Saturday, September 29, 2012

Three young people killed in two weeks

All the UK tabloids have the story of Megan Stammers on the front page, the teenager who ran away to France with her teacher. Pleased as I am that she is safe, I can't help noticing that the lives and indeed deaths of other young people just don't seem to be deemed of national significance. Here's a few sad South London stories from the past couple of weeks:

- On Thursday night, 15 year old Junior Nkwelle was stabbed to death on the Loughborough Estate in Brixton.

- The day before, Wednesday 26 September,  a 21 year old man was stabbed to death on the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth.

- Two weeks ago, on the 14th September, 14 year old Kevin Ssali was stabbed to death after getting off a bus in Burnt Ash Road, Lee. A 17 year old from New Cross has been charged with his murder.

- On that night too, a 19 year old was stabbed and critically injured in New Cross Road.

To be fair some of these stories have had brief mentions in the national media, but the tone of 'another stabbing in London' quickly dismisses them. Three young people killed in South London in two weeks should be a national scandal, and you can't help thinking that if the victims had been pretty white girls it would be.

Second thoughts, 2 October: reading back over this a few days later I still agree with the thrust of my initial reaction, but perhaps it was a bit clumsy to bring Megan Chambers into the story. She's got her own problems which I don't want to belittle. And I certainly don't want to suggest that terrible things don't happen to 'pretty white girls'. I guess the wider point though is who gets constructed in the mainstream media as deserving of sympathy, and it does seem to be that measured simply in terms of the amount of sympathetic press coverage, the lives of young people stabbed to death (many, but not all of them, young black men) are afforded less value. Kevin Ssali had been missing from home for some time before he was murdered, his worried family weren't on the news.

I do think racism has something to do with this, even if we want to use the term 'institional racism' whereby the fact that black people end up being treated worse is the salient point, whether or not the individuals making decisions are personally prejudiced. Linked to his is an implicit notion of what kind of people it is imagined that a newspaper's audience will relate to as 'one of their own' and what kind of people are the 'others' they fear. And there is also the fact that sometimes there isn't a straightforward good vs. evil morality tale - some of the people who get stabbed might be involved in violence themselves. But even when the latter is true, we mustn't lose sight of the broader tragedy - why are young people killing each other? There is no straightforward answer or solution, but to acknowledge its importance in the first step.


Paul W said...

It's true that there's been a prurient undertone to some of the Megan Stammers coverage but I think it's over simplyfying to suggest that racism is the main culprit here.

Over the last 20 years the London killing that has attracted the most coverage is undoubtedly that of Stephen Lawrence, partly because his parents had connections in the right places. Second may be that of Damilola Taylor, possibly because he was so young.

It's also the case that some families, like those of Damilola Taylor and Jimmy Mizen welcome subsequent publicity because they want to campaign on behalf of other young people, while other families prefer to be left alone.

Sanjit Chudha said...

Whilst I'm sure many families wish to be left alone when it comes to dealing with the outcomes of fatal stabbings like these, I can't help but agree that racism plays it's part. It might be racism of the unconscious variety, but it is racism nonetheless. Let's tell it like it is, not brush it under the carpet or excuse it. I agree with the main thrust of your article and the points you make.