On Friday Martin Kirby (no relation) used his column in the Citizen to make a case that the ‘city after dark (is) just not safe’. I enjoy reading Martin’s column: it is generally entertaining and often controversial, but I think this is the first one that I have taken exception to enough to feel the need to comment on it.
The gist of the column was that, when in the centre of Gloucester of an evening recently, Martin did not feel safe. ‘It’s not for the faint hearted’ he says and ‘to pretend the problem doesn’t exist is sheer stupidity.’
Clearly there have been occasions when this has proved to be true: you read in the paper, perhaps all too frequently, of people being robbed, beaten or raped and clearly this is a shocking state of affairs and the culprits need to be caught and punished. But this is not what Martin was talking about.
No, what he was talking about was what he acknowledges as a ‘perception’ of being unsafe, despite the fact that he ‘was not attacked or even threatened in any way.’ The cause of this perception was that ‘every side road, alleyway and large shop doorway was filled with youngsters just hanging around’. The fears, he says, are ‘born out of a lack of visible police presence.’
So what do we want? Gloucester’s streets to be swarming with police every evening to protect innocent people from these dangerous youngsters? What harm were they doing exactly? Hanging around having a laugh and a joke in town does not seem to be a crime – on a different day he might be moaning about how Gloucester is a ghost town in the evening with no-one in the streets: you can’t have it both ways. And what if we encourage the police to get heavy handed and move these youngsters on – do you think that is likely to end well?
I was in town on Saturday evening and, although I am not stupid enough to pretend that the problem of anti-social behaviour does not exist, I saw a very different sight. Yes, here and there people were hanging around having a laugh. Sometimes they were a bit boisterous, but they were not doing any harm and generally I felt more than happy walking around the streets.
Of course, I cannot deny how someone else feels, and if they feel afraid it is undoubtedly a problem. However, what I think these fears are born of is not the lack of police presence, but the constant media scaremongering and demonising of our youth. If you are worked up into such a frenzy of fear that everyone on the street is a potential danger then you will feel fearful. If you are jumping at your own shadow nothing short of your own police escort is likely to make you feel safe.
And if you demonise a section of community then all too often they will begin to live down to your expectations.
I suspect that with his column Martin has added just a little bit more to that sense of fear and done just a little more damage to Gloucester’s evening economy.