South London Lives: Thoughts of a South Londoner

In our series of the thoughts of South Londoners, RASHID NIX gives his take on how we should tackle youth violence

Go easy on these young men creating their music in hard times. Blaming drill artists for violent youth crime is wrong and downright sloppy.

Rashid Nix

It is as irresponsible as blaming social media, which is something a South London detective claimed in a recent interview.

Quick math: Is deploying officers to monitor social media accounts the most effective use of limited resources?

In the late 1970s New York City, at the height of the disco era, was having 2,000 homicides a year.

A city the size of London had 20 times the homicide rate, and at no point did any NYPD detectives blame the Bee Gees and John Travolta.

I recently had the displeasure of being invited to a televised debate on gang crime.

The panel had former Labour Home Secretary, Alan Johnson (who coined the infamous term ‘hostile environment’), youth workers, an ex-gang member and former and serving police officers – ensuring a noticeable pro police bias for the debate.

Some community members left, feeling they had been tricked into being on a police PR exercise.

The show’s message was the need to increase police funding in addition to more stop and search and the problem of youth crime would be solved. Is this really the case?

The show also claimed London’s housing estates were breeding grounds for anti-social behaviour. But hundreds of thousands of decent, law abiding, hard-working Londoners live on them.

Demonizing estates gives the social landlords – councils or housing associations – a reason to justify demolition of perfectly good housing under the guise of much-needed regeneration.

Social housing has become a political dirty word, with thousands of homes across London being put at risk by social landlords forming alliances with property developers whose aim is to generate profit from housing those who can afford to pay.

Most Londoners fail to recognise the cold economic reality of housing estates being worth more as building sites for developers than as communities of normal people.

The most notorious example of this is the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark where thousands of homes were replaced by flats unaffordable to average working Londoners.

It is estimated that more than 65 per cent of new homes built in London are sold to overseas investors.

So, those young men whose videos proliferate YouTube and social media and who genuinely believe they are ‘keeping it real’ for their endz are actually keeping it really wrong, since they are nothing but unwitting tools aiding and abetting the destruction of the communities they claim to be reppin’ for in their raps.

The recent spike in youth violence across London undoubtedly requires urgent action. But, if not properly thought through – involving all community members – there will be little progress in this struggle.

Our schools are preoccupied with exam grades and league tables over actual learning.

We have a dysfunctional street culture where kids believe wearing sagging pants is ‘acting black or being cool’. Trust me – it ain’t. And jail has become a career option.

I often get asked to speak to groups of prisoners on history, psychology and the media.

I am constantly reminded most of them aren’t bad people…they just made bad choices.

Street culture has turned good kids into wannabe gangstas. As comedian Chris Rock pointed out 20 years ago, people now get more respect for going to jail than university.

We are producing youngsters who feel ‘keeping it real’ is to be degenerate, anti-community, anti-intellectual and materialistic. What happened to our values?

As a teen growing up in South London, I had friends who were involved in numerous confrontations. We laughed, we partied and we scrapped. Today we would be labelled as a gang.

Fortunately, positive people around me and several years in university hugely calmed my behaviour and made me the person I am today. But things I did more than 20 years ago still appear on my record and I have to account for the rowdy young man I once was.

In the UK we lock up more people, for longer periods, than any other country in Western Europe. As the prison population climbs towards 100,000, longer custodial sentences – costing taxpayers about £50,000 a year per inmate – will not tackle the root causes of youth violence.

Stop and search might be touted as a solution. But as someone who still gets stopped and searched while going about my lawful business, I know it isn’t.

In my role as community problem solver, educator and parent, I regularly meet scores of brilliant Londoners passionately committed to making a lasting difference to the lives of our children.

Unfortunately, their efforts go largely unrecognised outside of their immediate circle, whilst others remain firmly in paid positions but totally ineffective.

I’ve even met gang crime co-ordinators who cannot differentiate bonafide criminals from attention-seeking adolescents. This ends up putting too many young people in the same box.

We all have equally important roles to play in creating communities where all children – regardless of class, colour or culture – are encouraged to recognise their true potential.

Is that something we can all agree on? It’s time for the streets to make peace.


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