England is waking out of its complacency. Street violence generally seen in the US is hitting it hard. Authorities are agonizing over the proliferation of gun-toting gangs.
Thursday, 11-year-old Rhys was walking home from playing football in Croxteth, Liverpool, when a youth, perhaps as a young as 13, drove by on a motorcycle and opened fire.
AdvertisementHis parents said their son had no links with gangs and was "a lovely boy".
"Our son was only 11, our baby. This should not happen..."
Rhy's mother, Melanie Jones, 41, broke down in tears, crying, "He didn't deserve this."
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has condemned the "heinous" killing of Rhys Jones adding those responsible will be "tracked down, arrested and punished."
Two youths - aged 14 and 18 - have been questioned on suspicion of his murder and bailed.
The Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe, told Sky News: "For an 11-year-old boy to get shot and die is a terrible thing."
Rhys had just left Broad Square Primary School in Croxteth.
Headteacher Elaine Spencer said: "The whole school is in a deep state of shock at this terrible tragedy."
The Croxteth Park Estate was formerly the biggest private housing estate in Western Europe. It was built in the mid 1980s and is made up of bungalows, detached and semi-detached houses.
One resident said: "The kids pass the guns around each other as if they were football collector cards.
"There is no mystique about guns, there's no fear, they are just a status symbol. And now it seems anyone who wants one can get hold of one."
A quick search of YouTube reveals gangs of young men, with their faces covered, showing off their array of weapons for anyone with a passing interest and an internet connection.
The leader of Liverpool City Council, Warren Bradley, believes a tough approach is the answer to tackling them, and wants a summit among city leaders to discuss the problem.
"I regularly meet people who tell me there's got to be a period of zero tolerance across major towns and cities where graffiti is dealt with as a crime," he told BBC Five Live.
"That's the problem. You've got young people who are teetering on the brink of crime undertaking small, low level crimes and not being punished for it and that leads them on to something bigger."
But what is the root of the problem? Why do some young men attach so much value to violence and criminality?
The Reverend Dr David Leslie, of St Cuthbert's Church in Croxteth, near where Rhys was shot, believes modern culture is partly to blame.
He told Radio 4: "I think we are locked into what I would call sort of false values, a kind of commodified culture where people are valued much more for what they have than what they are.
"I feel also, in terms of education, that right from early days people really don't know how to communicate with one another, which means that as they get older they are much more likely to be aggressive and instead of having fights now we're into knives and guns."
Community leaders agree that education is an important tool in steering young men away from gang violence, and ultimately reducing gun crime.
Youth worker Practical Wizdom said, "They are not empowered. So you hold a gun - you feel powerful. I think that's as simple as it is, so we need to find ways to empower young people," he said.
"I do personally believe it starts with families. And family breakdown and poverty is one of the main drivers of this. Not necessarily just money, but the fact of not having that support out there."
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