Blair quotes Black pastor 'out of context' on knife crime

Blair quotes Black pastor 'out of context' on knife crime

By staff writers
12 Apr 2007

Tony Blair has caused controversy by claiming that a spate of knife and gun murders in London is being caused by a distinctive section of the black community.

His remarks yesterday came in a speech in which he quoted a black pastor of a London church saying: "When are we going to start saying this is a problem amongst a section of the black community and not, for reasons of political correctness, pretend that this is nothing to do with it?".

The comments were reportedly from The Rev Nims Obunge, chief executive of the Peace Alliance, one of the main organisations working against gang crime.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today Programme this morning, The Rev Nims Obunge, denounced the prime minister. He refused to be drawn on whether the Prime Minister had quoted him accurately, suggesting instead that the government was failing to provide adequate support for peace-making work.

Last night Mr Obunge, who confirmed that he attended the Downing Street summit chaired by Mr Blair in February, said of the prime minister: "He makes it look like I said it's the black community doing it. What I said is it's making the black community more vulnerable and they need more support and funding for the work they're doing. ... He has taken what I said out of context. We came for support and he has failed and has come back with more police powers to use against our black children."

The Prime Minister's remarks have also angered community leaders, who accused him of ignorance and failing to provide support for black-led efforts to tackle the problem.

Mr Blair said the recent violence should not be treated as part of a general crime wave, but as specific to black youth. He said people had to drop their political correctness and recognise that the violence would not be stopped "by pretending it is not young black kids doing it".

It needed to be addressed by a tailored counter-attack in the same way as football hooliganism was reined in by producing measures aimed at the specific problem, rather than general lawlessness.

Mr Blair's remarks are at odds with those of the Home Office minister Lady Scotland, who told the home affairs select committee last month that the disproportionate number of black youths in the criminal justice system was a function of their disproportionate poverty, and not to do with a distinctive black culture.

Giving the Callaghan lecture in Cardiff, the prime minister admitted he had been "lurching into total frankness" in the final weeks of his premiership. He called on black people to lead the fight against knife crime. He said that "the black community - the vast majority of whom in these communities are decent, law abiding people horrified at what is happening - need to be mobilised in denunciation of this gang culture that is killing innocent young black kids".

Keith Jarrett, chair of the National Black Police Association, whose members work with vulnerable youngsters, said: "Social deprivation and delinquency go hand in hand and we need to tackle both. It is curious that the prime minister does not mention deprivation in his speech."

Lee Jasper, adviser on policing to London's mayor, said: "For years we have said this is an issue the black community has to deal with. The PM is spectacularly ill-informed if he thinks otherwise.

"Every home secretary from [David] Blunkett onwards has been pressed on tackling the growing phenomenon of gun and gang crime in deprived black communities, and government has failed to respond to what has been a clear demand for additional resources to tackle youth alienation and disaffection".

The Home Office has already announced it is looking at the possibility of banning membership of gangs, tougher enforcement of the supposed mandatory five-year sentences for possession of illegal firearms, and lowering the age from 21 to 18 for this mandatory sentence.

Answering questions later Mr Blair said: "Economic inequality is a factor and we should deal with that, but I don't think it's the thing that is producing the most violent expression of this social alienation.

"I think that is to do with the fact that particular youngsters are being brought up in a setting that has no rules, no discipline, no proper framework around them."

Some people working with children knew at the age of five whether they were going to be in "real trouble" later, he said.

The Commission for Racial Equality broadly backed Mr Blair, saying people "shouldn't be afraid to talk about this issue for fear of sounding prejudiced".

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