Sunday, 18 April 2010

Another utterly stupid waste of life

You probably haven't heard of Agnes Sina-Inakoju. To be fair, very few, outside her immediate family and friends and acquaintances had. But last Wednesday night, the 16-year-old was standing in a chicken and pizza takeaway in Hoxton, Hackney, with a friend, when two young men cycled past and one shot her in the neck.

According to various reports, a passing doctor gave first aid. When the ambulance arrived, the medical team had to try to operate on the floor of the takeaway. They gave her 30 pints of blood – which simply flowed out of her body again, spreading across the floor where she lay.

On Friday morning, Agnes died in hospital.

The takeaway in question is near where I live; probably no more than a mile away – possibly less; nearer than that to where I used to live. With the road no longer cordoned off, the local bus went past it yesterday. A mountain of flowers was growing against the metal shutters. The school she attended is a five-minute walk from my home.

According to further reports, local people have said that a gang turf war has been getting increasingly tense in recent weeks. In mid-March, we got home one evening to find our own road cordoned off after there had been a multiple stabbing – an incident that had started between a group of young men in a flat and spilled out into the street. You won't find many people around who wouldn't have thought that that was probably gang-related, so it seems quite possible that the situation has been worsening.

Police say that they have no indication at all that Agnes herself was in any way connected to gangs – or that she was the intended target. If possible, that simply heightens the awfulness of this tragedy.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Such a awful waste. Not just of Agnes's life. But also of those who, for whatever reason, murdered her. In the insane seconds that it took one of them to pull the trigger and shoot a young woman whose back was turned to him, he wrote off his own life (or much of it).

Because it's so 'my patch', if you will, I've been thinking about it since hearing the news for the first time on Thursday morning. The Other Half and I had passed the end of the road where it happened, around two hours after she was shot. There were police and emergency vehicles everywhere and the road was taped off. We said to each other then that it looked bad. Thinking about it now, it's quite possible she was still lying there as they fought to save her.

We've got a general election coming up in the UK on 6 May. So all the politicians are at their posturing best at present. Their jobs are on the line, after all.

And of course, crime comes up time and time again. This case even got a mention from an audience member on a programme about the election last night.

And people, inevitably and understandably, seek solutions. But what are the solutions? There's no evidence that even if anyone is convicted and sent down for this, it would dissuade others. Looking at the experience of states in the US that have re-introduced capital punishment, they seem to have subsequently seen increases in murder.

The culture in the UK is that politicians talk tough (they need to keep the tabloids happy) and promise ever 'stronger' remedies – 'boot camps' for young offenders were promised by the previous Conservative government. If they ever actually got underway, they seem to have been dropped pretty quickly and very quietly – which doesn't actually suggest a great deal for their success rate.

It seems that, in this sort of case, the real root of the issue is why people get involved with gangs. It equally seems logical that we – not just the politicians or the police, but society as a whole – need to think about that question and then work out how to deal with it: ultimately, how to create a situation where young (primarily but not exclusively) men do not feel any need to join gangs.

Personally, I also believe that that we need to discuss what 'justice' means: to realise that an effective justice system isn't just about revenge, but has to involve restitution, the protection of the public and rehabilitation.

All we seem to do at present – and all the politicians seem to offer – is to imprison more and more people; to levels that are already way and above most of the rest of Europe. And yet still so many talk as if punishment is all that the judicial system is about – and as if it were the solution.

If that sounds like a particularly bleak picture, I actually believe that the reality is far less so. In my lifetime, we as a society – including but far from limited to the police – have actually started to take seriously a number of issues: bullying, domestic violence and child abuse.

Bullying used to be a situation of telling the victim that they should deal with it – not the perpetrator.

With domestic violence, there was a culture of 'you've made your bed', combined with police ignoring 'a domestic'.

With child abuse, it was swept under the carpet. Children were not believed – there was nowhere for them to go.

And we – society as a whole and the judicial system – take rape more seriously now too (it might not be perfect, but it's not the way it was 30 years ago).

So there are many things that are better – and many things that prove that the people who claim that we care more about criminals than about victims are deluded.

But technology perhaps hinders all that in some ways. Thirty, 40 years ago, would we have heard much about what happened in a village 500 miles away? Never mind half way around the globe?

Indeed, would most of you have heard of Agnes Sina-Inakoju were it not for this, your perhaps rather quirky link to life in an east London borough, via the interwebby?

I love technology – but I suspect you can see where I'm coming from: it's not all positives. Does it help us all to know all these things – or does it subvert our picture of the world into an unhelpful negative?

Look at it from another angle: 24-hour news media means that there's an awful lot of airtime and internet pages to be filled. Mobile phones mean that people can submit stories and pictures from remote areas. This is The Global Village. And good news rarely makes for sensational copy.

Does all this help us – or hinder us?

I don't know. And do I know the solutions? Not remotely.

Personally, for what it's worth, I hope that the police find Agnes Sina-Inakoju's killers. And I hope that they have a fair trial and, if found guilty, are sentenced according to our laws.

But more than that, I'd like to think – but I'm perhaps being overly optimistic here – that we might actually learn something from this dreadful, dreadful waste; and find something out of it to help stop such an awful thing happening again.

And again.

And again.

* A few hours before writing, police announced that two young men have been arrested in connection with the crime.

1 comment:

  1. If we take into consideration the families and friends of everybody involved we can only imagine the number of lives that are shattered when these senseless acts of violence take place. All of these kids (including the killers) have somebody who loves them - that's the additional shame of it all.