This piece was originally published on the South Essex Stirrer back in March, 2017. Given the growing sense of nervousness about anti-social behaviour and crime across the south of Essex, we think it’s timely to re-post this piece as a contribution to the debate on what can be done.

This is us thinking out loud about anti-social behaviour in our communities. We’re not offering definitive explanations or solutions – what we’re doing is putting out some ideas and suggestions in the hope they’ll start a constructive discussion as to how we deal with these issues…

It seems that no matter how hard you and your fellow volunteers work on a community project, there’s always a minority of wreckers who for their own instant gratification, will set out to try and destroy what you’ve worked so hard to create. You’re part of a dedicated group of volunteers working hard to turn round a park that ten years ago was a litter strewn no go area that people went out of their way to avoid… You do your level best to make it a safe, welcoming asset to the neighbourhood and yet there’s still a minority of yobs who see nothing wrong with using the park as a venue to carry out unprovoked, random assaults.

We’re not sociologists but what we can say with reasonable certainty is that glib explanations and simplistic blanket solutions to deal with delinquent behaviour don’t work. There are a range of reasons why some youths go off the rails and as such, in an ideal world, there would be a range of appropriate responses to deal with them and the consequences of their actions. What follows are not prescriptive solutions – it’s more a case of us throwing out ideas for discussion to see where things can go…

Sometimes, it may be the case that a household is being buffeted by events beyond their control and the parent/s or guardian/s simply can’t cope and need outside support to help them in dealing with their kid/s. In an age of austerity, sadly the resources to do that are diminishing and troubled households are left to fend for themselves. Could this be the kind of situation where neighbours step in to offer what help they can to get the family back on track? Granted, it’s no substitute for when professional help is needed but for a household that’s struggling to keep things together, an act of solidarity could be the morale booster they need to help steer them in the right direction.

We go from the situation described above through varying shades of grey where things aren’t so clear cut all the way through to the small but extremely disruptive minority of households and individuals whose behaviour could almost be described as pathological. What we’re talking about here has been described by the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) as the ‘renegades within’: Dealing with the renegades.

A corrosive minority for whom the values of community solidarity, empathy and civic pride mean nothing. Brazen opportunists who apart from looking out for their immediate circle of mates and (possibly) family, are effectively at war with the community they live in but are not a part of in any way, shape or form. People who will commit the most venal of crimes to win the ‘respect’ of their mates but who actively ‘dis-respect’ the community they parasitically live in and off. A group who have taken on board the philosophy of get rich quick (by any means) and the view that the weak deserve to go to the wall. We’re talking about people who are the product of 40 years of our communities being atomised and fragmented by a corrosive, neo-liberal doctrine that places the individual above any sense of solidarity or community.

What can we do about what is effectively a fifth column sabotaging our efforts to build a sense of community and solidarity? A petition is doing the rounds in our neighbourhood asking the police to increase patrols in the area in the hope that a) a visible police presence will act as a deterrent and b) early intervention will nip problems with delinquent behaviour in the bud. We can understand why people want to put pressure on the police to have a more visible presence but sadly we have to say that with the best will in the world it’s a flawed approach on the basis that a) if crime is contained in a working class area, then from our experience of helping IWCA groups in Blackbird Leys and Islington, the cops will see it as job done, b) in an age of austerity, police resources are stretched to the limit and if containment is a lower cost option than eradication, then containment it will be and c) if crime is going to be defeated, the only effective way of doing it is through a strong, united community.

There is a slogan that says: ‘strong communities don’t need policing’. We need to start looking at ways of putting that into practice in our neighbourhoods. There’s no one size fits all solution to dealing with the problems of anti-social because the causes of it vary. To be honest, most people can tell the difference between households who mean no ill but because of the way they’re buffeted by events, need a lift up to get them back on track on the one hand, and on the other hand, the renegades who need a more robust approach to make them change their ways.

Even when it comes to the renegades, more often than not, people will know who they are and where they live. They get away with what they do because as our neighbourhoods become ever more atomised and people feel more isolated and afraid, the fear of retaliation stops people from acting. It only takes a minority of renegades to drag a neighbourhood right down – because of the fear factor, the influence they exert is out of proportion to their actual numbers. Obviously, we’re not talking about vigilante action – all that does is set up a tit for tat cycle of violence which further undermines community cohesion. What we are talking about is how a signal can be sent to the renegades within that their actions have consequences such as being ostracised by the neighbourhood. That means being refused service in shops, pubs and cafes until they show a sign of wanting to mend their ways as one possible suggestion.

To conclude, the ideas chucked out ranging from the community rallying round to help a troubled household get back on track and prevent the kids from sliding into a pattern of anti-social behaviour through to the more robust approach of ostracising the renegades all depend in one thing…a sense of solidarity. Without that sense of solidarity and knowing that if you’re sticking your neck out, people will be there to back you up, things won’t change. If we can build genuine community solidarity, we’ve got a chance of defeating this scourge…we look forward to a constructive discussion about how we can achieve this…