We know what will happen next

YOU probably saw it, as it has been shared a lot, but The Boston Globe‘s front page following the Florida school shootings was pitched perfectly. The newsroom ripped up page one and led with a report of a gun massacre in a school yet to happen, the premise being that the terrifying repetition of those tragedies in the United States is now so predictable than we can say with certain that it will happen again, somewhere, some time.

The front page gives all the common features we’ve read before, which make up an all-too familiar script, then the final line is: There are only three things we don’t know about the next time, who, where and how many?

While we almost mock the United States for its attitude to firearms and the obvious need to control the supply of guns rather than kit teachers out with weapons, a similar front page could work in Camden, given we have our own repetitive nightmare which won’t be solved until enough really means enough to enough people.

For after one of the saddest weeks for this borough, two young men lying dead on the road floor and others in hospital beds, we all know what will happen next.

Another young man will be attacked with a knife in Camden. Paramedics will race to the scene but he will die of a stab wound to his chest.

A shrine of cellophane and flowers will build near this spot on the pavement. The messages in the cards will be heart-breaking. A family will grieve. It will be described as shocking, as if something like this has never happened before.

People will be shocked at how close this is happening to their homes. People will be shocked at how close this is happening to expensive homes. I’m glad I left London, a half-lying, commuter town exile will tell Facebook.

There will be tweets from many saying that this has to stop, this really must stop, possibly some will click an online petition. Enough is enough, will read the newspaper headlines.

Photo: William McLennan

The victim will be identified. He will be a football-loving young man.

Journalists will rush, with not too much sensitivity, to get the ‘first picture’ of the victim, as if beating a rival to a photo lifted off Snapchat is more important than explaining the how and why.

Of those young men wielding the knives, the killers: there shall be tweets that they should be strung up, that keys should be thrown away.

Then there will be a debate as to why young men take out knives. There will be a community meeting, maybe a march. People in authority will tell us they understand why people are upset.

Parents will be blamed. Immigration will be blamed. Some will mention social media, and rap music.

Somebody who used to be on the fringes of a gang will be in a newspaper saying that they got out, so why can’t everybody else. They will explain they took up boxing classes.

People will say it was never this bad in the past, forgetting that the events of this last week have similarities traced back over many years in Camden, such as the death of Mahir Osman, and the reaction to it, in 2006.

Councillors and columnists, some with no expertise in youth services, some who haven’t spoken to a teenager in a long time, will know exactly what’s needed.

Politicians will be told that they have caused this all by budget cutting youth services. That there is nowhere for our young people to go, and that they are bored.

Politicians from one party will blame these cuts on politicians from another, and vice versa.

The number of police officers on the streets will be raised. We will learn both ‘sides’ have cut the numbers.

If the victim is white, this whole debate will run for several more days than if they are black.

There will be earnest, heartfelt appeals to stop carrying knives, but young men will still carry blades and explain, if ever asked, that they need them for protection against other young men with knives.

Life will move on, there is Brexit to talk about, and football and TV, until the next time. But, as the Globe said, the only thing we don’t know about the next time is who and where.

Somehow we need to break the cycle.


4 Comments on We know what will happen next

  1. Nick Harding // February 25, 2018 at 9:52 pm // Reply

    Richard. Most of what you said is right and needs to be said. BUT the start and end is WRONG. That more shootings in American schools will occur is as sure as night follows day. The ingredients such as mental illness, availability of guns, gun culture and propensity to copy are unique to America. Others can analyse what has happened here usually with a view to sexing up the story (I am thinking of today’s Observer article). What is not right is to compare Camden with the US.


    • Richard Osley // February 25, 2018 at 10:00 pm // Reply

      The issues are different, of course, and I’m not really comparing them. It’s just we have our own ingredients here for a different kind of repetitive tragedy. And those words, ‘we know what will happen next’ are haunting if you every year you find yourself reporting on the same sequence of fatal events with no obvious strategy in place to prevent it happening again.


  2. True, we don’t know next time’s “who” or “where”. But few people seem much prepared to say “why” this is happening. It isn’t parents’ fault. It certainly isn’t immigration. Nor social media or rap. Or austerity, schools or the even a lack of youth activities. The gangs and violence are driven by organised crime and the drugs economy. That’s not me saying the victims are gang members or involved in the drugs business. But it’s pretty clear the financial gain from the drugs economy – cannabis, crack cocaine and increasingly heroin and opiods – is a powerful temptation. Even if we fix the disaffection, schools, jobs, youth services problem, the lure of the criminal drugs economy will still be there.


    • Richard Osley // February 27, 2018 at 11:27 am // Reply

      Hi Paul, just wondering. where do you think the desire for ‘financial gain’ in the cases you are thinking of come from?


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