Criminal Difference

Reading the Observer this morning, an article by Mark Hodkinson delved into the brutal murder of Sophie Lancaster. Her only crime it seems, was that she looked “different”. Dressed in her jet black goth attire, her and boyfriend Robert Maltby, 21, were attacked by a gang of teenagers in a local park in Bacup, Lancashire.
This story, though not new, is particularly shocking to me. While knife crime amongst the young in London seems to be on the up, I have begun to stop feeling surprised. In the majority of cases, the young victims of knife crime have some form of gang links, if not personally, through their family. While the mass media would have you believe that anyone, anywhere can be stabbed, the reality is far from the truth. I’m a tall, slim man who dresses at times, in a very flamboyant manner. Yet I have only been involved in one knife related incident, which was infact nothing to do with my appearance, but something different entirely. What I’m trying to say is, London can be dangerous, but not half as dangerous as the 6 O’ Clock News would have us believe. Which is what makes the brutal beatings of Sophie Lancaster so shocking.
From what I can gather, Sophie was incredibly bright. She had finished school with 3 A Levels, and was taking a Gap Year before hoping to enroll at a college. She didn’t have any criminal connections, nor did her boyfriend at the time. I’ve recieved abuse frequently in the street for my appearance, but there is a difference between a builder giving a sarcastic wolf whistle, and him beating your face to a pulp. These attacks weren’t for any monetery or material gain on the part of the teenage gang, purely for the fact that this young couple chose to live an alternative lifestyle. It harks back to the violence which sparked civil rights movements in Alabama under Martin Luther King. People used violence as an outlet for their insecurity and jealousy.
What also interested me is the two vastly opposing outlooks on life that the protagonists in this tragic tale had. Gothic subculture is defined by a complete openness, to sexuality, race, lifestyle and upbringing. The macabre clothes and dark music comes almost as an afterthought. I’ve never met any Goths who haven’t been friendly, their world view refreshingly free of prejudice. On the other hand, the teenage gang led by Brendan Harris, 15, and Ryan Herbert, 16, seem to embody the kind of Middle England “us and them” culture that I believed to be all but eradicated. In a day in which even staunchly dogmatic enterprises like the Catholic Church are coming round to the idea of moving with the times, its frankly disgusting that these teenagers feel the need to behave like this.
Luckily, the mother of Sophie, Sylvia Lancaster, has decided that activism is in fact the right course of action. She has set up the S.O.P.H.I.E (Stamp Out Prejudice Hatred & Intolerance Everywhere) organisation, in order to broadcast Sophie’s story to a wider public arena. There have been concerts dedicated to her in the UK, US and Australia.
I hope sincerely that this is an isolated case, that the fact that these teenagers came from severely rough backgrounds means that they are an exception to the rule that Britain is becoming more tolerant of alternative lifestyles.
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