We need to talk about guns, knives, and grassing. As parents, as friends, as communities. We need to talk about what went wrong somewhere along the line that put a weapon in someone’s hand, and we need to talk about the culture of silence around it. Don’t think this applies to you? You’re wrong.
For the second time in nearly as many weeks, a young man has been stabbed, and died, on a night out in the city I love. It’s happening in your city too, and your town. It happens in villages, on sprawling estates, in pubs and in car parks. In schools. Some will make it to the national news headlines; others deemed so inevitable that they’re barely reported beyond the local area.
It’s not the spectre of frantic Jihadists or the politically motivated mentally ill who the tabloid press would lead you to believe are more likely to end our sons and brothers’ lives with guns and knives. It’s altercations on nights out, glances taken the wrong way, rows over unpaid debts, and the famous ‘wrong place, wrong time’.
I don’t subscribe to that, by the way: ‘wrong place, wrong time’. Everyone’s got the right to be safe. I think it was Melanie Jones, the grieving mum of little Rhys Jones (who was shot by a teenager firing at rival gang members) that said that her son wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time – he was a little boy walking home from football practice in broad daylight – as all little boys should be able to do.
Following the ITV drama Little Boy Blue some time ago now, which followed the story of Rhys’s killers and their families’ involvement, viewers were rightly outraged by the behaviour of these young men and their parents actively covering up for them. They couldn’t believe that parents would deceive, cover up, and condone their sons’ part in the death of a child. Unfortunately the culture of ‘grassing’ is real and it doesn’t only apply to criminal families or groups. It even applies to people like me.
At the thin end of the wedge you’ve got people who complain on Twitter about individual employees “Kim from the Croydon branch only gave me two shots of espresso in my latte but I was charged for two – DISGUSTING, Costa Coffee!! won’t be going there again” – what, are you trying to get Kim sacked? Show a little solidarity for our fellow humans shall we?
Then there’s how we teach our kids to react to others’ bad behaviour. Surely that’s a trivial matter? Well maybe not so trivial: not only can this be a tricky grey area but it also sets the foundation for their future reasoning.
On my first day at school a boy hit me and I hit him back, harder. He went crying to his mum, meanwhile I was congratulated by mine. The positive message was ‘stick up for yourself’ but it came with a free side of ‘violence solves everything’.
These days, kids are encouraged to tell the teacher if there’s a problem. Does this constitute grassing? Are they ‘telltales’? Or is it utilising the proper structure? Is it easier to talk to the other kid’s parents on their behalf to try and sort out problems? Or what if the child’s behaviour is learnt from their parents? Nobody wants a black eye at the school gates.
Now, don’t get me wrong, shitty parenting and feral families aren’t new. Just over a hundred years ago Victorian Street gang ‘The High Rip’ were terrorising inner city Liverpool. But we can’t conveniently limit violence and anti social behaviour to slum areas anymore, where only the unimportant and unwanted poor get stabbed and garrotted in lantern-lit alleyways on cobbled streets.
These days it’s everywhere, not just the modern day equivalent of those slums. Yeah it’s on canalsides, and back entries. In tower block stairwells and under bridges. But with bikes and cars and motorbikes the threat of violence leaks beyond just troubled neighbourhoods or gang turfs; it seeps into trendy bars where beautiful sons are celebrating their 21st birthdays, it’s at bus stops while they wait with their girlfriends. It’s at house parties and tube stations and nightclubs. It’s in dangerous places and safe places. There are no ‘safe’ places.
We don’t want our children in ambulances or coffins or court or remand centres. No parent, from any walk of life, wants that.
So we need to talk about guns. Sound a world away? Doesn’t apply to you? Maybe it doesn’t. Or maybe it does. It’s not easy to get hold of a gun. Maybe not for you and me. You have to know the right person who knows the right person. But of course they’re not the ‘right person’ at all. People who can get hold of a gun are entirely the wrong people to know.
We can’t stop our kids falling in with the wrong crowd. It happens in all walks of life. And I don’t consider your child falling in with the wrong crowd to be a failure of parenting. I for one am testament to the allure of the wrong crowd. But are we involved enough with our growing sons? Do we set good examples? Do we help them to grow up with the values to make better decisions? We need to talk to our kids about guns.
We need to talk about knives. Anyone can access them. But what makes someone carry one – even just once? Have they got a score to settle? Is it for ‘protection’? What can we do as parents and communities to make sure boys don’t grow up feeling like that? We need to talk to our kids about knives.
And we need to talk about grassing and repercussions; do we encourage our sons to be accountable for their actions? Do we hide them? Do we lie for them? Do we add to grieving families’ pain by hiding from responsibility and justice? We need to talk to our kids about the concept of ‘grassing’.
Is there a sliding scale of acceptability? In my experience there is. It’s OK to fiddle your leccy but not OK to burgle someone’s house. It’s OK to work cash in hand while you’re signing on but not to hurt animals. That makes sense; it’s about victimless crimes. So people often feel assured in their convictions; it’s black and white; right and wrong – or at least ‘OK’ and wrong.
Let’s explore a greyer area though: what would be sufficiently bad to make you ‘grass’ on someone? Murder? Rape? Child abuse? Domestic violence? Stealing a car? Credit card fraud? Armed robbery? Hit and run? Selling cocaine? Possession of cannabis? Mugging?
Which of these things do we turn a blind eye to? Which would we rather not get involved in? And what crosses the line – what would be enough to make us grass? To ring the police, to ring Crimestoppers, to put your name to a witness statement, to stand up in court in front of the accused and their family, to testify about something that had nothing to do with you in the first place?
Maybe we’ve all got a sliding scale. I know I have. So what we need to ask ourselves is: what values are we instilling in the younger generation and generations to come?
What example do we set to our own kids, extended family, neighbours kids, our children’s schoolfriends?
What messages are our kids on the receiving end of? Either at home, or in the community, social media, or even music? That ‘nobody likes a grass’ or that ‘snitches get stitches? Do we or other influences in their lives use terms like ‘rat’ or ‘informer’? Who do they think that applies to in real life – in their life?
What aspirations do we encourage? Money, no matter how it’s earned? Image? Education? Travel? Kindness? Talent? Commitment to family? Possessions? Success? Independence? Everything we ever had? Or everything we never had?
Are we talking to our daughters about this? What are their own aspirations? Do we glamorise certain lifestyles even indirectly? Are we using terminology like ‘bad boy’ or ‘rough diamond’ to describe violent, gang-related, or criminal friends and boyfriends?
Are we the violent, gang-related, or criminal individuals? Or are they our partners or spouses? Are they influences in our children’s lives?
What effect, if any, do toy guns and knives have? Are they harmless imaginary playthings or do they set the foundation for a cycle of machismo that makes the use of real weapons acceptable in young adulthood?
Do we know where our kids are at night and who they’re with? Years ago when communities were tighter, parents would know each other but that’s missing now more often than not. Can we be sure it’s not our kids throwing fireworks at moving traffic or bricks at ambulances or robbing shops or carrying knives and guns? Can we? And if we can – how are we sure? Share it – share with other parents how you created a trustworthy relationship with your kids and instilled values in them. Don’t you want them to have that too?
And last but not least, do we tell our kids we love them? Even when they’re being difficult, moody, distant, rebellious; do we let them really know? Do we support and encourage them? Are we their ‘home team’ even if that team is made up of just us?
We need to talk about guns, knives, and grassing. But we also need to talk about love. We need to make sure they feel loved: in the hope that they don’t go down the wrong path, and in case – god forbid – when they go out the front door they should come across a kid with a knife or a gun who’s already gone down the wrong path.