Gay basketball star slams Chris Grayling for comparing Manchester to The Wire

PinkNews Staff Writer August 26, 2009
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British basketball star John Amaechi has demanded an apology from Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling after he claimed parts of the UK are as violent as US hit TV show The Wire.

Mr Amaechi wrote to the Tory politician after his widely-publicised speech yesterday.

“Under Labour, fatal stabbings reached the highest level on record,” Mr Grayling said.

“The culture of violence that was a feature of US cities a generation ago is now a feature of British cities.

“The same is true of the culture of deprivation, harm, addiction and failure that is a feature of the worst US urban areas.

“That world too is also following the culture of gangs and violence across the Atlantic.

“It’s the world of the drama series The Wire. A series that tracks the nightmare of drugs, gangs and organised crime in inner city West Baltimore.

“It’s a horrendous portrayal of the collapse of civilised life and of human despair.

“Neighbourhoods where drug dealing and deprivation is rife.

“A constant threat of robbery to fund drug dependency.

“Communities dogged by violence and by violent crime.

“The Wire used to be just a work of fiction for British viewers.

“But under this Government, in many parts of British cities, The Wire has become a part of real life in this country too.

“Far too many of those features of what we have always seen as a US phenomenon are now to be found on the streets of Britain as well.”

Mr Amaechi, who was raised in the UK, is the only basketball player in the history of the NBA to come out of the closet.

His Amaechi Basketball Centres Foundation aims to increase participation in physical activity by building affordable, quality facilities and making expert coaches and mentors available to young people.

The charity built its first sports centre in Manchester.

Mr Amaechi flatly rejected Mr Grayling’s comments.

“The idea that urban centres are struggling and many are suffering from serious decay, including the violence and vandalism that you mentioned is well known and I wouldn’t refute it,” he wrote.

“However, the parallel you draw with The Wire or almost any urban centre with more than 500,000 people in the United States is pure fantasy.

“My sister works at one of the high schools in Crenshaw, Los Angeles – the first epicentre of almost fully saturated (although sensationalised) gang activity.

“It is worth noting that these original gangs while still active are now much diminished as much due to the influx of Russian, Korean and Latino gangs as any actions of the police or State government).

“You characterised an entire ward as suffering “a horrendous…collapse of civilised life” such a generalised and drastic statement is both over-the-top and frankly unwarranted.

“I have a sports and community centre at the nexus of Moss Side, Whalley Range and Fallowfield and I know these people and these communities.

“I know the young people – and not in a warm, fuzzy, do-gooder way, but as an embedded social scientist and social entrepreneur.

“I know many of the staff at Manchester City Council – I don’t know, or care to know, their political affiliation, but I do know that they work diligently to improve life for Manchester residents (even if they are, at times, hand tied by bureaucracy).

“I know the families, their struggles and triumphs because of in despite their circumstances.

“The area has multiple levels of deprivation and issues with violence that on it’s worst days do not even approach what I have witnessed first-hand on the streets of towns like Allentown, Pennsylvania (population 107,000), never mind West Baltimore – which is where I am assuming you think Moss side is heading.

“I am not a politician (nor am I am Labour party member if you are wondering) and am generally turned off by lay-people who suggest they have a grasp of social problems – especially when they can so assertively say it is the policies of another side that have “caused” them.

“It is my experience that the aetiology of social ills is so complex and multi-textural that conventional political solutions – even when they claim to be multi-agency – are rarely adequate.

“So, I suppose I have to reiterate the following: ‘The Wire’ has not “…come to Britain,” if you went to West Baltimore, you would know that instantly – and realise what a stunning insult it is to the people of Moss Side or most urban communities in the UK (since I have not lived in them all) to suggest any likeness.”

“Even the admittedly disturbing statistics you cite only serve to back up the fact that Britain’s “teenaged gangs” are mere pretenders to the ones seen in the United States.”

He added:

“As a psychologist and a social entrepreneur, I know that the US-style political hyperbole you have employed here can only be detrimental to the communities in question and and the people left addressing the real and difficult problems that do exist in these communities.”

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