So once again my Friday evening activities have taken me to the bright lights of inner city London. Brixton specifically. I spend a lot of time in Brixton and have done so over the years. Sometimes I love the place and sometimes I absolutely hate it. You get those days – usually in the daylight hours – when it makes me smile to hear the reggae music pumping out from a stall on the market, see the barbers hanging outside their shops, clippers in hand talking to passersby, and the Brixtonians, with a handy can of Red Stripe, just chilling in St Matthew’s Square.
However, at night time, I am often led to believe that Brixton was what inspired Dante to write the Inferno. Night, you see, is when the crack addicts come out and when the seedy, shady side of inner city life in modern day Britain rears its ugly head.
Tonight as I walked down the High Street trying politely to avoid the homeless people asking me for change and the man, clearly high on something or other, crawling on the pavement, I thought “someone has failed here big time”. Someone – more likely a number of people and institutions – has failed in the UK’s inner city areas in a very major way. I wonder how Tony Blair would feel walking down Brixton High Road this evening or any evening for that matter. I wonder how he would feel to see the deprivation and the rampant proliferation of drugs and crime in that community. Ashamed I hope, and so he should.
I’ve always wondered how it is that London’s large inner city communities, many of which are so highly visible and publicised in the media precisely because of their issues, are able to continue in such a state for decades. I’ve spent a lot of time in Brixton over the past 9 or so years mainly socially but also professionally (I once worked for the Lambeth Crime Prevention Trust where I was confronted with the area’s problems on a day to day basis). On one hand, I have seen its gentrification, observed the dramatic rise in the area’s house prices and noticed the general increased desirability to live in the area. Yet on the other hand, there has been little or no abatement of the drug dealers who blatantly push their wares to all and sundry outside shops and even at the bus stops, the crack addicts lying dribbling in the doorways of buildings or smoking pipes at the train station, or the other people wondering around the area who clearly have serious mental health problems.
Who is being called to task on this? Who is responsible for Brixton and what is going on there and in other such areas? There is a police station literally on Brixton High Street yet I can count on one hand the numbers of police officers I see in the area on a regular basis!! People openly deal drugs on the street yet they are not arrested. Why not?
Is it that those in power simply don’t care? Maybe – like Mr Blair’s view on so-called Black on Black crime – it’s something that is confined to a specific problem within a specific community. After all, this is not an issue that really affects the average middle class British suburb but generally poor, deprived areas with high concentrations of immigrants, and usually immigrants of African and Caribbean descent.
Food for thought eh. I want some answers and am going to go in search of some… I’ll let you know once I’ve found them… Watch this space.