Are we in the middle of a gang epidemic? Is knife crime rocketing? Is getting a gun 'child's play' as Channel 4's trailers for their recent series of programmes would have us believe?
The BBC's Mark Easton points out that while knife crime among teens is up, gun crime is down. You'd think, given X amount of violent people willing to do harm to others, that if guns are harder to get hold of then they'd end up using knives instead. It sounds fairly logical, but doesn't fit nicely the scare-all narrative of 'OMG feral kids are coming to kill us all?!?!!' tha the tabloids would like us to think.
Obsolete exposes the usual Scum insanity on crime (oh noes! a pretty white woman's relative has been killed!) and its almost pathological demand for new prisons (paid for by taxpayers obviously, though that of course wouldn't worry Rupert Murdoch, would it). The Scum's leader is particularly despicable:
We are sliding rapidly into a Dark Age of lawlessness where human life has no worth and the only rule is the rule of a bloodstained knife.
Are we? Then why is crime down?
Aha, say the voices of doom. Crime isn't down at all - somehow the figures are being fiddled.
But, more and more people are in prison... and crime is going down. Doesn't that prove that the Government's extra-punitive justice system, inflexible sentencing and longer sentencing are actually working?
Now I'm no big fan of such measures myself, but might the two things be linked? Why is there such desperation to make out that crime is increasing, when it isn't? Particularly when the facts would appear to back up arguments in favour of tougher justice and more punishment? Why ignore that, when it seems to be a perfect justification of your argument? Why talk about a 'slide into the dark ages' when the reverse is true?
George Monbiot doesn't countenance the idea that the huge rise in prison population might be helping the crime figures - pointing out that the rising incarcerated population is because of longer sentencing; not more villains being put away per se, just villains being put away for longer and staying in jail longer - instead he looks at how, possibly, punishment could be used as a tool of social exclusion and segregation.
And it's an intriguing argument. In whose interest is it to portray crime as spiralling, when it isn't? In whose interest is it to demand tougher and tougher punishment, when punishment is already getting tougher and tougher? Is it true to say that children are 'feral', or is it just a complete accident that only poor children are 'feral'? Why do we turn a blind eye to chinless wonders taking over entire Cornish seaside towns and causing mayhem, while we clamp down on less well-off kids simply standing outside shops?
Are we heading towards Green Zone Britain? Already, ASBOs have the power to exclude you from places where others don't want you to go. Sentences are tougher than ever, keeping people in jail for longer for even minor offences. Fewer crimes are being committed.
Yet the narrative from the press is the exact opposite - lawless, violent kids running amok, knifing each other. Channel 4's Disarming Britain trailer shows kids shooting a middle-aged man in a bicycle theft - has this ever actually happened in Britain? Or is it just the nightmare scenario? Is it just going along with this narrative of 'Broken Britain'?
Who is served by this agenda? How much tougher can it get? How many more prisons can we build? And is there a solution other than punishment for everything? Surely there is - isn't there?