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By Yasmin Patel



Saturday/Sunday, October 18-19, 2008.


In August, during an NUS (National Union of Students) Active Political Leadership training course, students were exposed to the lack of black and minority ethnic students on campus at a fictional university called ‘Fibchester’. The delegates present were asked how they will work to widen participation. Immediately after, the very wish to increase participation was questioned by a sabbatical officer present - who allegedly equated an increased presence of black students with gun and knife crime.


The delegate was subsequently removed from the event following complaints of racism. NUS Black students’ officer brought the incident to the attention of students. She wrote: “At an NUS training event this week, President of Kings College London Students Union questioned encouraging more students from the local Black community to attend a university, as he thought the presence of such students would increase gun and knife crime and so require more security.”


NUS investigated the matter and the officer was cleared of making racist comments. In a statement released by the NUS President it is understood that the delegate was unaware of any mention of the demographic composition of the local population.


It is clear that the agenda of widening participation in higher education was linked with the issue of violent crime. At one point, there was confusion to exactly what was said. Some students thought the incident to be merely a public display of ignorance rather than racism.


However, the point of this article is beyond that discussion. Instead, look at a rather important debate that was missed in all responses to the incident: the notion of gun and knife crime belonging to the Black community.


This view is not new – however, the discussion surrounding it is. It was a view advocated by Tony Blair during his time in office as Prime Minister. In 2007, he claimed knife and gun crime is a result of a “distinctive Black culture”.


Crime has never been unique to any colour, culture or community. The society we live in is home to a culture that glorifies money, sex, drug-taking, gang culture and a bad-boy image via forums such as music, video games and the media. These societal factors mean crime has recruited youth from all communities – of various races. White, Asian, Black as well as Chinese youth have perpetrated violent crime. The latter was seen in the triad gang that killed the head teacher Philip Lawrence.


When seeking a cause for the crime, statistical correlations, socio-economic factors are popular explanations. This easily leads to the idea of crime being community specific and has the danger to reinforce stereotypes. These very explanations however are close to being irrelevant.


For example, the presence of poverty takes away opportunity and this consequently leads to one committing crime is a popular reason. Poverty may be a lead-on for one turning to crime, however, is not an explanation. The number of youth committing crime to put food on the table is almost zero.


Poverty offers one a defeatist mentality, and when the youth seek satisfaction elsewhere, they happily seek refuge in living a certain lifestyle – one perpetrated by the society. Likewise, dysfunctional families are given as a cause for crime - which predominantly has its presence in the Black community. A dysfunctional family leads a young one to seek refuge elsewhere - like this when one turns to the society, it again feeds the individual a certain lifestyle.


The concept of materialism entertains the youth. In the race to be ahead in the highly materialistic society, crime is committed to buy expensive cars and branded clothing. Things start moving from need to want when the definition of “economic deprivation” is taken from the extravagant lifestyle of the youth’s role models – the celebrities. Equally, a society that advocates values like the freedom of individuals has its people hold this very idea when choosing a course of action.


It is easier however to deal with crime by labelling and blaming it as community-specific than to make an attempt to understand some of the factors mentioned above. The problem is a societal one, and it is vital we now engage in a robust debate to recognise that the one who commits crime is a product of the society. Crime is not community specific. In reality, the problem is a society that hosts values such as freedom and materialism.


Yasmin Patel is a student leader at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom.


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