Guns of Brixton


Police use their cloak of invisibility shields. The youths sense they are there somewhere…but where?

In the song ‘Guns of Brixton‘ by The Clash, Paul Simonon writes:

When they kick out your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun

When the law break in
How you gonna go?
Shot down on the pavement
Or waiting in death row

Firstly, possessing a gun in Britain is illegal so why is Paul Simonon supporting men with guns?

Secondly, the British police don’t carry firearms. Only in very recent times have certain squads been allowed to carry guns so as to combat criminal groups with weapons of their own. Therefore, when Paul Simonon wrote this song, the chance of you being ‘shot down on the pavement’ by a policeman in Brixton was about as likely as being hit by a stray Cruise Missile.

Thirdly, the Death Penalty was abolished in Britain 50 years ago so how could you be ‘waiting in death row’, unless you had been carelessly transferred by Group 4 to New Wandsworth, Texas, if there is such a place.

Simonon’s song is a juvenile, all political pose and social concern without any seriousness. He was young when he wrote the song and everyone writes stupid stuff when they are young so I’m tempted to forgive him. Even so, it would be nice to hear that now, in middle age, Simonon has seen the error of his ways and revised his former opinions. If he admitted as much in public it would be even better. Yet something tells me that this hasn’t happened and won’t happen.

Without wanting to put words in Paul Simonon’s mouth, in ‘Guns of Brixton’ he appears to be saying that the problem is not the black, gun-carrying drug gangs of Brixton but the police. Maybe he subscribes to the popular progressive liberal idea that the only possible reason why some black people would turn to crime is because of oppression and racism. Why there is such a high crime rate in most all-black countries must be a real puzzle to such people. It never crosses some people’s minds that a black person in Brixton, or anyone else for that matter, might make the calculation that becoming a criminal is an easier way of making money than getting up at 7 O’ clock every weekday, catching the train to work and then coming home at 6 O’ clock in the evening. The fact that a life of crime might be especially attractive to someone who is not very bright and who performed poorly at school is also ignored. No, there must always be some social wrong that has forced this vulnerable victim of social inequality into a life of crime, some influencing factor beyond his control that others are to blame for.

Both liberals and conservatives agree that criminals should be locked up somewhere and kept in a place where they can’t hurt others. The main difference in outlook is that liberals look at criminals with sympathy and search for the social and psychological ‘root causes’ of their crimes, while conservatives look on with anger and hate and are less interested in explanations that sound remarkably like Just-So stories to them. They want to see criminals put away and punished, not only to keep the public safe as liberals also want, but also to deter others from following their example. For conservatives, modern prisons don’t really represent ‘punishment’. In some cases they provide better accommodation than the criminal is used to on the outside. Conservatives dislike all the talk of ‘root causes’ because they seem to strip the criminal of all personal responsibility and make it sound as though it were the criminal, rather than the person who was killed, robbed, raped or burgled, who is the real victim.

I tend more to the conservative than the liberal view. Psychological and social explanations of crime have a habit of turning from explanations into excuses. I suspect that both liberals and conservatives believe that our genes and our environment turn us into the people we eventually become, and both of these factors are beyond our control. However, liberals feel that this is reason to treat the criminal kindly, something that surely only encourages bad behaviour. Conservatives tend to think that even if we are all victims of circumstance, the threat of punishment is part of that circumstance and surely whatever method reduces crime is the correct approach to take.

So whether we are ultimately to blame for our crimes is really a red herring and is of little importance. What is important is what will reduce crime, and surely harsh sentences can act as a deterrent in some crimes (though not all).

But to return to the song ‘Guns of Brixton’. Many people of the Left believe that it wasn’t enough that Britain gave Jamaicans an opportunity to better their lot by allowing them to come to Britain. Providing free schooling, free health care and council housing was just a start. These lefties believe Britain should also have ensured that these new arrivals took their opportunity, just as Kenyan and Ugandan Asians took theirs in the 1960s and 1970s. Britain should not only have brought the horse to water but made it drink, too.

Yet many Jamaicans chose not to take their opportunity and for this, people like Paul Simonon blame not Jamaicans themselves but various British governments, the British police force and white British middle-class people in general. We do indeed seem to be living in a world that has, morally speaking, been turned upside down.


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