Violent crime threatens to take over our Fine City
- Credit: PA
A few months ago, I wrote that Norwich has a homelessness problem.
As is the fashion these days, a minority of people tried to drown out the message by making a lot of noise, much of it insulting and myopic.
Mock indignation from those who decided to be offended led to a pack mentality and a social media hunt with the aim of taking me down.
Fortunately, our eyes enable us to gather more than enough evidence to repudiate their denials.
More has since been done to try to provide a route off the streets for the genuine homeless people, and to disperse and even occasionally to imprison the persistent beggars who can make parts of Norwich intimidating.
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Here comes the inevitable sub-conclusion: there's still a long way to go.
Park that issue for a while and focus instead on a truth that is connected to homelessness and street begging, but far more alarming.
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Violent crime is increasing, with a knife killing, numerous knife attacks, countless examples of police seizing machetes and more - and now someone being shot in a residential area.
'Problem' doesn't do justice to what Norwich is facing – it's a potential crisis.
I say 'potential' because we are at a crossroads and it isn't too late to choose the right direction.
Norwich has a reputation for being a largely peaceful, safe and laid-back city. Its relative isolation in the UK means nothing can be allowed to give tourists an excuse not to visit.
We, the citizens, deserve to feel safe – as do our visitors.
But it's not difficult to see how hard drugs are having their influence, as the 'county lines' gangs target Norwich and other provincial places.
This week, I saw two women helping each other to inject drugs in an alleyway in a pretty busy part of the city centre.
Two weeks ago, a man and a woman were drunkenly (or worse) simulating sex on London Street at 10am.
Imagine if you saw that on your first visit to our Fine City: there wouldn't be a second visit.
The link between this and violent crime isn't complicated.
The London gangs target Norwich because they know there are plenty of vulnerable addicts who are easy to find, to intimidate and to use as part of their new supply chain.
The police are doing a superb job targeting the dealers and cutting off the county lines through operations Gravity and Granary.
But they are often frustrated at the absence of similar vigour from other agencies and groups.
That is simply not acceptable. If this skirmish is not to become a war, every single one of us needs to play a part.
On an individual level, we need to report our knowledge and suspicions about drug dealing in our areas. And we need to come together as communities – as has happened in my Sewell ward – to oppose criminality.
On a group level, everybody must work together.
Police, city council, county council, charities, soup kitchens – everybody.
No single person or group has the panacea: to believe they do is arrogant and dangerous.
Sometimes there is well-meaning work that is doing more harm than good, because it is done in isolation from support services. Collective working will eradicate that.
There's no place for pride, no time for lone wolves – the city we love is in danger.
We need it to be a place where vulnerable people find housing, support, training and sustainable alternatives to drug use.
That in turn constricts the supply lines for the London gangs, who will find Norwich an increasingly unprofitable place – and dangerous for those who fear arrest and long prison sentences.
Now is the time for action, though, not next year or 2020.
I want Norwich to remain a place of peace, where violent crime is a shock, not a daily occurrence.