Three months ago, I was preparing to interview the new Chief Inspector of Thurrock Police, Paul Moor.
As we engaged on a number of general themes, I began a sentence with the assertion that: “Thurrock was a relatively safe place. The Chief Inspector immediately corrected me, saying: “No, you are wrong: Thurrock is a safe place”
It was a confident, bold, on the front foot statement but something about it smacked of the high moral ground, the one where you can get quite a nose bleed from.
After the interview, I went to my next assignment at the Youth and Connexions Centre on Orsett Road to film some of the rap and grime artists in session.
While there, one of them showed me a film clip from his mobile. Four young black men walking past Tilbury railway station when they are heckled from across the road and then set upon by five white males.
Thurrock is a safe place……………
In the past five weeks there has been incidents involving young black males every weekend.
The Contempt of Court laws forbid me from making specific references to incidents that may now be regarded as “active” but the law allows a general discussion on themes.
It is also important that any discussion doesn’t give ammunition to racists. We are discussing knife crime among young black males not knife crime because they are black.
The question is, have the police in Thurrock been caught on the hop? For many years, community cohesion involves either comfortable jaw jaw meetings with partnership groups, active policing in Tilbury involved two PCSO’s cycling up and down Dock Road. Don’t get me wrong these are important layers but they require a foundation.
Suddenly there has been a quantum leap to martial law in Tilbury. Barricades, mounted police, armed units and young people told to get off the streets. Activity more akin to El Salvador than Tilbury.
The public in Tilbury are outraged. They feel that a mobile police station and some leaflets is a tad patronising and want to see the whites of Ch Insp Moor’s and Insp Rachel Wood;s eyes at a public meeting.
The language of ordinary people in Tilbury doesn’t pull any punches. One anonymous caller rang me up and said: “This is the home of irish and gypsies. We ran the poles out of here and are prepared to do the same with the blacks”
Incendiary language indeed.
On the other hand, walking in Tilbury yesterday, it is hardly Fort Apache The Bronx. People from a wide spectrum of ethnic groupings, getting on with their lives.
However youth workers will tell you that there is a simmering tension out there and a culture of going tooled up that has escalated in the last three months. Indeed,ever since the Ch Insp told me…….
Thurrock is a safe place..
It is going to take more than a hip-hop dance class and a poetry competition to prevent another Stephen Lawrence taking place.
Staff at the Youth and Connexions Service have seen a huge increase in young people, neither in employment education or training turning up at their door. The youth workers do a tremendous job, in particular someone like Lewis Clarke whose music work with young artists has been a crucial valuable channel.
The fear is that much of the fear and resentment may be harnessed by Mr Nick Griffin MEP and whichever member of the BNP decides to stand for parliament in the next election.
They have consistently gained 25% of the vote in the last two council elections, used the Thameside Theatre as their personal Nuremberg for the launch of the European Elections and have the right atmospheric conditions to create inroads into the outgoing Andrew Mackinlay’s majority of 6,375.
Thurrock needs to see a combination of zero tolerance policing and in depth strategies if it is to avert a crisis.
If it has the equivalent of Operation Trident working in the borough then tell us. If it plans to adopt a stop and search policy using a variance on powers then let us know. If you have the Metropolitan Police working in the borough because the job is just a little too big for you, then let us know.
These are not radical strategies: look at the work undertaken in New York City, look at the work undertaken in Glasgow by the Violence Reduction Unit.
The police owe it to the people of Thurrock. They owe it to the people lying in Thurrock and Basildon Hospital who went to the Thurrock Festival by train and left by ambulance.
Try telling them, that Thurrock is a safe place………