The Hoods – Crime and Punishment in Belfast

The Hoods –
Crime and Punishment in Belfast
By Heather Hamill
Princeton University Press – £20.95

In the Introduction of  The Hoods – Crime and Punishment in Belfast , Heather Hamill writes: ‘’The model, developed from economics, game theory, and biology, explains why people engage in self-destructive behaviours in order to gain group acceptance: often the qualities they wish to display are hard to observe by others who are interested in them and can be easily mimicked by purely verbal claims. In this instance, the hoods’ participation in seemingly irrational antisocial behaviour and their response to punishment amount to a set of signals that only the toughest among them can afford to display.’’

Without wanting to place too much of a philosophical slant on proceedings, surely the above, to a certain extent at least, depends on what is defined as ‘’only the toughest.’’ For instance, how much tougher is it to have one’s knee-caps blown off, in relation to getting on with both the responsibility and the drudgery of day to day living – without a mode of escapism in sight?

In the big scheme of things, isn’t the latter, the tougher of the two?

As reckless, wild and as sexy as the former may initially seem, it’s transient glamour remains equally myopic and abhorrent. For as heartbreaking as it no doubt must be for parents, family members and loved ones, the general flippancy by which punishment beatings are not only accepted, but also executed throughout Belfast (as well as other areas of Northern Ireland), is a harrowing and pitiful indictment of the world in which we unfortunately live.

What an utter waste of humanity the entire ethos of the hoods (if such it can be referred to) appears to be. As authoress Heather Hamill – lecturer in Sociology at Oxford University – writes at the end of chapter two: ‘’The consequences of their behaviour: imprisonment; exclusion from family and friends; pain and injury from accidents and PPAs (Paramilitary Punishment Attack); alcohol and drug overdoses; fear; isolation and premature death all mount up to a costly price for the thrills of a joyride or the escapism in a score. However, despite these costs, the hoods persist with their offending and antisocial behaviour, and this remains the central puzzle of this book.’’

On the one hand, the hoods behaviour is indeed a puzzle. On the other, it is nothing other than callous, self-perpetuating and frustrating stupidity – as Hamill writes in relation to sexual competitiveness in the chapter ‘Signalling Games’: ‘’Girls were always a potential sign of weakness and people would deliberately set out to sleep with someone else’s girlfriend and then you’d all start slabbering at the poor bastard ‘’you’re buying her chocolates while everyone else is riding her’’ (Pete, ex-hood). The primary intention may be to have sex, but the fact that it is then revealed rather than kept secret, as in bourgeois sexual infidelity, suggests that the hood’s interest involves something more than that. Among the hoods, as explained by Neil, a former hood himself, the ‘’nature of inter-personal relationships is to undermine other people’s status, thereby increasing yours.’’’’

Pitiful? Poignant? Pathetic?

Provocatively placed at the forefront of an out of control, clearly broken society, this particularly brave and brazen study asks all the right questions. The answers however, are quintessentially barren and brusque.

David Marx


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