Fear and Loathing in East London

Posted on May 7, 2008. Filed under: Life Day to Day, Politics, solipopism | Tags: , , |

When she came home from work yesterday, dreadpiraterach found a young man, probably between the age of 17 and 21, peeing into a drain hole outside our door. Well, peeing at a drain hole, with the care and accuracy of someone watering their lawn with a dam breach. We live in a set of flats, and the corridor outside our front door connects the street on one side to a large open, central courtyard. Angry and slightly befuddled, she asked him why the hell he was peeing against her home, and would he like it if she went to his house and peed on it? He said sorry (although he finished peeing first) and shambled away embarrassed.

When I came home, he was still sitting on a bench in the central courtyard with two friends, and the puddle was very much in evidence outside our kitchen window. dreadpiraterach was pacing up and down inside the flat infuriated, raging with anger. She couldn’t believe he was still sitting out there, like he owned the place, like he hadn’t peed all over our home. What could she do?

What would you do?

While you think about it, bear this in mind: last weekend, London elected a new mayor in an extremely close run race. There is an old political adage that challengers don’t win elections, incumbents lose them, but on the face of it, there isn’t much that Ken Livingstone hasn’t done well. As the only previous person to have run the city (when he was the head of the Greater London Council in the 1970s), and a dearly loved life-long Londoner, he was clearly the best qualified person for the job when he started eight years ago.

And in that eight years, London has definitely prospered. The winning of the Olympics, more funding and care for deprived areas, new funding for the old transport systems, the Congestion zone (not an original plan, but a reasonable step to take) and the list goes on. Whatever you think of his politics and his arrogance regarding what was *right* for this city, the profile of London has certainly been raised and the place is prospering.

So what went wrong? Listening to BBC London’s election coverage on the night gave away the story. Although, as you’d expect, there were varied reasons why people voted for whatever candidate, the relevant policy issue that people seemed to be worrying about was crime. And although it isn’t as frequently said as thought, youth crime. Mayor Boris had this to say after he’d won the election:

Speaking after signing the Mayor of London declaration of acceptance of office, Mr Johnson described youth violence as “the number one issue that we face in this city”.

“I do think it’s the job of the mayor to lead the fightback against it and that is what I aim to do,” he said, identifying crime on London’s buses as a particular scourge.

People in London, and in Britain generally, are afraid of their own youth. I heard an episode of BBC4’s From Our Own Correspondent where the BBC’s man in Washington DC said that he frequently spoke to Bitish tourists and new expats about how they were getting on, and they unanimously expressed surprise at the feeling of peace and safety they got wherever they went. Despite the incredible gun ownership rate, and the amazingly high murder rate (especially in DC).

Why people are afraid, I don’t quite know (although the BBC man suggested that the level of perceived public, violent crime might be lower in the US as he’d never once seen public drunkenness). But they really shouldn’t be. Not only do the statistics on violent crime in London show a downturn over the last 8 years, but the statistics for the whole country do. The ‘yoof’ aren’t indiscriminately violent, although those in inner cities do face problems of where to socialise, and there are of course pockets of gang violence.

What did dreadpiraterach do? She went out side, and asked the guy if he was going to clean it up. His friends look mystified. She said “No no, I’m asking him if he’s going to clean up his pee from outside my door”. The guy was quiet, and his friends incredulous. One of them said, “I’ll do it for you”, before the guy had even spoken.

In the end, we lent the culprit our mop and bucket and he cleaned it up. We left our door partially open so he could let us know when they were done, and so we over heard some snatches of conversation. Part of it was in Bangla, which neither of us speak, but parts were also in English: “Well man, you’ve learned now innit? You did something wrong, you made a mistake and now you’re fixing it.”

Fear begets fear, and civility begets civility. I’m incredibly proud of dreadpiraterach, and I’m proud of the response of the young guys to the situation. I shouldn’t be surprised though. Treat people as humans, and they will, more likely than not, respond as humans.

What will you decide to do?

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One Response to “Fear and Loathing in East London”

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Hey Sarcas,

This is *beautifully* written. Kudos to you both. I know that whole situation would’ve scared the bejaysus out of me – not because young kids are intrinsically threatening, but because it was outside my home. And they would probably be bigger than me. And it was *outside my home*.

Rach, if you’re reading this? You handled that very, very well. I’m bowled over by both of you right now :)


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