, there is a sense abroad, particularly after the murder of Harry Holland, that enough is enough, and something positive and concrete has to be done to bring the madness to an end, particularly in Ballymurphy. It’s not known exactly what the family who are about to be put out have been up to, but experience tells us that the Housing Executive – a conservative and careful agency in matters of punishment and eviction – believe they have seen and heard enough to warrant action on the matter. There are two diametrically opposed positions on crime and anti-social behaviour, and it’s hard to see how they can meet in the middle. The traditional leftist position, espoused by some politicians and community workers of a socialist hue, is that ultimately society is to blame and that the socio-economic conditions which blight the areas where crime and anti-social behaviour are at their highest have to be addressed before any meaningful progress can be made.

    The other side of that coin is an argument to which the vast majority of ordinary people in West Belfast subscribe, and that is that those behind the wave of violence are intrinsically bad and the community will be all the better without them; that all working class people are faced with exactly the same difficulties and problems and that some people make a conscious choice and head off down the path of conflict and criminality.

    It seems something of a cop-out to say that both arguments have validity, but in this case that is the simple truth. This community has over the years suffered serious social and economic discrimination and some people have coped with that better than others. It is to state the obvious to say that if those social and economic conditions are ameliorated then the number of people who choose to live in the underbelly of our society will inevitably dwindle.

    That said, and to quote the old cliché, life is not a rehearsal. We only have a certain amount of time on this earth to enjoy the blessings of home, family, friends and neighbours. Every day that families are forced to live in fear and apprehension is another day ticked off the calendar of life – the conflict that is convulsing Ballymurphy at present is in effect a jail sentence for people who have done absolutely nothing. They deserve to be set free.

    Serious work on matters social and political can continue hand-in-glove with communities and statutory agencies getting tough on those who show no willingness to change their ways. If our children or even our grandchildren are grown up and gone by the time a solution is reached, can that be said to be a victory?

  7. Phil said,

    December 9, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    the conflict that is convulsing Ballymurphy at present is in effect a jail sentence for people who have done absolutely nothing. They deserve to be set free.

    This is very New Labour – and highly suspect, in my eyes at least.

  8. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 11, 2007 at 10:16 am

    Just as a quick update: the latest Andytown News has three texts in from readers supporting the Chinese. More accurately, they want the community to get a posse together to go down there and take on the “scumbags”.

  9. December 13, 2007 at 12:05 am

    Summary “justice” isn’t much (or any) use to what seems now to be called “anti-social behaviour”, but neither is the left always (only) going on about the need for youth clubs etc., as you point out. The left needs to have take anti-social behaviour seriously, as it’s not the middle and ruling class who get repeatedly burgled, have to deal with drug-dealing neighbours and people who turn their stereo up full at 3am and force the entire street to listen (and feel) their drum´n´bass, it’s the working class. I seem to remember AWL candidates for the Socialist Alliance in elections a few years ago being some of the few far lefties in Britain to actually take these everyday concerns of working class people seriously. And good for them. While, at the same time, not purely reducing their election campaigns to such bread and butter issues, but combining them with “big politics”.

    I could mention the IWCA, but I won’t, as they don’t seem to really bother with the “big politics” and also prefer the “kneecapping” “argument”.

  10. Phil said,

    December 15, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    The problem is that the argument for bottom-up community justice – which is a legitimate part of community self-management – has effectively been replaced by an argument for top-down community policing: instead of community-driven policing of nuisance behaviour, you get police-driven enforcement of orderly behaviour (and ASBOs all round). I’ve just finished writing a paper that touches on some of this, although more research is still needed.


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