“Gang-Related ?” Part One – The Youngers
Since 2006 the number of young victims of violence on London streets are increasingly reported as “gang-related”. Fears about feral and hostile youths out committing crime and gang murders are well represented within the daily newspapers perpetuating an image that is at best largely un-representative.
According to the Youth Justice Board, over 90% of young people regardless of ethnicity have not been in trouble with the police. The percentage of offenders varies by ethnic category from 2.6% of Asian or Asian British youths (under-represented) to 9.3% of black or black British youths (over-represented).
The over-representation of black youths has long been a contentious debate with many police representatives reluctant to comment. A study by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, Young Black People and the Criminal Justice System, explores the reality behind the over-representation of black youth. The reasons found for over-representation of black youths were partially down to ethnic profiling of young black males by the Metropolitan Police.
Young black males are 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police in London than people of any other ethnic group. Furthermore, black males are less likely to be given unconditional bail, more likely to be remanded in custody and more likely to receive punitive sentences. In contrast, whereby youths of other ethnicities are concerned there is a greater likelihood that their minor offences will be dealt with less formally without resulting in a criminal record at an early age.
Perhaps the most worrying over-representation of black males in crime statistics however are those for homicide. The homicide rate for black males in Britain in 2009/10 was 90 per million, this was five times greater than the overall average of 18 homicides per million males. A considerable proportion of these are often reported as ‘gang-related’, certainly where shootings are concerned with many reporters automatically concluding that any case dealt with by Operation Trident must have gang undertones.
How many of these killings are truly “gang-related”? There is no single definition that can really capture gang related offending, each case we read about often neglects to tell us about the true motive of the crime, maybe because it is less interesting or maybe because we simply do not know? How do you define gang crime anyway? Just because a ‘gang member’ commits a crime it does not automatically mean that their offence was motivated by gang affiliation or influenced by the gang as a collective.
Many incidents of serious violence attributable to London gangs have often been the result of inter-personal disputes regarding real or perceived issues of disrespect and minor slights. There have been numerous cases whereby young people have simply been “Victims of Association”. A lot of people who are involved or who have been caught up are at-risk for reasons beyond their own control.
Growing up in a gang area is one of the biggest risk factors, “I don’t know how it started, I just grew up in it”.
For some young people it is a means of protection and safety, “I was getting banged out by man from next ends, no-one had my back. I started hanging with this lot for safety. I liked the idea of moving in numbers, it made me feel safe. Thing is, you get drawn in to next things, its peer pressure”.
“When i got robbed that fucked me off. I knew the man that jacked me and saw him a few times after but he never got charged because there was no evidence. Everyone just laughs at police because they know shit is gonna get NFA’d (No Further Action). I don’t think the police believed me anyway. I got no support and was just always mad fighting with my dad and brothers. The man that robbed me got in beef over another robbery he did from the **** gang. I wanted my own back on this boy and joined **** gang”
Having relatives in the gang is also a good indication of future membership, “my uncle was in the gang, he’s an older. My cuzzy in a different gang in north, I used to go to the strip to jam with my cousin and his mandem. Everyone got to know me and I just fell into it”.
When gang rivalries flare up it can often translate to area rivalries. Therefore, if you are recognised to associate with certain individuals or you are recognised as being from a rival area then you become at risk. It doesn’t matter if you are gang involved or not, associating with the “wrong crowd” can put you at-risk. The Youngers are hyped up and portrayed so negatively in the press and by the police. But to the youths of the estate, these “gang members” are the children they have grown up with and gone to school with. They are their friends. The way the Youngers are being portrayed is giving them an over inflated sense of their own importance and their gang reputation. Furthermore, treating these young people as gang members, calling them just that, and segregating them is adding to the problem.
In this borough where I am right now, the local secondary schools are moving pupils about to prevent members of rival gangs coming into contact. It has come to a point where individual secondary schools here are associated with individual gangs. The same is occurring within our local pupil referral units. Far from alleviating problems it is making them worse. It is further highlighting these rivalries amongst young people and reducing any hope of a truce. Fair enough the intention is there to reduce harm, but maybe it is not the right approach as the children, the Youngers, see this segregation as something to be proud of. In their eyes it enhances their reputation.
“The rivalry between ends is well known so I just avoid going over there in case people ask me where I’m from. It’s risky for me to go Leyton or the other side of Walthamstow. Even when I go to college I could get rushed or shanked. Everyone is out to get people from my ends cos of what happened”.
So going back to the ‘gang-related’ and ‘gang-member’ tags...not all gang members actively engage in criminal activity, some members are merely just associates or assumed members because of where they live and who they hang out with. In Los Angeles it is estimated that as little as 5% of youths in gang neighbourhoods are members of the gang; furthermore, within that 5% only 5-10% are hardcore members. And they are certainly not all murderers like they claim to be. In a city with somewhere in the region of 40,000 gang members there were less than 600 murders in 2010. For most young people who are part of local neighbourhood gangs their ‘gang life’ is usually just a short vacation that ends in their late teens.
By criminalising more young people during their adolescence as ‘gang offenders’ (taking into consideration that the true motives behind “gang offences” are often nothing to do with the gang as a collective) are we prolonging their involvement in crime and preventing them from growing out of what historically was always thought to be a teen phenomenon?
“I am screwed. I wanna do something different, I can’t keep putting my mum through this. I fucked up though, I got expelled, aint got no qualifications and college won’t take me cos I’m supposedly a violent gang member. I ain’t exactly employable with my record so where do I go from here? The Feds want me to engage in stuff like sports. Are they having a joke or what blood? I need an education or I need a job. On top of that I need money, where else do I get it?”
The seriousness of gang membership varies considerably from one member to the next. Yes there is always the potential to become a victim of association because of where you are and who you know but for the most part young people will leave the gang when a better opportunity arises.
But what about the rest of the Youngers and the Olders?
To be continued