A five year old child is one of the enchantments and glories of the human condition. Contemplating their elixir of imp and angel, most parents will feel that A.A. Milne was insufficiently sentimental – and there is a further delight. Even though the little monkey is still young enough for fairies and teddy bears and Santa Claus, each new day is also a new phase in intellectual discovery. The shades of the prison house await, but who ever wanted a five year old to grow up more quickly?
Just such a one was little Thusha Kamaleswaran, who dreamt of becoming a dancer, until her dance came to a brutal end at the hands of three gangsters. It is impossible to imagine the suffering which she and her parents have had to endure. Try it, gentle reader. Imagine what it would be like if a five year old child, the great source of all your smiles and your funny stories, the living altar of your wishes and hopes and prayers, was struck down, so that the light of your life became a pain-wracked cripple. Imagination recoils from the terror and the despair.
In part, to be replaced by a choking anger. If the three gangsters could be sentenced to forced labour for life plus a monthly flogging, which of us would be signing a petition for mercy? Imagination is inadequate to encompass the victims' anguish: the full penal resources of the most savage jurisdiction in history might seem equally inadequate to encompass our righteous desire for vengeance.
Yet this is wrong. We cannot let rage rule. When those three youngsters blazed away regardless of whom they hit, they did not just destroy one life. They too are young. Not very long ago, they were little children. They might have had mothers who loved them and built up their hopes for their offspring's lives. Those three youths' lives have also been blighted, and the rest of us are to blame.
In South London, there are gangs of young black males. They recruit kids who never known a father, never enjoyed a stable home life, never been cherished; whose life has consisted of fantasies and violence: who have never had any legimitate means of expressing their maleness, of acquiring self-esteem, of building up a sense of self-worth. At last, they find an identity: in a gang.
But this is not their fault. Given the conditions in which they have been raised, no-one is entitled to be surprised when they turn out as they do. Children do not spontaneously acquire a sense of morality. That has to be inculcated and nurtured. The rest of us have acquiesced in a system under which the gangster kids are condemned to ferality. So we must share the responsibility.
After all, this is not a difficult problem to solve. When we use the word 'gangster', we are not talking about the Mafia or the Camorra, who have dug themselves in over the centuries by intimidating and corrupting an entire society. We have to cope with a few hundred youths who are running wild. Certainly, they are dangerous, but if we cannot deal with that, what is the point of having a government? Why are we wasting all this money on public expenditure? What is the future for civilisation in Britain? If we cannot crush that gangster culture, we are pathetic, despicable wimps and each and evert one of us deserves to be murdered in his bed.
So how did we get into this mess? It is time for some plain speaking. The growth of black violence in South London has been tolerated, because of a malign coalition of timidity, evasion and cynicism. A lot of people are afraid to discuss the subject, for fear of being accused of racism. Others would like to pretend that the problem began and ended with the murder of Stephen Lawrence. We should all be pleased that his case has not been allowed to rest and that those who stabbed him are still being pursued. The fact remains that one of the principal causes of death among young black males in South London is murder by other black males. Over the past twenty years, there have been a lot of unpublicised Stephen Lawrences. A third group may not realise it, but they are taking comfort from the fact that most of the murders are black on black. If the killings were more evenly distributed, public outrage would be much greater; much more would already have been done to restore order.
There has also been an inadequate response by the so-called black community. Suppose those three gangsters had been Jewish. Imagine the shame and the guilt and the horror in almost every Jewish household. Jewish leaders would be in permanent session, agonising over what had gone wrong, pledging every effort to ensure that it would never happen again. Where is the black equivalent? There are lots of black organisations who do invaluable work in diverting youngsters away from crime. But there ought to be more of a sense of revulsion, of outraged decency. There are plenty of good black adults in South London who have lived admirable lives, often in difficult circumstances. They ought to be more assertive.
Beyond that, officialdom needs to implement a range of measures: a blend of carrot and stick.
1) Early intervention too ensure that single mothers bring up their kids properly.
2) A drive to eliminate the soft bigotry of low expectations from London classrooms, including a zero tolerance of truancy.
3) Zero tolerance of criminality. The police know who the gangsters are. So lean on them. Search them. Hunt down their guns, their knives and their drugs.. Make sure that they can no longer pose as glamorous figures in the eyes of the lost young. Ensure that a child's first contact with the criminal justice system is frightening.
4) Spend a lot more on sports facilities, camping trips, the cadet corps: anything that will give these boys a chance to gain confidence and leave ferality behind.
5) Try to find a way of compensating for the love which those younsters never enjoyed: of instilling the stability which they never knew. Although it is easy to parody psychiatrists as trick-cyclists. perhaps we should see if they have anything to offer.
Yet there are no immediate grounds for optimism. For a day or so, everyone got out the violins for little Thusha. Then it was on to Cornish pasties. She is already forgotten. How many children will have to be maimed or murdered before the rest of us wake up?