Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Perception, our place in society.

Perception is key when it comes to establishing your presence in society, both yours of others, and how indeed you are perceived yourself by others.
For example, take figures of authority. If you walked into a Police station and every officer was standing dressed in Nike joggers, hoodies, and a nice pair of Air 180's, you would have difficulty taking them seriously. The same way you would not expect to be taken seriously if you turned up at a job interview for an office position, in shorts and a t-shirt.

So lets look at perception. How and why is it SO important to us, and when did it start getting used almost as a weapon?

The power of perception all starts with human instinct, a brief, judgemental opinion formed of someone within seconds of laying eyes on them. Stereotyping people until we have an opportunity to get to know more about them. See a pan of water on the cooker, we assume it will burn us, then carefully test it to find out its just been put on and is cold.

We do the same with people. Society pigeon holes people, teaching us that casually dressed people care carefree, well dressed people are professional and respectable, and depending what side of the fence you sit on this one, people in uniforms with authority, namely the police are either trustworthy and a safe refuge, or untrusted, and will abuse us.

When you walk down a street at night, and see a group walking towards you your subconsciousness kicks into overdrive. Scanning, looking for clues as to what part of society these people come from, do they pose a risk, should you take action. Cross over, turn around, or keep on walking to get a better idea before deciding. Depending on your experiences, you will be compelled by what you have learned from previous encounters. Those who have been victims of any sort of street crime are likely to cross away as soon as they make visual contact on the group.

Sadly, some groups in society have learned this, and perceive it as power, and a crazy form of respect. Having the ability to make people cross the road just because of the way you dress and behave. For example, the hoodie! Frowned upon by society, shrouding the wearers face from most angles. Hiding away their expression and making it nigh on impossible to get a read on them. Because of the media coverage, and the aggressive manner people who wear them are perceived behave, the average Joe on the streets will avoid contact with groups wearing hoodies. And if the situation necessitates them passing close by, all items of value will be hidden away, eye contact avoided, and pace increased.

To gangs perception has become key. Stamping their authority on neighbourhoods, using peoples perceptions of them against them. No longer to they need to actually do anything wrong, we just see them and fear them.

But for some this was not enough, and the fight for a positive perception within groups and gangs has now taken over. Infighting if you will.
Not content with being feared by society, the fight has now erupted from within. The knives and other weapons once used to instil fear on others outside the group, for fun or gain, have now turned inwards, and the fighting has begun.
This is not to say that all victims of knife crime are in a gang, far from it in fact. But the fighting from within has caused a lot of the members of the gangs to start carrying weapons.
Weapons which in turn, change a simple street altercation into a fatal or life changing incident.

I have never believed violence is the answer. Going from a road rage incident I was once caught up in, with the driver of the other vehicle feeling that having not been able to over take me for half a mile, warranted a fight (strange people), to a recent disagreement on the internet turning into threats and suggestions of "sorting this out face to face" Ironically the debate which caused the disagreement was on violence.

However, as the years have gone by, situations which were once finished with a cheeky sucker punch, and a black eye, have now turned into "I know, I have I knife, that will teach him". The cowards way, the easy way, or just the most idiotic and irresponsible decision and action a person can make. Ending a simple altercation with someone, in fact a whole group of peoples, lives being changed forever.

Having watched CCTV, and read witness accounts of some truly devastating assaults over recent years, it is abundantly clear that this knife carrying society is here, and is determined to stay for as long as it can.

So we go back to perception.....
In society we all make a decision, be it conscious or subconsciously , to make an impression on others. We don't see how we look for 99% of the day, so what we wear, how we walk, and how we behave is instead all a show. A show for others. Out for the night, impress the ladies, job interview, impress the potential boss, and so on. Clothing plays a key role, as it is a massive visual key for others to associate with.
Then there is how we walk and behave. Body language plays a huge part too. As we watch someone walking, we assess how much personal space of others they respect, body checking and barging is a sure sign that this person is bad news. Respectfully standing aside, being alert of your surroundings, paints a totally different picture.

Of course, all these reads we make on someone in the split second that it takes can all be terribly wrong. And we come back to stereotyping, the man in the hoodie knocking into people as he runs down the street, could in fact be a plain clothes police officer chasing that well dressed man you just passed, who you assumed was running for a bus.

I guess what I am trying to say here is two things, but they work against each other.

Perception IS key, for a fraction of a second. It tells us how to react, and what to expect from someone we perceive as friend or foe.
However perception is flawed, as society teaches us to pigeon hole people, and who to avoid, it also teaches others how easy it is to commit perception fraud. Making yourself to be something you are not is the easy part. Sadly backing up the threat your image paints is where it gets messy.
Proving a point, making a stand, and showing others that you deserve the respect you demand. Carrying a weapon, using violence, just for another step up the ladder.
Finding someone innocent to your behaviours. Unsuspecting and vulnerable, and using them to display how tough you are, is really just proving how weak you are.

Knife crime is nothing new, it will never disappear fully, but for now it is getting out of control. Maybe the media are over reporting it, over inflating the seriousness in our minds. Maybe it really is on the up and getting to a point of being uncontrollable, who knows.

So I will sum up this random ramble with this.
As much as you can fool someone with your image, make them perceive you as a dangerous threat, let me put this to you...

Fear is NOT respect.
Violence does NOT earn respect
Respect is earned, and earned from decent people, not low life thugs who you look up to in some strange way, because you in turn fear them. Break the cycle!

My parting question. How do YOU want to be perceived, and how do you thing people actually perceive you?
Confident, vulnerable, confused, confrontational......

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Allow me to introduce myself. (Edited)

Since writing this piece, I realised it was both rushed and full of holes, so have come back to edit it, and fill in a few gaps.

I thought I would quickly write this, just as an introduction to me and my background. Following on from a fantastic, constructive conversation on Twitter recently, I thought it only fair that I show my true colours. So here goes.

I was born in Lewisham Hospital 14th Feb 1973, to a single mother. Becoming the youngest of 2 children. Growing up on Homecroft Road in Sydenham, it would be a lie to say things were rosy.
My father never played a part in my life, while knowing where we lived, and having the financial means to make life a lot easier, I believe it was his choice not to contribute. The separation and divorce was finalised prior to this anyway, so a live in dad was never on the cards. Choosing to spend his life with his new wife, and later on his son. Meeting him just the once that I recall, on a train heading into town, along with my sister. The destination was my nan's house. Again, I have very little recollection of the day, other than remembering I was not happy at all, it was not all I had ever dreamed of. Awkward and upsetting, and cemented my opinions of him. And also fixed in my mind that I would never do what he had done.

Mum did her best to provide for us, but with things like toasted burger buns with tomato ketchup as a meal, times were hard. On a good month, money would be squirrelled away, and a roast chicken would be the prise dinner of the month, on a Sunday of course. I would say all the trimmings, but a tin of carrots and a couple of potatoes was about all that went with it. We didn't starve, not for one second, but then free school dinners and milk etc were a real life line back then. I remember mum coming to see the teachers at school and telling them if I didn't want to eat, let me go hungry. I soon learned!
Obviously in the late 70's schools were quite strict, and there was no play time without eating something first. Needless to say I spent a lot of time in the dinner hall, and little time running about. Consequently I became the chubby kid in class. Asthma was diagnosed quite early on in one of my many trips to hospital and the doctors, and weight would blight me for years to come.

Other little gems during early years are below.

  • Being knocked down by a car, getting small head and foot injuries at the age of 3. I escaped by running out the side gate to cross the road to show everyone my new plaster... Ended up with more than a plaster.
  • Being hit by another car years later, getting up and running away telling the driver I was fine (I was)
  • Numerous broken wrists through being a little boy, slipping on ice, falling off a bike. The last one I hid for 2 days because I didn't want my mum getting mad at me. Eventually the pain and swelling became too much.
  • Punching my hand through a window, accidentally of course, as my sister shut the window to stop me getting in, I just didn't manage to stop in time.
  • Snapping a pencil lead off in my thumb and having it dug out with a needle at the hospital.
  • Oh, not forgetting having a ruptured testicle due to them twisting (just thought I would throw that one in there)

The list above is just what springs to mind at this precise moment, believe me there are plenty more little gems from those days. Needless to day, Sister Bell at Sydenham Childrens Hospital got to know me very well, to the point where she would fill out all my admission information without asking a question.

As hard as mum tried, there was always a balance to be found in anything we could do. Not being particularly outwardly social herself due to deafness, activities were based on this not being an issue, along with sporting a slipped disc, leaving her in considerable pain at times. But we always came first and she tried very hard to give us what we needed.

Occasionally when mum's back got really bad we would be looked after by social services. Sometimes in house, other times staying with families. Never for a long period that I recall, and living with another family for a few days wasn't so bad. At that age it felt like just some more friends. Then there was the live in care, can't say for one second that was a good time at all.One name springs to mind, Millie, and one smell, burning ironing. That's about my recollection of the misery of that, other than feeling very sad a lot of the time.

Television, toys, and fancy clothes were all just a dream. However with careful spending of the ILEA vouchers issued to get us school uniforms, sometimes there would be enough for some jeans to last the year. Bring a toy to school day at the end of term was always a little depressing, with all the other kids coming in with nice new toys just for that day, and me, well.... Occasionally I would have something, but as kids we shared, so I was never left out. All I can remember about those times is some weird helicopter game, where you changed the height to avoid obstacles and pick up magnetic objects. Don't ask me!!

Troubled at school for being the overweight, asthmatic, who wore old tatty clothes. Questioned if I was living with my nan, because mum looked older than the rest of the mums, having had me at 35. But as I grew older and stronger shall we say, I learned not to get too upset by the other kids comments, and made some great friends at primary school. Paul Jefferies, Joseph Ford, Simon Davies and Richard Frith were the lads I knocked about with when I could. Happy days had arrived.

None the less, looking back I had a positive childhood and learned much about the difference between need and want. Material objects have their place, but are no immediate priority.

When I reached 8 we moved to Forest Hill, where I still live today.
Moving here was a change of life, lots more kids, loads of influences, pressures and things to get involved in. As I reached my teens, staying out all night, running amok, getting known by the police, encouraging a chase from them, it was just the done thing. However I managed to stay out of trouble for most of the time.
Avoiding the temptations of cigarettes, drugs and alcohol, I was one of the few kids from my generation, in fact I am tempted to say the only one, who avoided all of them. The pressure was there, but my interest wasn't.
Growing up on the street I would have to say David Maloney was my best friend, spending a lot of our younger years kicking about together, sharing trips into London to wander around Hamleys and St Pauls. Getting a Red Bus Rover ticket and spending the day travelling around on buses, seeing the sights, having a little adventure. There is a funny story to tell regarding one of these trips, but I will allow David some dignity lol.

As we reached secondary school, I went off to Malory miles away, shunning the opportunity to have scholarships to a couple of private schools. Meanwhile most others went to the local Forest Hill Boys school. The upside to going to a school miles away was, along with the free school dinners I still received, I also now got a term time free bus pass, making those Red Bus Rover trips even cheaper. However I would be lying if I said secondary school was a fantastic adventure. Sure we had some great times, but with sports becoming harder and harder, with asthma and allergies causing all sorts of problems, the weight piled on, and obviously, being secondary school, the name calling started.

Now I was not bullied at school, that just isn't the case, but I was the butt of a fair few jokes, earning nicknames etc, which made bad days harder. None the less, when push came to shove I would always stand my ground, and stand for what I believed in. A quality which has stuck with me for life.
There isn't much more to say about school, other than pretty much a straight A student, always released from class detentions as I was seen as non disruptive, and felt like I got on well with most of the kids and teachers. Only ended up in the heads office the once, and that was thanks to Mario Cameron being wound up, and me ending up with a split lip.

Unfortunately, on reaching the year of my exams, I decided I knew better, started hanging around with some slightly older people, and ducked out of school a few months before my exams. So here I am now, not one academic qualification to my name.
That same year, I also decided it was a good time, now approaching a responsible age, to get arrested and charged with an offence. Court came and went, bed advice from a solicitor, so here I am today, with a criminal record. Albeit dissolved by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, but still present enough to affect my direction in life at times. My application to work in the Met stonewalled at the final leg by the record. The years after that are just a bit of a blur, with nothing amazing happening, other than getting my first job just before I turned 16, being made redundant by the time I was 16 and a half, and falling into the folds of Sainsburys, where I would remain for 6 years. Great times there.

As I grew older and watched the younger generation in my area making the same decisions, following the same paths as some of the more troublesome kids I grew up with, I made the effort to spend time with them, chatting with them on the same wall I grew up sitting out on til the small hours. Looking at most of them now, calmed down, families of their own, working hard, and making something of their lives, the small reward of time spent with them is great.

Reaching my twenties, the birth of my daughter was a wake up call, and also a very painful time in my life. From finally understanding what responsibility was, caring for someone so precious, through to having that ripped away from me, out of my control. From separation, through sharing custody , to losing all contact with my daughter, my twenties were a painful life lesson. Not something I would wish on anyone.

For the next however many years, I have always tried to do the right thing, from getting involved in the neighbourhood, helping people in need where chance arises. Caring for my mum in  her  4 year battle with cancer was tough for sure. From the first day of her saying she found the lump, but didn't want any treatment, through the appointments for diagnosis, treatments and surgery, all seemed necessary at the time, but took their toll. Only realising how bad a state I was in towards the end of her life.
Fighting severe depression for the last 18 months of mums life was a tough one. Trying to find the balance between a normal life, watching someone you know and are now living with slowly slip away from you. Never nice, and I have huge respect for all the people caring for loved ones in their families with life long or terminal conditions. No pity required, its just life really, but it's not been easy or uninvolved for sure.

I think if you checked the log of calls to 999 over the years, there will be dozens from me. Not just nosey neighbour stuff. Quite a few active involvements in the arrests of drunk drivers, one particular one being the sister of a well know violent family. After appearing in court, I was really not the favourite for quite some time.
Foot chase with a gun man, a 20 min conversation and eventual talk down of a self harming man intent on taking his life as he walked up my road. Thankfully most of his cuts were superficial. A number of serious RTA's, helping treat and calm casualties. When I look back I can honestly say one thing, I am not afraid to get involved when the opportunity arises. Never thinking twice about getting stuck in to whatever was needed in the moment.

I would like to think that as the years have gone by, any signs of my upbringing, and bitterness about coming from such a poor background, have dissolved away. Leaving behind a strong willed, open minded, straight talking, responsible adult man. Of course, this isn't obvious to all.

Hope this has been an interesting and informative read.

One final thought.
Its sadly ironic that the reason for writing this whole thing, opening up and spilling more info about me on the internet, is because of an exchange with someone who while they talk of the positive work they do to help better communities, and give people a chance, judges, calls names, and mocks someone they know nothing about. All because our opinions differ.

I have made this entry, as with all my other blogs over the years, to put information on me out there on the internet. Call it attention seeking, or an open book. Whatever you call it, finding information on me and my life online is not hard to do, and I am quite happy for people to do so for whatever purpose they see fit.
All I would ask is, if you don't have all the information to make a genuine balanced judgement on me, just ask. I have no secrets, but can't stand when people assume, make up stories, or just get carried away with what the reality of me really is.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"You don't understand"

Nope, you're right, I don't understand at all. I don't understand some peoples insistence that only THEY understand a situation, and you could not possibly begin to get it because of your are, sex, location, beliefs etc. Single minded thinking, refusing to believe that someone else can possibly have any understanding of something is in itself a root problem in resolving issues.

Before this gets too confusing, I shall be a bit more specific.

Yesterday around midday, an 18 year old lad was stabbed in the chest on Sydenham High Street outside the Co-Op in SE26. The air ambulance was called and landed just up Mayow Road, and the area was closed off. Sadly in the early hours of the morning the lad passed away from his injuries. My condolences go to the friends and family who have lost a young loved one in such a tragic manner.

In the midst of this lad fighting for his life, and the police scrambling to get answers quickly and the suspect(s) in custody, Twitter and Facebook had the whole situation wrapped up and solved in a tidal wave of guesses, assumptions, sweeping statements, and opinions. Daring to question any of these would result in a true internet flaming.

Taking some time to read through some of these posts, and interact and respond to a few of them, one thing became very obvious. People have opinions set in concrete and refuse to be moved on them. Its gangs, its racist, its estate wars, whatever the opinion, it was vague and sweeping. Tarring all with the same brush, and stating that there was no hope, and no end in sight.
Well with that attitude and jumping so quickly to conclusions, you are right, and also a cause of the vicious circle of violence and retribution.

Something has clearly gone wrong in society, there is no doubt about that at all, but playing the blame game, or the I know best line isn't going to solve a thing. Nor is locking your doors and hiding away from it all in the belief that it all ends in some kind of Armageddon. Truth it, its not!

I realise plenty are just airing their misguided concerns, and others a fearful of what awaits their growing youngsters when they reach the age of independence. However living in fear only perpetuates the cycle. People not wanting to speak out, give information to the police, or speak to anyone about things they know, just in case someone comes for revenge. "Snitches get stitches" etc. The same old one liners that have been touted around for decades, yet 99.9% of people giving evidence in court, even against some of the most dangerous people and families are still walking amongst us today, without so much as even a nasty letter or phone call.
Of course revenge is real, and people seek retribution, but the fear of it is far more common, and a thousand times more powerful.

So taking the above point into account, it is really sad to see people totally uninvolved in matters throw such comments and empty threats around Twitter and Facebook. You are not involved, you play no part in the situation. Take your wannabe gangsta comments and threats and go away. People like this strive to belong, be a part of something, and somehow want to be portrayed as dangerous. Believing it gives them power and respect. Well let me set the record straight here, respect it earned, not demanded. Fear, yup you can command that with cowardly actions like internet threats, empty aggressive behaviour, and strutting around like you are a someone. But it is nothing more than respect for cowards. Worthless keyboard warrior.

Then there are those who preach there is no hope, all hope is lost, and it will spiral into self destruction.
For starters, growing up in the area (i.e within a mile of the scene) for the whole 42 years of my life, I would like to say I have seen the changes and am aware of the situation. Some would disagree, somehow saying that my age means I have lost touch with the youth and the area, and am unqualified to speak on such matters. A sweeping statement I might say, and one that again just categorises and dismisses me without any consideration or knowledge of me. Just simple rejection.
Having been interested in and involved with the police from an early age, and being quite socially aware (i'm not blinkered, I realise some things have gone un-noticed by me) I like to think that I am open minded and somewhat in touch. Taking the time to speak to the police on a regular basis, discuss goings on around the area, and play an active role in crime reduction where possible, in any way required.

Sadly the toughest crowd are the youths, gangs, crowds, crews, call them what you may.
The South East struggles with various on going anti-social and violent behaviours, as well as the "usual" street robberies, burglary and car crime that it.
Put a higher than normal density of young people in a small area, make them believe that they somehow have to matter more than the next person. Give them unrealistic goals to achieve, be it wealth, material items or fake respect. Then watch how it all unravels. Groups form, a mini power struggle ensues, and from within that, another struggle to be the head of the now group evolves. Human nature you might say, survival of the fittest, but on steroids.
But what is causing all this? Why suddenly has society exploded with hundreds of mini empires, and people wanting to believe that they have the right to stamp their authority on others, with threats of violence or unwanted behaviour?

From riding around on moped and motorcycles with no crash helmets on, popping wheelies in traffic, jumping lights and snatching the occasional mobile phone or bag on the way, to hanging around in gangs, carrying weapons, and intimidating others to do as you say, or at least never speak ill of you, there is a wide span of things going on, certainly in the South East which all need addressing.

But how?

Well that IS the question of the moment, and indeed a large quandary. While the adults run about like headless chickens blaming governments of days gone by, preaching that the current government are failing the youth of today. Blaming parents, and quoting back to days gone by when youngsters stood for older people on the buses, or leaving your front door unlocked. None of this helps. While people are out there shouting, posturing and blaming, the youth look on for guidance and find nothing. Nothing that is other than the generation before them rioting, "solving" issues, or having a voice with, yup, you guessed it, violence and disorder. Masks on, bricks in hands, the right to protest is exercised by vandalism, property damage, and running amok. Taunting the police who have been told NOT to intervene. not to appear heavy handed, and to gather intelligence and strike later when its all calmed down.

So I think we are starting to see where some of these groups get their ideas of disorder from. Not totally of course.

There is no over night solution, there is no quick fix, but there is hope. There is always hope.
Somewhere in the not to distant future the infighting and bickering, within the groups who can actually influence change, will stop, and sensible open discussion on what can be done to calm the situation will begin.

There is much talk that its the lack of parenting, open spaces, opportunities, employment, funding and so on, that is to blame for the situation. Individually none of that is true, but together it makes sense. There ARE without a doubt some terrible parents out there, not only leading by very poor example, and influencing their kids to behave in a totally unacceptable manner, but also those with little or no interest in their kids behaviour when outside the house. Poor school reports, exclusions, getting in trouble with the police and so on, with little or no consequence. On the flip side there are parents out there working 2 jobs and every hour god sends, to try and provide a stable home for their children. Some sadly unaware that the child is up to no good, and too exhausted at the end of the day to pick up on the signs and markers displayed during their short time with their child at home.

The hands off approach in schools has not helped particularly, with kids thinking they can behave in any way they so choose, again with little consequence. Violence and aggression towards teaching staff, assaults on them too. Somehow over the generations, as the ability for leading figures, such as teachers, police officers, and others figures of authority, to have any form of intervention other than saying "stop that", so the youth has stretched their reaches, daring to push the boundaries further and further, until we are where we are today. Again this is not "the cause", a high percentage of kids of school age show a lot of respect towards such figures, but the minority have the loudest voice. Setting the example, showing what is possible, and tempting others to join them in their unruly ways.

Government, well I guess at some point there is a level of responsibility for society in general, but to feel there is something that they could do, that they are not is maybe a little misguided. There is no magic fix. Suddenly offering every member of a gang or group a job is not going to dissuade them from their ways. Why work 40 hours a week for what you can earn in a few hours, grabbing a purse or phone, or swiping someones motorbike. Stereotyping at its finest there I know, but its just an example. Forget their age for a moment, and just look at how many battle to stay ON benefits, because working a long week to be in the same financial position just is not appealing.

That doesn't make that thought process right of course, from experience I would rather be working than sitting around, and would rather have the pride and rightly earned respect of working for a living, rather than living on handouts, and demanding the state supports me. But again, just like the riots and yobbish behaviour of the older generation, the same applies to the "why bother" attitude of the youth and their older generation. The example set is very much why work when you can be given it all on a platter. Mix that with the ability to impose fear on others for gain, and you are doing quite well for yourself.

I could ramble on all day about this, and air all my own opinions, but in fairness the whole point is, its an open platform, and it awaits all those with an opinion, a voice, and something to say and contribute to the melting pot, which in turn might one day become the beginning of the improvement.

All is not lost, other than the heads of some, and the common sense of others. So lets gather our thoughts, get involved, and start to understand the situation from all perspectives, and not just the single track, narrow minded view that we currently hold on it.
Pigs DON'T like living in mud, but common perception teaches that they do. Kids DON'T all like being in gangs, carrying weapons and scaring the elderly. But the media and some loud voices on social media would like you to believe that it is all a child strives for these days. It's nothing more than a way of life to most, and a way of life they would happily shake off if they were offered the sense of belonging they somehow falsely feel when surrounded by those in gangs and groups on the streets.

I'm not going to go as far as hug a hoodie. I won't try and preach that we can all play a part in this. Truth is, we cant. But I will say one thing, and something that I believe strongly in, and I guess is the point of this whole blog.

The negative press, the negative comments, judgements, and beliefs of the youth in society today. Yes they are as much to blame for their own behaviour as any parent, role model, or other influential figures in their lives. But to condemn a whole generation to the gutter, to believe that every child or youth on the street is armed, means you harm, and will grow up to be a criminal is probably THE most damaging influence on society out there right now.

Stop the pigeon holing, stop the judgements based on the actions of others, and open your mind a little. If you care enough to have an opinion, try and care enough to have an influence on this lost generation and help make the change. One baby step at a time.

Feel free to air your own opinions on this post right here, anonymous always welcome. Although try and keep it constructive. Or if you are reading this on Twitter and think it makes sense or is a load of rubbish, feel free to share or say.

Thanks for reading, and please, don't give up.