When on Monday it was reported that six out of 10 people are afraid to come into our city centre at weekends because of “drunken and lewd behaviour” my first reaction was blimey, only six out of 10? My second was, so what’s new?
Exactly 20 years ago when Cardiff was officially declared a City of Elegance (“1,900 years of history, best civic centre in Europe, etc etc”) the South Wales Echo spotted ominous clouds behind that silver lining. Yes, even then our city centre was filled with “roaming gangs of drunken youths exuding hostility and menace”. And almost every week since our pages have been packed with stories of random assaults, of mindless violence at night, of binge-drinking teens and pre-pubescent pukers for whom the overpowering presence of police (softly softly?) seems a bit of a joke.
So how do we clean up Cardiff’s Boulevard de Booze? As always, with yet more recommendations going to the council’s executive. Another talkathon and, as ever, they don’t get it. What we describe euphemistically as the anti-social behaviour polluting the Saturday-night streets is simply a reflection of society in general.
And it won’t end until we change society itself.
We have let the yobs and vandals rule for too long. We have surrendered our streets to thugs of both sexes and allowed school kids to terrorise their teachers – 44 teachers were hospitalised after classroom attacks last year. We have lost control because their mantra now is “You can’t touch me”, as spoken by a teenage toe-rag when asked by Stephen Toth to stop persecuting his cancer-stricken wife at their home in the south of England.
“You can’t touch me. I’ll get you sacked.”
That was the threat from this 13-year-old and he was right. Stephen Toth, a carer, was sacked because he used his open hands (as taught in his job) to escort the kid to his home. Where the mother shouted even more venomous abuse before claiming her little darling had been assaulted.
There was a time when that obnoxious kid would have been assaulted for his sins – by his own father. But, with sad inevitability, Mr Toth was convicted of common assault after being told by the magistrate “There was intense provocation, but it would be an idea next time to walk away.”
Walk away, and let the louts rule. As they did at about the same time in Canton and Birchgrove where elderly residents were afraid to leave their homes at night because of “war zones” outside their front doors.
I remember a headline, one of many along the same lines: “We’ll Get Tough On Street Yobs” – triggered by a report that police, firemen, court workers and council officials had met to discuss, yes, anti-social behaviour. That was in 2004 when there were more than 10,000 attacks on ambulance crews as they tried to save lives, when 2,000 fire engines were ambushed, firemen stoned as they fought blazes often deliberately started by the imbeciles who attacked them.
Two years ago we reported 8,343 assaults on doctors, nurses and other NHS staff in Welsh hospitals, up from 6,613 in 2008-09. Out of that number we could find just nine prosecutions. Yes, NINE!
In 2009 David Cameron pledged that a Tory government would build enough new prisons to bang up every troublesome yob. Well, he’s now got the platform to deliver. But now I remember that a politician’s promise is about as reliable as a guarantee on one of Arfur Daley’s old bangers.
A couple of weeks ago I spent a Saturday night in the centre of Corfu Town. At 10pm families were ambling through the streets and parks, kids of all ages playing on swings and slides (none vandalised) or driving miniature cars round the park. We once had family nights like that. Meanwhile, the bars and restaurants were packed while an army of teenagers flirted and flaunted – and moved aside for the prams and pushchairs
As many, then, as you find in our own city centre but no drunken youths exuding, as the Echo put it, hostility and menace. No battalions of cops, either. These were civilised people persuading me that too many of us here are no longer civilised, maybe because from the age of three – see nursery school exclusions – kids learn “You can’t touch me”.
Time for the law to say, “Oh yes we can”.
What do you think? How can Cardiff’s night time image be changed? Let us know your views in the comments below