Editor-At-Large: Why don't you try chatting to your local neighbourhoodies?

When I stop to talk to hoodies on a park bench round the corner from me, am I taking my life in my hands? I don't think so
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The Independent Online

A child gets shot early one summer evening returning home from playing football, gunned down by a teenage coward on a BMX bike. This weekend in Liverpool, the victim's parents will be grieving.

Elsewhere in Croxteth, boys will be hanging around on street corners feeling pretty proud of themselves, and their "crew"– that threadbare piece of slang beloved by young men all over the UK who now regard gangs as their real families – will be celebrating a major achievement. They've made every news bulletin and newspaper front page.

Internet news sites carry a direct link to a repulsive YouTube video purporting to be of the Croxteth Crew, featuring guns, simulated drive-by incidents and BMX bikes. Fame indeed. Because in the warped world of gangs, the more your reputation is broadcast, the more you deserve "respect". Never mind freedom of speech, what on earth is YouTube doing broadcasting such garbage which will be watched over and over again by the young?

Unfortunately, we've a long way to go when it comes to understanding the mindsets of the people in gangs – 17 teenagers have been murdered so far this year in London alone, and the violence shows no signs whatsoever of decreasing. Prime Minister Gordon Brown calls the latest death "a heinous crime" – most 14-year-olds are so illiterate they probably don't know what he means.

Now kids get killed for not being in gangs, many say they have to join. But what is the reality? Are the irritating yobs doing wheelies on their scooters by the bus stop going to pull out knives as you walk back from the shops? When I stop to talk to a group of hoodies on a park bench around the corner from my house in central London, am I placing my life on the line? I don't think so.

Listen to David Cameron's latest outpourings and you'd think that Britain was on the edge of civil war orchestrated by hoodies wielding knives and terrorising shopping precincts up and down the land. What we are seeing is the demonising of a generation by politicians and the media.

The other day the National Lottery published a report on the young and citizenship, which demonstrates unequivocally that most young people are generous, public spirited and kind. The same report reveals that although two-thirds of young people think that being a good citizen means considering others as well as yourself, only a third acknowledge that people in their age group care about the society they live in.

Two-thirds worry there is a lack of safe places for the young to spend their spare time. They admit that just a small minority glorify violence and crime, and in the process, make life pretty uncomfortable for the rest of them.

So what to do? The former leader of the Conservative Party Iain Duncan Smith talks about moving kids out of their neighbourhoods for a fresh start – a complete non-starter. We have to start by putting kids into local government and valuing their input.

Young men have huge energy – and few places to let off steam. Up and down Britain councils routinely refuse planning permission for BMX tracks or places to race old bangers. They ban skateboard parks. There is a lack of youth clubs and funding to pay for the people to run them everywhere from suburbia to small rural towns, and the result is always going to be the same – gangs of kids committing crimes.

Thousands of young men leaving school with one or no GCSEs this summer have been failed by government. They should have had technical training starting after school from the age of 10 – to equip them with the practical skills they need to work. Taking away their driving licences and imposing curfews on bus stops will have no impact. What is our intention – placing thousands of teenage men under house arrest?

We can blame one-parent families, but in the end it's the lack of funding in our educational system for one-on-one tuition that lets kids down, not their mums. The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith can threaten to double the number of ABCs (acceptable behaviour contracts), but they won't make any difference whatsoever.

Black and blue: Amy doesn't deserve a Mobo

It might be politically incorrect to ask, but can anyone tell me the point of the Mobo Awards, whose judges have nominated our deeply troubled diva Amy Winehouse (who seems keener on self-destruction than winning awards) in four different categories? Music of Black Origin, to give the awards their full name, now dominates the charts around the world. It's not as if the most successful and wealthiest music stars in the US weren't black and proud of it. So how can you award a Mobo to Amy or her fellow white nominee Joss Stone? Three decades ago black music wasn't featured on television other than in chart shows; maybe there was a some justification for the Mobos then. Now, they are just another marketing opportunity.

Mobos founder Kanya King waffles on about white artists "being inspired by black urban culture". Was it ever any different? Surely most people find the Mobos as patronising and irrelevant as I do. Contemporary music is a fusion of cultures and influences, and all the richer for it.

Rather too much presidential flesh for my liking

First, there were the extraordinary "topless" pictures of President Putin on his fishing holiday, wearing nothing more than a pair of trousers, a canvas hat and a proud smirk, flaunting his fleshy six-pack for all to see. Now the equally macho French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, is revealed as a man with love handles! Sarkozy is almost as image conscious as Putin, regularly letting himself be photographed cycling and jogging, and paddling a canoe topless with one of his sons on their summer holiday. This bare-chested image appeared in Paris Match on 9 August, but now a rival publication, L'Express, has published the original photos, revealing how Sarkozy's flab was carefully retouched to excise several kilos, providing the politician with an enviable physique. Last year the editor of Paris Match (owned by friends of the French President) got the sack after printing a picture of Mrs Sarkozy with her lover, during a period when her marriage was going through a difficult patch.

Sarkozy's summer break proved to be a bit of a media disaster – when invited to lunch with President Bush, his wife claimed to be "unwell" – and Sarkozy had an unfortunate altercation with photographers while out in a speedboat. I doubt there will be much chance of Gordon Brown allowing the paparazzi to capture him body surfing in Scotland over the coming weeks, and judging by his curiously jerky and unrelaxed body language when hosting Angela Merkel at the England vs Germany footie match at Wembley, it's clear he's happiest buttoned up in a suit and tie. Topless isn't a word in the Brown vocabulary, thank goodness.

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