by Lisa Napper
This blog is a reflection on the reaction to a knife crime in an ex-mining village with thoughts on how reactions have further ostracised young people and excluded them from the community.
Community, the place we live, the people we know, the coming together through hardship and the teaching of humanity which gives us a sense of belonging; it is entrenched within the way we form our identities. It takes a village to raise a child but, when communities are faced with fear through crime and lack the resources for community engagement, what is the impact on young people?
This blog is a reflection on the reaction to a knife crime in an ex-mining village with thoughts on how reactions have further ostracised young people and excluded them from the community. Now, young people have always been seen as a problem for society, we have known this since they were excluded from factories, shipyards, mines and were displaced from the ‘norms’ of working life and placed into a segregated category of their own. The issue of ‘youth’ is underpinned with class, poverty and not being able to earn a living. Can you imagine being an issue for society to solve?
Once over, mining communities were economically thriving and socially respectful places to reside but, after years of social changes and facing social problems without the resources to eradicate them, displacement of belonging has taken over. Feelings of hopelessness can lead to moral panics around social norms and identities, who we see ourselves as and therefore, who we distance ourselves from; we create an illusion, its them not us. Distance through othering can be understood as a protective measure and by complying with the othering, we ensure our own children are not labelled as problematic and excluded but, in doing so the communities’ children are othered, demonised and excluded. How can we expect young people to contribute within a community where they feel excluded from?
When reflecting on the treatment of young people within the area following the knife attack, the exclusion is clear to see. Tragically, the incident occurred one Friday night and by Monday morning all young people were under surveillance by police, schools, parents, the media, and the community. School life was different, upon arrival all students were taken into a hall to have their bags, coats and bodies searched by teachers looking for sharp weapons, without any privacy screening. Young girls were forced to display their sanitary products on a table in front of male peers, arguably a micro impact considering the wider picture but, all emotive experiences contribute to who we become, don’t they? Despite parents’ outrage at not being informed that their children were being searched, most complied because non-compliance would initiate the idea that their child was in some way a threat. The vulnerability of these young people was something the community forgot.
Immediately, students were proving their innocence before entering a classroom, they were seen as criminals whilst trying to comprehend that someone of a similar age had lost their life. They understandably may have felt scared, threatened even yet, support for them was scarce but judgement was unlimited. In the weeks that followed police presence was high and the community were mourning, not only a life but for ‘childhood’ as they knew it because overnight everything changed for this village. After 3 weeks, the policing presence in the village was lessened, the precautionary measures were no longer needed. Yet, the feeling of caution remained, the community picked up where the police left off and took on the role of informal policing.
People in the area had Zero tolerance for young people, alongside the schools becoming tough on students, members of the community began a vigilante quest. Photographing young people ‘in the act’ and uploading photos to social media groups, chastisement became the norm. Young people would find themselves being tagged in photos after adults had written hateful comments for the world to see, young people found themselves justifying their innocence once more. Naming and shaming or labelling as academics might define it, became the new way of policing, with captions full of negative connotations and undertones of criminal activity, despite them solely riding bikes around the park. Young People are criminalised for existing in a place where a crime had occurred, yet they were just as much a secondary victim as the adults residing there so, where do young people go?
They are treated like criminals at school, avoided by the public, they have no space within communities, the areas youth centre is shut down, the parks are under surveillance by members of the public taking photos, the area has been hit hard by austerity cuts and now, they’re excluded and don’t belong. They continued to be feared, they continued to be excluded. Young people are once again demons because of their age. Why is this accepted? Because we fear non-conformity may lead to the exclusion of our own children! So, why do you think young people create their own youth cultures?
They create them because there is no place for them within society currently. We need to challenge systems that stereotype and chastise young people as if they are one homogenous category to be feared. We need more prevention, conversation, and education to minimise the need for reaction. Young people are typically the least powerful in society in terms of having a voice, their social standing and being inferior to adults, they are seen as not having enough lived experience to warrant having an opinion yet, this will undoubtedly impact them for years to come. They have been labelled, victimised, and marginalised during a time of biological inner turmoil and social uncertainty yet, we wonder why young people are filled with anger and lack a sense of identity; we reap what we sow.
We are so fearful for the future of our precarious country that we cannot see the damage we are doing by excluding young people more generally, creating the divide between adults and demons. Will we accept them and treat them as humans when they reach adulthood or, will the damage already be done?
Young people don’t stay young forever; it takes a village to raise a child.