Darcus Howe defends chilling out on the street corner

Many of us think that standing about is what street corners are for

All the ingredients for a hot summer are in place. Only the restraint of young blacks can save us. The lawmakers have supped greedily from the cup of authoritarianism. Some 300 new crimes have been created by this government. You can be fined for fly-posting, graffiti, dropping litter and riding a bicycle on the pavement - behaviour which merely irritates has been moved into the criminal sphere.

But the most oppressive measure in the Antisocial Behaviour Bill makes it an offence for two or more youths to gather on a street corner in an intimidating manner. Failure to disperse when asked by the police could result in three months' prison.

Young blacks will thus go to jail for upholding a tradition that goes back centuries. In hot countries, we have an outdoor culture. The verb "to lime", which is now in the Oxford English Dictionary, was part of the lexicon in the Caribbean long before I was born there. It means to hang out, to chill out on a street corner. Young men in particular stand about on street corners as a matter of course. Many of us think that this is what street corners are for.

It is in these places that young men parade their youth while temptresses sashay past in the mating game. They learn to walk, rather than stumble as they do in adolescence. These young men do not read fashion magazines. They pick fashion up from their mates on street corners. Much more takes place here. It can be a job centre. The fight against participation in crime is carried out with great intensity: older boys persuade younger boys about the pointlessness of mugging, thieving, raping and shoplifting. Peer pressure is merciless and often for the best. But the element of boisterousness is never far away. What qualifies a white policeman, polluted by centuries of racism, to decide what is social or antisocial behaviour in my community?

A few days ago, I was walking past a group of young men and heard this deep voice: "Hello, Mr Howe." It was Moses. I hadn't seen him since he walked with my son to primary school. He is now 6ft 4ins and a leader of a musical crew. He said they had recently cut a CD called We Don't Care. "It is the system," he said. "They want to make us into what they want us to be; we want to be ourselves." I am sure Moses and thousands like him have no idea about this Antisocial Behaviour Bill, which makes liming illegal. They will clash head-on with the police who, in implementing the new law, will get trouble, fire and brimstone.

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