A few weeks ago I was at a celebration in the Colin Area. My mother-in-law was a recipient of a Leap of Faith Award, recognizing the every day heroes in our community who contribute to young people’s well being and safety.
The process of the awards initiative was striking. Young people themselves were involved in the process of nomination and explanation of what was important. This was a unique insight into how the everyday acts of intervention in young people’s lives are vitally important. Award recipients included mummies, grannies, foster parents, dinner ladies, football coaches and youth leaders. It was diverse, inclusive and reflected the very best of our community. Weather presenter Barra Best gave out the awards, and it was a real celebration.
It fits with the area’s incredible work of our community sector. Anyone who pays five minutes’ attention to the work of the Colin Safer Neighbourhood Partnership must sit in awe at the time and commitment invested. From intervening with those at risk of self-harm, to disrupting anti-social behavior, to supporting young people realise their own potential – we truly have heroes in our midst.
Waking up on Saturday morning to the murder of Christopher Meli’s murder on our streets was like one of those bad dreams you can’t shake off. Could something so brutal, cruel and devastating really have happened?
I passed the scene where tens of police in forensic suits were finishing their work. It made me stop in horror. The voice of Christopher Meli’s mother describing how she came to the scene on Saturday morning may never leave me. It is too violent, too horrific and too traumatic. Every parent’s worst nightmare.
On Monday Good Morning Ulster interviewed local Councillor Stephen Maginnis. In the interview the interviewer singled out Twinbrook as an area experiencing significant anti-social behavior. He interrogated the effectiveness of the community response and Councillor Maginnis’ actions as though there was some inadequacy that was in some way to blame for the violence on our streets. It was outrageous.
And it was a deliberate promotion of “other”. As though Colin is not West Belfast, West Belfast is not Belfast. That lie allows too many to escape responsibility for safety on our streets. Nothing excuses the criminality and violence of the weekend. Nothing. And may due process take its speedy course in this case.
But every young person in Belfast is entitled to be safe, to walk our streets without fear. Are we really going to live with an acceptance that in some areas tens, sometimes hundreds, will gather in gangs, creating an inevitable vulnerability for those gathering and the community in which they gather? Additionally, we cannot be blind to factors of legacy of conflict and lack of investment. The magnificent SNP efforts must be matched by the significant investment required in areas of generational deprivation. Before anyone with responsibility tries to localize a multi-agency response as being something for those above the Poleglass roundabout, a lot more people need to step up to the plate.