Last week while searching for something to watch, I came across a film I had not seen in years. John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood was released the summer of 1991. The film stared an unknown future oscar winner, Cuba Gooding, Jr and the gangster rapper Ice Cube known for being in ‘The Most Dangerous Group in the World’ N.W.A. The film depicted the story of three friends as they battled through the tough streets and social problems of south Los Angeles. You had Doughboy (Ice Cube) deep in the gangster life style – drugs, alcohol and gang rivalries dominated him and his crew’s time and energy. Meanwhile you had Doughboy’s half brother Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut), the hope, the all American sports hero. Ricky was the good, clean cut kid who was getting the scholarship and going to college. Somewhere in the middle was Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr). Tre was fortunate to have his brilliantly named father, Furious Styles (Lawrence Fishburne) who was every sons dream and nightmare combined (handsome, intelligent, clued-up, deep and all up in your business – we all remember his legendary Compton speech!). In a nutshell the film contained drugs, gangs, violence, sex, moral and ethical questions, police brutality, tragedy, bad parenting, pipe dreams, tears, laughter and heartache. Just another day in L.A.
This was L.A. 1991 and I sit here in London in 2012 and the landscape painted in Boyz N the Hood is now all too familiar in the UK. When I watched this film in 1991, aged 13, nothing like this existed around me…well not to this extent. 20 plus years later and Boyz N the Hood paints the grim picture which is witnessed in parts of any major city in the UK. Don’t believe me?
In 1991, 1729 people were sentenced and found guilty of being in possession of carrying a knife in England and Wales. In 2010 the number was 6475. Source: Knife crime statistics, House of Commons, 2011
In 1998, 3667 people were admitted to hospital for assault by a sharp object in England and Wales. By 2011 this number had risen to 4643. Source: Knife crime statistics, House of Commons, 2011
In 1991, 12,129 offences were recorded by the police in which firearms were reported to have been used in England & Wales. By 2008 the figure stood at
17,343 (in 2011 the figure was 11, 227) Source: Firearm crime statistics, House of Commons 2012
Regarding, sexual health: Between 1990 and 1997 there were between 2,000 and 2,700 HIV diagnoses reported annually in the UK. From 1999 there was a steep increase in the number of annual HIV diagnoses, peaking in 2005 at 7,982. There was a slight decline in subsequent years, but the number of new diagnoses today is still far higher than the pre-2003 rate. Source: United Kingdom Statistics Summary
Although I have only taken a snapshot of some of the issues plaguing inner cities (knife crime, gun crime and poor sexual health), the statistics demonstrate how stagnant the UK have been to treat the issue depicted on film in Boyz N the Hood 20 plus years ago. We have caught up with America. Re-elected London Mayor Boris Johnson recently said tackling crime and keeping London safe continues to be a top priority for the Mayor. Let’s hope in the next 20 years London and the UK are still not playing catch up in terms of prevention and intervention.
One thing which Boyz N the Hood highlighted was the need for positive male role models. The need for fathers. On reflection, one of the reasons Tre did not go down the route of Doughboy or suffer the same fate as Ricky was the steady stream of advice, nurturing, encouragement, support and love from his father, Furious. As Martin Glynn wrote in his report on young gang members in Baltimore entitled Breaking the Forth Wall:
‘The vast majority of these young men are functioning, positive, and healthy. However, at the tail end there is chaos, mayhem, and turmoil. The need for a father and to experience positive fathering is on an epidemic scale, and should be treated as a public health issue. All of the young men spoken to had absent fathers who were not around for a whole series of reasons. The impact of this area of young men’s lives cannot be underestimated or ignored. Once again there are many books, research reports, programmes, activities, workshops, conferences, and seminars designed to improve and address this situation, but research would suggest that many of those young men have “opted out” from wanting to address their feelings on this issue, and find solace in their crew and extended peer group. For some young men the issue of “being a man” is a continued problem’.
The issue around father deficit is an area which at times is ignored when gangs and serious youth violence strategies are developed, yet the loss of a father can be the root of many issues that young men and women are going through. In Mark Stibbe’s excellent book ‘I Am Your Father’, he quotes Dr. George Rekers:
‘A positive and continuous relationship to one’s father has been found to be associated with a good self-concept, higher self esteem, higher self-confidence in personal and social interaction, higher moral maturity, reduced rates of unwed teen pregnancy, greater internal control and higher career aspirations. Fathers who re affectionate, nurturing and actively involved in child rearing are more likely to have well adjusted children’
In the UK where 1.5 million boys are separated from their fathers and half a million have no contact with their dad, isn’t it time policy makers invested money and resources into an area which is responsible for so much devastation. Let’s hope it does not take another 20 years before we realise the UK has ignored a problem.
In it’s report, Against All Odds: Mind the Gap, the charity Family Action argues that welfare cuts and poor quality housing is having a negative impact on mothers’ mental health and their ability to bond with their babies. Family Action insists that early intervention should mean intervening before at-risk babies are born, by providing services that support vulnerable mothers emotionally and help develop parenting skills, alongside financial support.