This blog is all that remains from the former website which was closed after 8 years of providing a 'wiki' of urban street gangs in London.

An unfinished history of modern urban street gangs in London has been used to replace some of the content of the original site, beginning here

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Proliferation of London street gangs

by (2008-09)

It is important to note that most gangs currently in existence in London are located in areas that have been home to gangs since the mid-1990s, and in many cases as far back as the 1970s and 1980s. There are particular geographical locales in London that are more susceptible to the formation of gangs. Some of those areas have been the focus of a small number of long lasting gangs. Other areas have had frequent gang formations periodically replacing older gangs (this was even said about gangs such as the Hoxton Mob and Watney Streeters who were active in London during the first half of the 1900s). In some cases they have continued with the same gang name, even following the turnover of all original members. Since the 1970s gangs in London have formed for a number of reasons. These include:

Racial conflicts:
  • “Ten, fifteen years ago, nobody used to bother defending themselves from racist attacks, they just used to take it,” says Ranu. “It’s not that way anymore. We are prepared to defend ourselves now” (Thompson, 1995, 118).
Unemployment and poor economic conditions:
  • “At eighteen I was made redundant from a garage job. I was going for jobs which white youths were getting with far fewer qualifications…one evening, coming home…my friend took his wallet. We had about £200 off him, and he (his friend) gave me fifty quid. From there it escalated. I had a choice and I chose to hang with them” (McLagan, 2006, 18).
The desire to acquire material items, money and status:
  • “I was sick of wearing black pumps to school, just because they’re gonna last long. No. I wanted the latest Adidas or Air Max trainers. On the street you needed to look good to get any sort of respect. You needed smart clothes and nice jewellery” (Pritchard, 2008, 140).
Transmission of subcultural norms in established gang neighbourhoods:
  • “We learnt about the gang and its values from the olders, I think they enforced them in us” Quote from a younger gang member, 17, north London 2008.
  • “I believe we are responsible for the youngers, like the stories and our expectations, like what we tell the youngers is [anti-social], get me? We wind them up and thing saying yeah are you a badman, you wanna be in the gang and some of them are like yeah yeah blood I wanna hang with you guys. Most times they don’t know why, they just wanna be seen with us, its like a fad until some madness pops off and someone gets injured then its serious” Quote from an older gang member, 24, north London 2008.
This is not to suggest that youths no longer join gangs because of racial and societal prejudice, poor economic conditions and the desire to acquire material items, money and status. These are all still factors in why youths join gangs alongside victimisation, safety in numbers and protection from other gangs as well as the result of peer influence. However, as will be discussed, the continuation and development of gangs is fundamentally affected by growing up in deprived neighbourhoods where the sub-cultural norms of such offending have become established. John Pitts (2007) has described these neighbourhoods as “gangland”.

The link between gang neighbourhoods and deprivation

Specific geographical locales in London are more susceptible to gang formation than others. Here, we explore some of the common factors underlying the formation of gangs and how this translates to London. It would appear that gang formation occurs in areas dominated by poverty and deprivation. Suttles (1968) and Whyte (1993) proposed that gangs were an integral part of the poor communities’ structure rather than an outcome of its disorder whilst Wilson (1996) concluded that specific neighbourhoods suffering extreme deprivation were more likely to spawn, among other deviant behaviours, the rise of predatory groups like gangs. The correlation between gang locations and levels of deprivation in London would highly support these ideas. All identified gang locations within London fall in government lower level super output areas which are amongst the 30% most deprived in England. The majority are amongst the most deprived 20%.

The scores used to calculate deprivation in England are devised using data on income, employment, access to housing and services, education and crime. It was recognised in a Lambeth study, a borough with one of the highest numbers of gangs, in 2008 that in “multiply deprived neighbourhoods, children and young people, irrespective of individual and familial risk factors, are at heightened risk [of both] gang involvement and gang victimisation” (London Borough of Lambeth, 2008).

Throughout London over the past 20 years, gangs have formed in deprived areas. In such deprived settings local residents are more likely to be excluded from mainstream society and less likely to have adequate access to legitimate opportunities such as educational or vocational programmes. London is a city of extreme social polarisation. There are many areas and streets where you can stand amongst the countries wealthiest and poorest simultaneously. Living in deprived areas of London whilst at the same time being in such close proximity to prosperity leads to an intense feeling of relative deprivation and a desire to consume at the level that is evident in the wealthiest areas of the city. As the “gap between rich and poor widens, for some members of the poorest communities this only seems achievable via illegal means” (Bowling, 1999, 537). Gangs in London in the mid to late 1990s were from areas suffering social exclusion. These groups were to some extent territorial in that they identified with particular localities with members being drawn from various deprived estates in their towns and postal districts. People from Tottenham and Edmonton were together, Wood Green and Hornsey, Harlesden and Stonebridge and New Cross, Deptford and Lewisham tended to identify themselves with one large group representative of their borough.

The development of modern street gangs in London

In the mid-late 1990’s many young people in areas with older gangs became ‘youngers’ of their local gang. After the olders had moved on, the youngers became independent as their own gang and several years later would influence a new set of youngers that contributed to a continued presence of gangs or gang like groups in the area. The continued cycle of ‘youngers’ growing into olders and influencing the next cohort of ‘youngers’ has meant that many neighbourhoods have come to be identified as gang areas. Some of the best examples of this can be found in the Asian communities of Tower Hamlets, Newham and Southall where certain gang names have been in existence for decades, yet the current members often have little or no connection to those originally involved nor any knowledge of where it began.

Violence between groups in different areas is nothing new. However, with this 1990s generation brought up on gangsta rap and American gang culture more emphasis by the youngers was placed on the style, demeanour and argot of their group and most distinctively a name for their group. Music is closely intertwined with these group identities (as it has been historically for many British youth subcultures). Many of the original gangs were also part of urban music collectives who would face off lyrically and musically at garage and rave events. The role of schools and college is important because students living in areas previously unaffected by gangs were being exposed to this developing sub-culture and as a result were being drawn into gangs, or into imitating this culture and forming their own, or finally they grouped together to protect themselves from victimisation by these gangs.

Gang culture, schools and colleges

In London, children have increasingly had to travel out of their own boroughs and localities to attend school. Because many of the areas where gangs are present are high density and highly populated areas with a youthful age structure the school provision is often inadequate for the surrounding population and so it is common to have to travel elsewhere. If you are gang involved and you are travelling to a school with no gangs you are likely to influence and interest vulnerable youths who may become wannabes and create new groups or become involved with those who have influenced them. In contrast if you attend schools with multiple gang representation there are limitations as to whom you can associate with. For example, the Kingsdale School (on the border of Norwood and Dulwich) used to take a number of Brixton and Peckham youths who did not get on. As a result, it became the venue for fights between them.

“To avoid getting robbed or beaten up you would join either side whilst at school, but out of school was different. When I got back to my area I wasn’t a Brixton Boy, I was from Kennington so even though we was reppin’ Brixton or Lambeth at school we was Kennington Boys out of it, we became our own street team”.

Whilst the impact of victimisation on gang formation is certainly not confined to secondary schools, the schools themselves are where many young people are victims of crime. Young gang members see schools as a place to enhance their individual and gang reputation through threats, intimidation and robbery. However, it is difficult to ascertain the extent of the problem as schools tend to deal with such issues internally for fear of gaining a bad reputation. In Bexley, a gang known as RA (Racist Attack) often assaulted and intimidated non-white youths in and around schools they attended. In response to repeated bullying and victimisation a number of the victims of Racist Attack joined together and formed their own gang in opposition to them. In 2008 a study on the effect of gangs in schools was commissioned by the NASUWT, based on research in London and Birmingham. Amongst the findings it stated that teachers were finding gang culture more noticeable and believed children were vulnerable to gang-related activity on their way to and from school. Furthermore, those members of staff interviewed believed that there was a clear hierarchical structure, with older members (year 10 and year 11, or 15 and 16 year olds) recruiting younger boys. It recommended that any gang problems associated with schools should in future be acknowledged rather than concealed. In colleges the problem may be more acute. Gang members attend colleges and sixth forms because “college and schools is full of people wanting drugs so it makes sense, a good money earner”. The independent dealers have been forced out, or are protected by the gang members in some cases. Students attending Sixth Form College are even more likely than school pupils to travel out of borough, often into outer London boroughs where some of the larger and better reputed colleges are located. Again it is these areas that are relatively untouched by the gangs and vulnerable students are often used to sell drugs and connections are built by gangs in terms of extended membership, new customers and new lower level members to do the “dirty work”. From this different sets or cliques can develop.

Re-organisation of gangs into smaller units

The organisation of gangs into smaller cliques or sets is another reason for the development of a larger number of named gangs. In recent years, gangs have become increasingly smaller and more localised. This is not to say there has been an increase in the number of gangs and gang involved individuals as these sets or cliques may still come under the umbrella of the larger gang. However, a gang that divides into individual sub-sets is more susceptible to intra-gang conflict. This can result in cliques becoming their own gang. Cliques or sets within a gang can arise for a number of reasons. For example, south London was one of the first areas where a real noticeable age breakdown of gangs had resulted in various named cliques. The Peckham Boys gang at one point divided into Young Peckham Boys, Younger Younger Peckham Boys and Peckham Kids for example. Whilst there is still an age breakdown within the Peckham Boys today the use of Young and Youngers is largely redundant and has been replaced with more menacing acronyms such as DFA (Don’t F**k Around), PYG (Pecknarm Young Gunners) and SI (Shoot Instantly).

In other areas members formed their cliques around the area they lived, for instance, Wood Green Firm (then became Wood Green MOB) divided into the Commerce Road Boys, Junior Mafia Woods (Woodside Park), Shell Town Soldiers (Sandlings Estate) and the Avenues Set (Noel Park – each street within Noel Park is named as an Avenue). Today most gangs in London have ‘youngers’ and ‘tinies’ and often the gang name is either preceded by “Y” or followed by youngers, tinies or kids to denote the younger faction. Sometimes cliques can arise because of conflicting interests amongst members. For example, a large gang will have some members who engage in various forms of illegal activity whilst those on the periphery who are less inclined to offend will place their energy into more harmless activities. In one area there is a gang with several sub-cliques one of which engages mainly in graffiti, one in music, one in robbery and a handful who are involved in dealing drugs. Whilst these small cliques exist - each with its own focus - everyone belongs to the same gang. Aside from intra-gang conflict the most cited reason for gangs breaking up into cliques was because of territoriality and sense of ownership where a faction of the gang is located. Territoriality has become one of the most important aspects for the younger generation. Many young people lack anything to call their own. They become attached to their estate, their blocks or their endz.

“In the past you repped your town or your borough, then you repped your postcode then your endz. I was reppin for Brent, Harlesden, NW10, Church End – a lot of us south Brent boys stuck together. Today, the youths dem flipped it so now you rep your ends first, then your postcode, then your town or borough so some places you go there ain’t that unity at a larger area ‘cos crews from the same towns and postcodes are beefing each other. Today some of these youngers can’t see past their estate and don’t care about anything beyond that and that’s where the new beefs kick off”

Furthermore, “being older means walking more freely, definitely. Young peeps are always saying how they can’t move around the borough easily whether you on it or not. Now it comes to the point that there are entire postcodes, estates, streets and even buses that these youths will avoid unless they travelling with numbers, back up”. This sometimes can affect older gang members although would be dependent on individual circumstances. An older gang member could potentially walk through other gang areas un-challenged, unless he was actively being sought for a reprisal. This increasing territoriality has led to the spread of gangs through the confinement of groups of young people to their estate because of the perceived threat of other areas where they know other gangs reside. This can help to explain the increasing number of smaller gangs covering smaller areas, which in the past had been associated with one or two gangs. In some cases these estate-based groups are allies with the gangs closest to and surrounding them (e.g. Tottenham) whilst in others they are very disjointed, with frequent conflicts with neighbouring groups (e.g. Hackney).

Economic changes and urban development

The house price boom, urban redevelopment and gentrification in London have also impacted on gang culture. Difficulties in finding affordable accommodation have forced families from inner London, including gang-involved neighbourhoods, to move further a-field. Hackney in particular has seen a number of redevelopments. Two of the gangs in neighbouring Islington are a result of Hackney residents being re-housed from a widely-reputed gang neighbourhood. They still maintain a close relationship with some Hackney gangs. One of the main gangs, or organised street firms, in Ilford begun again with a well connected ‘gang’ family from Hackney. Another example of families with gang links can be found in Hillingdon, where former residents of the a north-west London estate set up a gang. However, this does not just apply to cross borough movement; gangs can also spread locally for the same reasons. In Lewisham, the redevelopment of the Woodpecker or Milton Court Estate meant certain families with gang members moved elsewhere in the borough, to Catford and Brockley for example, where new crews or extended cliques arose.

Manipulation by older gang members of local youth

These re-housed older members may use and manipulate young people in the area for criminal purposes. This can include drug dealing, but also robbery. They may generate a ‘gang of workers’ around themselves. For example, in 2008 it was reported that a 21-year old was arrested for using children as young as 13, recruited in McDonald’s restaurants, to rob guards carrying boxes of cash. In a more interesting twist a Hackney born ex-pat who was a member of the Miller Bloods gang in New York City was deported back to England where he had pledged to fight gang crime in the borough.

NYC Blood Miller Guns was doing some recruiting as I heard it, was seen putting on a ‘talk’ by peeps I don’t know about turning kids away from gang life but the youths with him were Redding up [colour of Bloods gang] with him. Feds were watching him and he got some time for sending little youths out doing this and that and turns out he got caught with stolen goods”

The police believed he had been organising youths to commit robberies although he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of handling stolen goods.

Conflict amongst the age ranks

More recently the younger generation in some groups has rebelled against their olders. Often in circumstances where they have been ‘boyed’ (teased or bullied), conflict has arisen between the different generations and as a result one gang has become two. There have been numerous cases in London in the past two years where older teens and those in their early twenties have been murder victims to the younger
generation. However, there have also been incidents of violence against young teenagers by older men.

“The Youngers got no respect for the elder’s no-more in a lot of places. They ready to put in work to leap frog you in the ranks, its no long ting to them. Even the beef ting, us olders grew up knowing who our rivals and enemies are but the youngers ain’t got no respect for that they will link up with longstanding rivals and start wars with long standing allies without care for the olders, it’s disrespectful”.

Links built through the prison system

In some cases gangs link up together whilst in prison, with links commonly built around the in-prison drugs trade. One of the better known gangs formed in prisons is the “Northern Line”, a connection of gang members from north London, mainly Haringey, Enfield and Islington. Members of Northern Line come from gangs who may be rivals outside prison. On release the connections are used for business deals amongst gang members. Furthermore, criminals who may not have been gang involved on entering prison sometimes associate with gang members in prison and then join the gang after release. The street conflict however remains as it is usually, spearheaded by the younger generation. Older members also see the street conflict as a good tool for keeping police attention away from the olders and elders. Many olders recognise that gang members in prison will group together with their own borough or side of London irrespective of street conflicts (i.e. as mentioned ‘Northern Liners’, or for west and northwest London ‘Lifers’).

“It’s like affiliation to the nearest large gang concept to promote borough or regional influence whilst inside”

Conflict amongst gang members in prison and youth offending institutions however is said to be more common than building bridges, especially for south London gang members. Other factors influencing the spread of gangs are new communities (for example, refugees and immigrants from countries such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo). In 2007-08, nine teenagers from these two countries were murdered in London. Many researchers have linked the study of gangs with immigration. However, our analysis (and that of researchers who have looked into this issue in Manchester and Glasgow) suggests that it is not ethnicity that defines gang membership. Rather, young men who grow up in the most deprived areas are those who are most likely to become involved in serious group offending. In London, these deprived areas have relatively high proportions of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, with recent immigrants being housed in the most deprived areas.

Age structure of gangs

Whilst the large majority of gangs are comprised of young people, there are members as young as 10 and as old as 40. Offending types differ among the ranks and the gangs. There is a general pattern to the distribution, roles and typical offences of gang-related offenders by age (i.e. older members are more likely involved in middle-market drug distribution whereas youngers are most frequent in street robbery). It is indicative and does not mean, for example, that older gang members never get involved in fights. However, such conflicts are predominantly associated with teenage gang members. Those who have risen to the ranks of elders may have proved their commitment through such activities when they were youngers, but would now tend to concentrate on more profitable activities which have less chance of attracting police attention. The numbers involved in gang-related offending tends to reduce significantly as people get older. Of course, the peak age for many types of offending is in the mid-teenage years. Most people “mature out” of adolescent offending, although more troubled young people, with early onset of aggression and criminality, are less likely to stop offending as they age..

The criminal justice system also plays a role in whether people leave offending behind as they age. The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime compared young offenders (aged 14/15) who had been caught by the police and had or had not had further action taken against them (i.e. being taken to a children’s hearing). It found that young offenders who did have further action taken against them were more likely to report serious offending one year later, at age 15/16. It seems that some types of criminal justice involvement prolong offending careers. This may apply particularly to older serious group offenders, whose experience of imprisonment may have both excluded them from mainstream employment and enhanced their skills and contacts for use in criminal endeavours.

Changes in London gang culture in the recent past and implications for violent conflict

In the past couple of years the most noticeable changes in the spread and distribution of gangs have been the appearance of outer London gangs and the breaking up of larger gangs into smaller cliques. Apart from the development of gangs in a few outer London boroughs, the geographical distribution of gangs has barely changed in terms between 2006 and 2008. There are emerging indications of other developments, including:
  • An increase in seriousness of conflict amongst the younger generation that is likely to lead to future reprisals
  • Evidence of cross borough alliances (as well as rivalries), stretching further a-field out of London
  • Increasing influence of American gang culture and symbolism
  • An increased willingness to use weapons, with easier access to firearms for gang involved youths, the routine wearing of body armour
  • The spread of ‘mythmaking’ and advertisement of gangs through the internet
  • Change in seriousness of conflict, triggers, and reduction in the age of those involved
  • Gangs, and in particular the ‘youngers’, often see themselves as engaged in ‘beef’, although this is often very fluid and can be ‘squashed’ (stopped) and started any number of times. However, when something serious happens (such as a murder) then it is highly likely that conflict will be prolonged until ‘justice’ is done.
In 2007-08 a number of the teenage murders that were related to gangs have created conflicts that are very volatile, with the potential to result in further murders in the future. There is no time limit as to when these will take place. In the past, there have been periods of several years between a killing and its revenge. There are murders that have occurred of young people not involved in gangs but committed by gang members and so there is also a potential for reprisals against these gang members.

Links between gangs formed over larger distances and how music groups aligned with the gangs can promote this

Another of the major changes in the past two years has been the emergence of cross border alliances. This has been largely as a result of the internet, gang culture spreading through schools and family ties. Many youth gangs or peer groups have ‘myspace’, ‘bebo’ and ‘piczo’ profiles. In many cases something as arbitrary as the colour the group associates with has been enough for an alliance to form. When there are gang involved relatives at different sides of the borough or area this can lead to links between gangs. However, the main reason for the links is on the surface a result of the music elements of the gangs. Many of the gangs in London are tied into urban ‘grime’ music groups such as PDC (Poverty Driven Children), Suspect Gang, North Star, Mashtown and SN1 (Spare No-1). Many of the members of such music groups are elder gang members who have left the street gang scene and attempted to move into more legitimate business opportunities, although often funded still by illegitimate sources. Conflict is often integrated through the music with tracks being made to disrespect rival gangs, often involving lyrics that refer to real life conflicts that have involved robberies, fights and stabbings. The olders tend to tolerate these signs of disrespect and instead respond with a tune (diss). Sometimes, however, the youngers cannot tolerate it and respond with violence. MySpace and YouTube also provide an arena for displays of bravado and disrespect. A simple search of just about any younger gang name in London brings back results of their music videos and threats to rivals.

Mobile phones and modern communication

Mobile phones play an instrumental part in setting up drug deals, and they can also play a central part in conflict. Youths can become very fearful after seeing a mobile phone in use after any kind of conflict. For example, a dispute between two individuals can result in calls being made for back up and without any warning a number of people can be called to an area ready for large scale conflict.

Adoption of American gang cultural definers

One of the more visible changes of gangs of recent years has been the adoption of gang colours, symbolism and graffiti that has heavily been influenced by the American gang culture of Los Angeles Crips and Bloods. Crips and Bloods are the two main street gang allegiances in Los Angeles. There, gangs generally identify with either red (Bloods) or blue (Crips). In 2004, gang colours were rarely visible in London. By 2007, the use of gang colours and US gang names was spreading (e.g. Bloodset, Cripset, O-Tray-One Bloods, Chrome Town Crips – all in southwest London). In some cases whole boroughs identify with one colour, Lewisham is known as Blue Borough because of its blue road signs, council logo and associated street scene, Greenwich as Green Borough and Southwark as Black Borough. Wood Green and Edmonton Green are known as ‘Green City’ whilst the grey blocks of flats in Upper Edmonton have become known as ‘Grey City’. U.S slang (i.e. the use of blood, or cuz to refer to a fellow gang member, strap as reference to a gun and shank as reference to a knife), US style, symbols and graffiti have also become part of London gang subculture, making its appearance ever more comparable to the images of Los Angeles street gang films.

Use of weapons

Fear of other gangs and conflict has also made carrying a knife and wearing body armour more normal amongst gang members. ‘There was a time when the knife and gun were specifically for protecting mans money and drugs although it is now more common for it to be carried for protecting mans life’. Not all gang members carry knives. They may get younger people to hold weapons for them. So even if guns are no easier to obtain in general, young gang members may have access to guns when they are trusted by the olders to ‘hide this for me’.

London gang alliances

Alliances between gangs occur for reasons such as the linking up of gangs against a common enemy, prominent members having relatives who are part of another gang, links of the music element to do joint songs together, sharing and expanding drug dealing turfs and product, borough-wide or postal area wide affiliation or because of something as arbitrary as the colour the gang associates with. Alliances as a result of gangs combining against common enemies When a gang or a number of gang youngers in a small area are constantly under threat or attack from another gang someone within those gangs invariably has links to one another to be able to suggest the linking up of groups as a possibility. This happened in the case of a group that called itself Legends of Stokey. Members of this group often committed robberies against other youths in the area. Three of the gangs surrounding LOS decided they would ‘squash’ their conflicts and instead group together against LOS. These three gangs were L.O.R.D (Lordship), Manor House Boys and Stamford Hill Mandem. These three groups still exist, while LOS has almost disappeared. Another reason for joining up against common rivals can be the turnover of gang members. In late 2005 and into 2006 the London Field Boys membership began to dwindle as members were arrested. At the same time their rivals the Holly Street Boys were taking advantage of the smaller number of London Field Boys and so the Field Boys decided they would join up with Haggerston. What was created was a very large street gang which became known as HFC – ‘Haggerston Fields Combined’. The link up was short lived. Alliances formed in this manner are more common amongst the youngers.

Alliances formed through friend and familial links with different gangs

Alliances between gangs may also arise from family ties. Often young gang members will have gang affiliated brothers and cousins, although they do not necessarily live in the same areas. Where these relatives are more prominent gang members, they have the ability to create alliances with other gangs. This is true at all stages of the gang from youngers to olders and to elders, although the implications of this vary amongst the ranks. For the youngers, making these links is usually confined to having extra back up when needed and getting together to make music. For the olders and elders these links can also be used for music links but also drug links and other illegitimate income (e.g. money lending). In some circumstances the gangs are wholly family orientated and often more reflective of an organised crime firm rather than a street gang. Examples include CFR (Certified Riders or Corleone Family Riders) from Brixton, or the families that together made up the original Tottenham Mandem.

Alliances built through gang associated music crews and illegitimate business

Links are often made in the musical activities of group members. Music groups such as Northstar (from Tottenham) and Mashtown (from Hackney) are often made up of former and elder gang members alongside talented artists from the neighbourhood. However, this is not always the case. Musical collectives do not have to consist of former gang members. Associates, affiliates or other people who grew up in “gangland” may wish to express their life experience through a specific type of music, often ‘UK grime’ – popularly showcased on Channel U in the past. Often the music crews aligned with the gangs will link up together to make music. Whilst the links between music crews are generally for the purpose of the music, they can lead to links amongst the gangs because of the close relationships the artists may have with the neighbourhood gang. At the higher level of the gangs the olders and elders who are less active on the street conflict often make links for business – to expand dealing turf and to increase their pool of suppliers amongst other things. One gang is even said to be working with permission under the name of a well known organised crime group from Islington established since the 1970s. Former London gangs, including the Shadow Kings and African Crew, both specialising in drugs, were said to have been supplied from organised Turkish criminals in north London. Grahame McLagan (2006) in his book ‘Gangs and Guns’, which heavily sources Operation Trident intelligence files, speaks of the links that had been made by Mark Lambie leader of the Tottenham Mandem to gangs in Brixton, Harlesden, Leyton and Shepherds Bush.

Dynamics of Gang Rivalries

Gang rivalries can occur for the same reasons as gang alliances, or following alliances should the group members fall-out. Most gang rivalries appear to be a result of the younger generation, whose activities revolve predominantly around protecting their gang territory. They form their gang identities and reputation through violence and earn their ‘stars’ by committing robberies and acts of violence against rival gang members. Gangs are organised around norms that support the use of violence to settle disputes, achieve group goals and defend identity. Furthermore, “when a gang member’s identity is challenged, violence is often a result, especially if the challenger is a stranger. If a gang member does not comply with gang role expectations when they are challenged, the result may be a loss of respect”. The rivalries between the younger generations therefore are often the result of very minor disputes and signs of disrespect, disputes involving individual members of gangs and robberies.

Sometimes these routine conflicts may escalate and serious incidents, such as a stabbing or a murder. When such an event occurs, the rivalry becomes more permanent. The olders are less involved in the street conflict and their criminal activities are focused to more profitable robberies, such as cash in transit, and dealing or supply of drugs. More importance is given to making money and avoiding police attention by the olders and conflict is less common, although serious incidents can occur as a result of reprisals for past incidents. Violence by serious group offenders can be placed in three categories, the first two of which will tend to cause rivalries that lead to reprisal:
  • Intra-gang violence. Conflict is internal to the group.
  • Inter-gang violence. Conflict is between groups.
  • Extra-group violence. Conflict between gang members and individuals with no gang affiliations.Reputation, feuds and retaliation are often involved in all three types of violence.
Reputational Violence

“The purpose of all gang members is to develop a reputation. You must build the reputation of your name, you must build your name in association with your gang – so when your name is spoken your gang is
also spoken of in the same breadth, for it is synonymous” (Shakur, 1993, 379).

Older gang members already have their reputation and therefore it is the youngers who need to develop one. In the US context it has been found that “much violence is not sanctioned by the olders, but rather arises because particular cliques or youngers interested in moving up the hierarchy may have a strong incentive to build a reputation for toughness and thus may engage in violence even if such actions run counter to the best interests of the gang” (Levitt & Venkatesh, 2000, 781).

Although violence may occur for a number of reasons, a common cause for conflict is perceived disrespect – talking to someone’s girlfriend, spilling a drink, ‘screwfacing’ (a disparaging way of looking someone in the eye), lyrics of a song that ‘diss’ someone or owing money to someone and not paying up on time. With regard to intra-gang violence much of this is a result of ‘snaking’ (dishonest business, i.e. setting someone up for a drugs robbery), ‘snitching’, fights over females and the fight for top spot when older members are imprisoned. Inter-gang violence is often triggered by disagreements between individual gang members, leading the entire group to back each of them up in the “war”.

Part of building a reputation can include robbing rival gang members of their coloured bandana - an act that can lead to reprisal fights between gangs and gang members. Many beefs however are the result of “leisure activities for fun” such as ‘rushing’ rival areas and deliberately ‘rollin’ through’ rival areas in large numbers, which would also be considered as disrespect.

Extra-group violence occurs when non-gang members are either robbed or again show perceived signs of disrespect to a gang member. Extra-group violence also puts young people at risk if they are perceived to be part of a rival gang because of where they live.

Long-standing feuds and retaliatory violence

When gangs do clash there is always the possibility that someone is carrying a weapon. When someone is shot, stabbed or killed, the rivalry between groups becomes far more serious and long-standing. This leads to the most common form of gang violence, retaliatory violence. In London, many of the gangs have rivals. Fights between them lead to periodical and cyclical violence between rival estate youths. However, as youngers become olders and their reputation is established, such conflicts play a lesser role in their gang careers. The conflict is left to the new youngers, unless there are scores to be settled. The relatively high number of teenage murder victims in the last two years has produced many scores that are yet to be settled.

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