Even more citizens against litter

It is not my deliberate intention to repeat a theme (although I am told by others as I get older that repetition and hesitation – but not, I should stress, deviation – are both qualities that I am developing in abundance). But I have just read a story which focuses on a rather different kind of citizen power from last month’s hero, Peter Silverman.

I would like to introduce you to the St Peter’s Neighbourhood Monitoring Group. They are, I read, a group of older ladies ranging in age from 67 to 92. And before jam, Jerusalem and other stereotypes spring to mind, I should make clear that these ladies live in the St Peter’s area of Leicester, an inner-city neighbourhood with a high level of social housing, four high-rise apartment blocks and blighted by all sorts of anti-social behaviour from litter to drug-dealing.

What this venerable group of ladies does, though, is ground-breaking. They have somehow (and with the help of 27-year-old David Lawson, the only male involved and, by my calculations, young enough to be the great-grandson of some of the group members) managed to set up sufficient surveillance equipment to be able to record some of the murkier goings on in St Peter’s. And that is all that they do – record and then publish online what they have recorded.

”What’s the good of that ?”, I hear you ask. Are they going to make a film ? Well, some of the footage has, apparently, been handed over to the police but there is no public record of how many prosecutions have resulted. But, and here speaks young David Lawson, “We know the fact that we’re doing it deters people. After we started filming, the incidence of littering nose-dived”.

But I am unbelievably disappointed to hear the comments from James Treadwell, a University of Leicester criminologist, about all this : “I call them vigilantes – they’re not tied by legal conventions, legal codes or due process. They’re acting as judge, jury and executioner. We consent to be policed by the state – these kind of groups we don’t consent to” Well, Mr Treadwell, I think that you’re exaggerating this slightly. They’re recording and publishing what happens in their area. If what they record and publish isn’t of a criminal nature, then there might be a question of invasion of privacy. But, assuming that they are fairly careful about what they record and publish, I don’t think that there’s an issue. Do criminals really “consent to be policed by the state” ? I don’t think so.

These ladies have given us an inspiring example of grabbing a problem that has a seriously detrimental effect on the quality of their lives and then determinedly pursuing the solution to that problem. They have shown us that there IS a way of dealing with antisocial behaviour if the conventional route doesn’t seem to be working. But there is another theme here that warms the cockles of my heart – and that is that they have a young lad helping them who is some 3 generations distant from some of them. Isn’t that, too, what life is all about ? Crossing the generational divide is what not nearly enough of us do these days – so hats off to you, too, young David Lawson.

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