Tony Blair Misquoted Me On Gun Crime

Rev Nims Obunge

It is both frustrating and disappointing to find that the British Prime Minister, commenting this week on the challenges of violent crime and its impact on the Black community, further criminalises vulnerable young people. In February I had a conversation with  Tony Blair  in which I highlighted the need to support and empower local communities.

Yet he took my words out of context and ended up calling for heavy-handed policing of black kids and claiming that Black communities are failing to address the issue themselves. This is unacceptable.

Offending is an age-old phenomenon within any society. What is also clear is that young people have always had the potential to be catalysts for positive change, or destructive forces, within their society. Such behaviour transcends national and cultural boundaries and occurs all over the world.

So of course Britain is not immune to this. The Muslim community has had to contend with the rise of radicalism among its youth; the white community each weekend faces an onslaught of Asbo-breaking and binge-drinking; the Caribbean and African communities have been in the limelight as a result of the recent high-profile murders of six teenage boys. But the experience of violence is not unique to places with a large black population - Glasgow's knife-crime statistics make it one of the most volatile cities in Europe.

The media is giving the issue of gun and knife crime prominence, the police have stepped up visible patrolling, and the government has promised more new laws. In addition, ordinary citizens have become more vocal.

While it cannot be denied that Black communities in some cases appear more susceptible to certain crimes in our cities, it is also true that these communities have been failed by successive governments, and weakened by the lack of investment in key areas such as education, housing, recreation and employment.

For years, Caribbean and African campaigners have been asking for statistics on victimisation and offending in our communities. Without these figures, it is difficult to know where to begin to address the problem; yet agencies fear that they might be misused by racists. Having finally gained the data, the failure of government to fund research into the trends and their causes has led to kneejerk laws, heavy-handed policing and the over-representation of Black youngsters and men in the prison system. This all contributes to the spiralling of youth crime in certain areas.

We're not denying the need to address these issues ourselves. Leaders in the Black community have been saying for years that social exclusion, racism, poverty, educational underachievement and deprivation have created problems that need to be tackled in a cohesive and systematic fashion.

The response has been piecemeal support for individual projects, some of which have nevertheless been innovative and successful. But the absence of a response combining government departments, businesses, schools, local communities, churches and other faith and community groups and individuals, has left the plague of gangs, guns and weapons continuing to destroy our youth.

It's easy for governments to pass laws. Unfortunately that approach will not work in this situation. Legislation is not always the answer: discipline without care is callous.

The real solution is a long-term one. It requires strategic vision and sustained resourcing. It is one that requires political will, parental engagement and public support - without which we may well find more young people killed on our streets. As the saying goes: "It takes a village to raise a child." We, the community, are that village for our children.

* The Rev Nims Obunge is chief executive of the Peace Alliance