Monday, September 11, 2006

Pre-crime crack-down

Toys hold their value much better if they remain in their original box. Imagine if you will the poor child who waits all year for a limited edition Roboraptor and it promptly gets put away in a bank vault to maintain its value. Well that’s pretty much how we feel in Hackney with several of our prominent recreational facilities currently bubble-wrapped.
The Ocean Music Venue, built as a flagship community resource and millennium project was open just three years. Local people felt that it would be hard-pressed to compete with the universally adored Hackney Empire which was undergoing major refurbishment. There were always rumblings about admission prices being too high but the real problem was that, unlike the Empire, it would have to draw most of its audience from beyond the boundaries of Hackney to be financially viable.
Most people outside of London won’t have heard of the ‘Hackney Factor’. This is the tendency by west Londoners to believe that if you enter this wild East End territory you will most likely be shot or, at the very least, not be able to find your way back to the tube station. By central London standards, the Ocean is very difficult to get to. Audiences stayed away in their thousands. Bizarrely, it was a great venue. It occurred to no one to give it a little promotion and perhaps let people know what was going on there.
Hackney Council finally agreed to take it over after it had been closed a couple of years and every now and then it will be used to host an event. A lecture by a mad, homophobic, ex-gangster evangelist - that type of thing.
The majority of young people in Hackney, who were meant to be the main beneficiaries of the musical development aspect of the Ocean, haven’t set foot in it in years. It was with great excitement, presumably, that they began to plan a party for the Arts Council funded Hackney Youth Carnival, to be held at the Ocean next Friday.
Enter The Hackney Police Pre-Crime Unit to veto the celebration on the grounds of ‘potential for crime and disorder’. I understand that police are very into preventive policing these days and that it is obviously easier to control events that don’t take place. It is also true that if you line a lot of people up in a very wide street it makes them quite easy to shoot at. I don’t wish to make light of the dangers as there have been drive-by shootings in Hackney but the police can’t just tell everyone to stay at home because it makes their job easier.
Last month it was reported that Community Support Officers in the West Midlands had ordered parents to remove hopscotch grids that little girls had drawn in the street. They claimed they had received complaints and reports of ‘anti-social behaviour’. I suppose if a hopscotch grid is going to freak you out then a full scale lemonade-fest is probably going to cause a mass fainting in the ranks. Perhaps the police need to consider issuing regulation smelling salts to officers.
Isn’t this all a bit like keeping a toy in its original box for fifty years so that you can one day flog it at a boot sale for £15?
Photo Bill Brandt

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