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Culture And Anti-Social Behaviour
Other View Spring 2002
Within all societies cultural values and attitudes vary between the younger generations and those before them. This diversity forms into a sub-culture. It has become widely known as youth culture. When one uses the term youth it refers mainly to people aged twelve to twenty five. It is a global issue as is youth violence, which has been on the increase for the last decade. It has penetrated all across the globe from Littleton Colorado to the streets of North Belfast. Professor Leonard D. Eron states that negative images of violence play a role but are not the sole cause of youth violence. One of the significant things is that current youth culture is reflective of the adult culture; globally more young people carry guns than did 20 years ago.
The Generation X concept has focused on the evolution of popular youth culture. Sceptics, myself among them, feel this concept is a tool to reinforce capitalism and globalisation. Music, fashion, and the entertainment industry play a role in capitalizing on the youth culture of the time. The youth culture in Belfast is characterized often by its elements of anti social behaviour - the frequent use of drugs and alcohol, joyriding, vandalism, shoplifting, fighting, promiscuity. Some of these behaviours are more acceptable than others. Joyriding and association with drugs can have severe or fatal consequences for many young people. The perceived deviants are punished often by their communities and /or the juvenile justice system that I believe often fails our youth.
It is widely accepted that in areas of Belfast and elsewhere paramilitary policing took place, which saw the introduction of punishment attacks on perpetrators of unacceptable crimes. This meant that in many working class areas to engage in what some seen as anti social behavior increased the chance of beatings, exiles and even deaths. These beatings were seen as a tool to enforce discipline. The provisional policing method was focused on in an article from the Irish Echo in 1996. It was explained using the example of the forced disbandment of the IPLO after accusations that they were involved in petty crime and drug running. The policing of the community can be seen as achieving social and political control as well as preventing recruitment of touts - as it was known that the RUC targeted petty criminals to retrieve details on paramilitaries active in their areas.
When youth are subjected to violence both internally within their communities and from external forces the violence is normalized. Environment is one of the main socializing factors in a persons life. When an area by its design is contentious and the community in which the young people live has its own informal power structures inbuilt as well as established divisions between neighbours, it is only a matter of time before the young people vent their anger and frustration.
Yet again the young people - mostly young males - took to the streets of north Belfast this week as they have a number of times in previous years and spent endless hours rioting. It is in these situations that I observe the massive shift of values. The young people randomly destroy and attack all around them. Cars are stolen and set alight in daylight to barricade the streets from RUC vehicles. For the perpetrator, similar activity would usually result in a dark alley somewhere and a beating with various implements. (Pre-ceasefires it was usually a gun.) Punishment shootings are still used as a method by loyalist paramilitaries. When the young people take to the streets to riot the attitude of many changes, from dialogue is the main way forward to the people want violence and destruction so let them have it.
There was no intervention by representatives of political parties in the area. At no stage did they challenge the young people or attempt to calm the situation. They merely looked on, talked to the media cameras and disappeared from sight. Ideally intervention should have taken place in this situation and the young people discouraged in engaging in anti-social behaviour. But what do you do when the adult culture is also taking part and the events seemed to go unchallenged by those observing who are elected to positions of power? The young people are receiving mixed messages -behaviours typically sanctioned are now condoned by the community. Dare they take part in similar activity until the next riot?
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