Blacks to blame for violence: Blair
British PM blames subculture, poor upbringing for teenage violence
Toronto Star | April 13, 2007
LONDON–Wading into one of the final controversies of his 10 years in power, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has ignited a fury by blaming a distinctive black culture for a rash of knife and gun crime in London since the start of the new year.
Admitting he was "lurching into total frankness" in his final weeks in office, Blair was quoted yesterday beneath a banner headline in The Guardian as saying the violence would not be stopped "by pretending it is not young black kids doing it."
Blair's remarks came during a lecture in Cardiff, Wales, where he downplayed poverty as a factor in a spree of teenage violence that has claimed the lives of seven young people since January.
"Economic inequality is a factor and we should deal with that, but I don't think it's the thing that is producing the most violent expression of this social alienation," Blair told reporters after the address.
"I think that is to do with the fact that particular youngsters are being brought up in a setting that has no rules, no discipline, no proper framework around them," Blair said.
"We need to stop thinking of this as a society that has gone wrong – it has not – but of specific groups that for specific reasons have gone outside of the proper lines of respect and good conduct towards others and need specific measures to be brought back into the fold."
Blair's comments were met with blanket condemnation from community leaders, who told the Toronto Star they felt "sideswiped" by the prime minister's suggestion that they alone bear responsibility for the issue. One accused Blair of "dishonestly attempting to absolve himself from the chronic lack of support for community efforts to create solutions."
"I am infuriated. Nobody in the black community is denying there is a problem. Even I acknowledge we have our `iffies.' We have a problem with our young kids, a very small minority of whom are out of control with knives and guns," said anti-gun campaigner Cheryl Sealey, co-ordinator of the London-based Victim Aid.
"But there is an entire catalogue of reasons for this violence and an entire catalogue of solutions. And Tony Blair, in the spirit and tone of his remarks, is completely ignoring the fact that his government has all but abandoned the community workers who are trying so hard to turn things around."
Blair said his controversial remarks were inspired by a recent conversation with a black pastor of a London church during a Downing Street summit on knife crime, who told him: "When are we going to start saying this is a problem amongst a section of the black community and not, for reasons of political correctness, pretend that this is nothing to do with it?"
Community activist Stafford Scott dismissed the comment, telling the Star: "Blair has made a career of surrounding himself with idiots, fools and sycophants who are all too ready to provide fodder for declarations designed for spin rather than substance.
"He is right that the so-called black community must take some responsibility. But the British leadership must also take some responsibility for creating this environment of continuing marginalization, which has been allowed to fester for decades."
Scott, a former director of the Bernie Grant Trust, a community leadership program created in the memory of one of Britain's first black members of Parliament, said he has been involved in "more than 20 years" of government consultations to mobilize government support for anti-drug and anti-gang activities.
"If you look at the government's own crime-reduction targets, the focus is on vehicle and bike theft rather than drugs or gang activity. The public-sector bodies have consistently put the needs of the host community over the needs of smaller communities like ours," said Scott.
"That doesn't mean blacks are somehow culturally prone to violence. It means that behaviours will deteriorate in a community that is marginalized. And we in the black community just happen to be more isolated than most communities.
"So hold on tight, because there are other communities going that way as well. Look at the new wave of black Africans born in Britain and the increasing marginalization of the Muslim, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities. None of these are being welcomed or prepared for involvement in British society. And when the guy around the corner has guns by the tonne, what do you think is going to happen?"
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