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In an ideal world the role of ‘Youth Police Crime Commissioner’ or ‘youth crime tsar’ would be unnecessary. The social cohesion between young people in Britain and the police would be harmonious and the thought of paying a 17 year old to tell the police how to do their job would seem as useful as appointing George Osborne to help ease Britain’s debt. However that is far from the case. The Safer London Foundation, established by the Metropolitan Police, found in autumn 2012 that 50% of young people believed the relationship between young people and the police was negative. Only 17% described the relationship as positive. This is not a pattern exclusive to London but reflective of urban areas across Britain, something has to change. Britain’s convenient amnesia in regards to the Riots in the summer of 2011 has meant the root of the problem has not been treated in order to prevent any more other unrest horrifying the nation.
And while some have cried tokenism or a publicity stunt and others vindictively set about to undermine the idea of the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Ann Barnes, what was a well-meaning project has met catastrophic ends. But make no mistake about it, the 17 year-old girl given the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ which has now been lost thanks to a hysterical right-wing media campaign is a victim. Paris Brown could do nothing in the face of the forensic researching of the Daily Mail who prowled her twitter feed. Quite why tweets made as far back as two years were enough to prompt Brown’s resignation really is perplexing but if past actions are enough to condemn people then I suspect David Cameron will be preparing his resignation speech this evening as his Bullingdon days come back to haunt him.
However if we are to take the Daily Mails no doubt well-informed and researched character judgements seriously then this ‘foul-mouthed crime tsar’, as they so politely dubbed the 17 year-old, is exactly the sort of person the police should have been talking to. Drinking, smoking weed and sexual frankness are, for some young people, part of teenage life. It is this fact that the right-wing newspapers are yet to get used to. And it is often these teenagers that will suffer from poor relations with the police. This was a rare open ear presented to the disaffected youth sharply closed by the bullies on Fleet Street.
Let us also consider the denouncement of the homophobic slur that she used. This is plainly unacceptable but it would be wrong to rage at Paris as if she was the exception. The fact is for thousands of young people across the country ‘fag’ is widely used and more so the application of ‘that’s so gay’ to mean something is bad. This is not a Paris Brown problem but a societal problem. Homophobia infects youth culture as it does all other cultures in Britain. Perhaps we are to expect nothing less when it is not even 10 years since the ban on homosexuality being taught in schools was lifted. This is not to exempt Paris but to point to her as if she is an individual homophobe with a vendetta is wrong, Britain needs more education and more years before homophobic language is given the same revulsion as racist terms, if they want to help this transition the Daily Mail and Telegraph could begin by apologising for supporting Section 28.
The fact of the matter is that Paris Brown was not squeaky clean and in the face of pernicious newspapers that is just not good enough, however no one should be as ready to jump to the same conclusions as the British press in regards to this 17 year old with 14 GCSEs who managed to beat 163 other applicants to the post in the first place. What could have been an important role in helping young people in her region has been wasted. It is the teenagers who have blemishes and have made mistakes that need a strong relationship with the police and communities more than anyone. If the police are going to listen to teenagers that have never broken the law, tweeted irresponsibly or been tempted by the allure of drugs then aren’t going to learn anything. I can’t help but feel that the people who hounded Paris out don’t want anyone to listen to those voices either however. The hounding of Paris Brown is merely reflective of a political trend which treats Britain’s future with ignorance and contempt.