How much do you want to know? Do I have to start by telling you that I have great knowledge of gangs and experience of the police for this article to be considered authentic?
Who am I trying to reach and who do I want to impress? Is it sensible to talk about personal information in these times when just by living in the wrong postcode or having an urban dress code can get you in trouble? I am always aware of the Police caution, “Anything you say or don’t say may be used against you… etc etc.” Is it normal to feel as though you cannot talk freely? But I have nothing to hide so why not? But I know what it’s like to be accused of crimes you didn’t commit. I know how police can manipulate a situation to get a result they want.
I have experienced being ripped out of a car by police officers with guns pointed at my head and the only reassurance I had that they wouldn’t shoot me dead was that it was a hot summer’s day and the street was busy with onlookers. I could have been another Mark Duggan.
I have recently published a book, Mightier than the Gun, which challenges young people to watch what they say and be aware of the music they listen to in an attempt to discourage violence.
So where to begin? I designed my book to look like a mixtape to capture the young people that would normally buy a rap CD. My aim is to try to get my positive messages across in contrast to some of the negative material that is out there. Growing up with no father around, I have often joked that 2pac was my father because he was the man I listened to most.
This is true of a lot of young people in that they look up to someone they can relate to. I understood from an early age that it was important to always lead a conscious life. However, through materialism and urban propaganda the youth are becoming a lot less conscious. It is almost as if the TV, music, computer games and media outlets conditions them to behave in a way that only consumes and takes. They have not been taught to give back to society and help others.
We all witnessed recently the riots in London which spread to the rest of the UK and a lot of middle class suburbaners were shocked. But I wasn’t. I could have told you that this was going to happen and many of my friends reminded me that I had predicted similar events. I could see and feel the pain and frustration in a lot of young people I talked to.
There is a famous quote by Martin Luther King that I love and I texted it to a few friends when the riots were happening because I thought it was completely appropriate: “There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society, with a large segment of people in that society, who feel that they have no stake in it; who feel that they have nothing to lose. People, who have a stake in their society, protect that society, but when they don’t have it, they unconsciously want to destroy it.”
Black people were displayed in London Zoo and other zoos around the world next to the monkeys, right up until the nineteen hundreds, not even a hundred years ago. What has changed? Prisons are the new human zoos. All my black friends know at least one or two people that have been ridiculed and sent to prison. This is not true of my white friends. Do the public know that prisons are being privatized and that they are now just businesses benefiting from cheap labour? I visited my cousin just yesterday and asked him his view point on the riots and he laughed. “Look at me”, he said. “I don’t get involved in politics because they don’t give a f**k about us.”
People are arriving in prison for stealing a bottle of water, while MP’s steal hundreds of thousands and get a slap on the wrist.” Who is the ‘they’ he is referring to? Does the public really care? Will we see race riots in the near future? Is racism still the underlying problem in our society? Educated men like David Starkey could easily be a voice for a large segment of Britain. But can we take him seriously? I think he is still upset that black people are not in London Zoo.
There are many unanswered questions? The media referred to the riots as “mindless violence”, but I think it was caused by a ‘mindless’ government. We all have to take responsibility for each other. I have acted responsibly by using my experiences to try and steer lost young people onto the right path. I think others should do the same. I think it is time for middle class Britain to wake up. We have to learn to understand others and as I put it in my poem, Poverty, we have to “Spread love to strangers”.
Shyam Kelly, 26
Check out our other guest bloggers:
David Oyedele – Lambeth Youth Mayor
Liam Tootill – SB.TV Managing Director