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, 30 May 2012

Film highlights dangers of gang grooming premieres in Brixton

This is Local London

10:20am Wednesday 30th May 2012 in

'Tiny' follows one boy battling with the pressures of gang life

A film which will be screened in schools to highlight the grooming of children in gang culture premiered at the Ritzy in Brixton last night.

‘Tiny’ follows the experiences of a boy who is primed by a gang leader and the subsequent tensions he experiences between home, school and gang life.

The production, supported by local charity the St Michael’s Fellowship, was created by about 50 young people from Lambeth, many of whom have been directly affected by gang crime.

Benny Itiari, 21, who shadowed the film’s director, said: “I really hope this film helps educate people about gang grooming so parents and teenagers are aware of the issue and can make the right choices in life."

Croydon 'safe havens' aimed at helping people in danger

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Croydon Advertiser

SHOPS are being asked to act as ‘safe havens’ for people in danger and in need of help. ReporterGareth Davies asks businesses taking part in the scheme whether it has made our streets safer whether it is just a gimmick

BUTCHER Robert Hartwell barely needed to be asked to turn his business into a safe haven for any young person in danger.

Hasan Arshad runs Bubblegum Children’s Wear, one of Croydon’s safe havens

He signed up his shop H Hartwell & Son after first hand experience of how important the scheme could be.

“Before all this happened my nephew got off at Thornton Heath train station and some boys tried to take whatever he had with him,” he explained.

“He did the only thing he could do and legged it down to where he knew he would be safe – my shop.

“Once upon a time that could have been one of my children.

I would have wanted to know that, wherever they were, there was somewhere they could turn.”


As a result Mr Hartwell had no hesitation when asked if his family’s 98-year-old business, in Brigstock Road, Thornton Heath, would become part of CitySafe, a campaign by an alliance of community groups called London Citizens.

The scheme wants shops to become “safe havens”, a public place where people can seek refuge in a difficult situation, and to turn dangerous areas into “safe zones”, with an action team and community champion.

Mr Hartwell said: “I was asked whether I would be prepared to take in a child who was in difficulty of course I said yes.

“If you are a decent person who doesn’t turn people away when they need help.”

Businesses that agree to become havens commit to reporting 100 per cent of crime, offer their shop as a sanctuary to youths in trouble and refuse to sell alcohol, knives or other dangerous items to underage or drunk citizens.

According to London Citizens more than 200 businesses have signed up to CitySafe since it was launched in 2008, including seven in Croydon.

St Mary’s, St Jude’s and St Andrew’s churches and Oasis Academy Shirley Park have been helping to persuade shops in London Road and Thornton Heath to take part.

Shops are given guidance about what to do when called upon.

They display a sticker in their window so people know they are a safe haven.

But six months after Mr Hartwell agreed to take part, no one has taken shelter in his shop. In fact, none of the businesses contacted by the Advertiser had helped anyone in danger or in need of shelter. “The fact that no one has needed it doesn’t mean to say it’s not a good idea,” he said.

“You shouldn’t have to ask shops to do this, but it’s best to have the systems in place.

“Even if it only takes one child out of a dangerous situation, it’s worthwhile.

“Whoever has signed up to it should feel proud.”

Bubblegum Children’s Wear, in Brigstock Road, is also part of the CitySafe scheme but, a year and a half after signing up, it has yet to be used as a shelter.


Manager Hasan Ashard said: “Maybe the kids don’t know what it’s all about or that we’re involved. Perhaps they are shy.

“The hope is that no one needs to take shelter here but, if they do, they need to know there is somewhere for them to go – where they can be safe and

know that nothing bad is

going to happen to them.

“I wanted to be able to help them and thought it would bring us closer to the community.”

CitySafe shops are told to reassure the people they help before contacting their parents or the police. But the scheme, which is backed by the Met, is also being used to show that shops are vigilant.

Cake decorator Sumi Arudchelvan, of Party Crafts, in London Road, said she was advised to put the sticker in her window to scare off criminals.

London Citizens plans to create a map of the capital’s safe havens.

CitySafe coordinator Peter Brierley said the scheme is as much about bringing businesses together as it about keeping people safe.

“All of these local retailers believe shop keepers are more than just a place to buy a product,” he explained.

“Together they are making a positive contribution to their community and reminding us of a time when neighbours used to look out for one another.”

The following traders are “safe havens”:

Unicorn Dry Cleaners, High Street, Thornton Heath

Wimpy, High Street, Thornton Heath

Julia Knows Beauty, Brigstock Road, Thornton Heath

Bubblegum Children’s Wear, Brigstock Road, Thornton Heath

H Hartwell & Son, Brigstock Road, Thornton Heath

Ship of Fools, London Road, West Croydon

Party Crafts, London Road, West Croydon

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Reasons to kill someone - Do or Die

In the article below there are some interesting excerpts from the book 'Do or Die'. The book was billed as the first insider account of teenage gangs. Published in 1992 and written by Léon Bing, it tells the life stories of South Central Los Angeles' teenage gangs of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The excerpts below are from a chapter compiled during a session with gang members in Camp Kilpatrick, a juvenile detention camp located in the Santa Monica Mountains, about their thoughts on killing.

Mr. Jones picks up a piece of chalk and writes, in large block letters, a single word on the blackboard:


The room goes very quiet; the only sound you can hear at this moment is the muted shuffling of feet under the desks. Mr. Jones faces his audience and waits for complete silence before he speaks.
"Okay, y'all know what the word means. Now I want each of you to give me a real good reason to kill somebody."
The words are barely out of his mouth when hands begin to jab the air. Jones nods at one of the kids.
"For the fuck of it."
Jones turns back to the blackboard, writes those words.
"Okay, 'for the fuck of it.' Let's have another reason."
"Put in work for the 'hood."
Jones writes again. "Okay, that's a good reason. Next?"
"'Cause he's my enemy."
"Yeah, that's righteous." Jones prints quickly. "An enemy."
"For revenge."
"Yeah, let's get that one down, that's a good one. Revenge." The chalk screeches against the board.
"'Cause he said somethin' wrong."
"You mean like dis' you?"
"Naw. Just wrong - like, you know, wrong."
"Yeah, okay. Because he said somethin' wrong and now you gotta smoke him for it, right?"
"Ye-eeeeeeeeh." The kid slouches back in his chair, grinning. He is clearly well pleased with himself for having made his thoughts so perfectly understood. Jones writes the words on the board, then turns back to face the kids. "Come on - let's get some reasons up here. Y'all supposed to be such tough dudes. Let's go."
Now the answers begin to come quickly.
"'Cause he looks at me funny, give me that mad-dog look."
"'Cause I don't like him."
"'Cause he ask me where I was from."
"'Cause he wearin' the wrong color."
"'Cause he gonna hurt a member of my family."
"For money."
Jones is nodding his head, scribbling furiously on the blackboard.
"So I can jack somebody for dope."
"'Cause he gave me no respect."
"'Cause he a disgrace, he a buster."
"For his car."
"'Cause he try to get with my lady."
"'Cause he a tansformer (spy) in my 'hood."
"In self-defense."
"'Cause he try to jack you - take yo' shit."
"For a nickel."
"For the way he walk."
"If he got somethin' I want and he don't wanna give it to me."
"'Cause I'm a loc."
"For his association."
"'Cause he called me a baboon - dis' me."
"'Cause he fucked with my food - you know, like took one of my French fries or somethin'."
"'Cause I don't like his attitude."
"'Cause he say the wrong thing - he wolf me."
"'Cause I'm buzzed - you know, all like, high and bent."
"Just playin' around."
"'Cause he fucked up my hair in the barber shop."
Jones chuckles as he writes this one. "Fucked up your hair, huh? Well, I can understand that."
And still the reasons to kill keep coming.
"'Cause he a snitch."
"'Cause he hit up my wall, crossin' out names and shit, writin' R.I.P."
"If a lady don't give me what I want. You know - the wild thing."
"'Cause they ugly."
"'Cause he try to run a drag (con) on me."
All of the reasons are up on the board now, in three neatly lettered rows. Mr. Jones steps back, surveying the list for a moment, nodding his head. Then he turns to look at the kids again.
"Okay. Now. Which of this shit would you die for?"
There is a beat of utter silence; the air seems to shimmer with the combined stares of shocked students. Jones stands quietly, staring back at them. "Oh, come on, now. If y'all can kill for something, y'all better be ready to die for it. So let's hear it: which of these reasons you gonna die for?"
One of the kids pipes up. "Hell, you can erase all that shit."
"No, let's go point by point, see what we got here. Okay, who's gonna die 'for the fuck of it'?"
Five hands go up. An Essay kid, he's one of the newest members of the class, wants to talk about it. "It would be like when you play Russian roulette, you know? Like if I got nothing else to do, because I'm bored."
Mr. Jones does not hesitate to put a finer point on it, "But that would be suicide, killing yourself, wouldn't it?"
The kid doesn't see it that way - the original premise was "reasons to kill" - "it didn't say nothing about who." Now, surprisingly, it's one of the other students, one of the five kids who also raised his hand to defend this reason to kill someone, who argues with the Essay kid, telling him how wrong he is.
"We ain't talkin' about killin' yo'self here, fool - we talkin' about smokin' somebody else just for the fuck of it. You got the heart to kill somebody else?" The Essay kid assures him that he does. Now Mr. Jones interrupts to explain that it isn't just killing another person for the hell of it that is the subject here. He reminds the students that in killing the stranger, they must also die. That's the deal in this instance. You kill - for whatever reason - you die. The five hands that were raised go back down. The words "for the fuck of it" are erased from the blackboard.
As are the other reasons. There are some arguments, of course: "Putting in work for the 'hood" and "revenge" get some people yelling. But as Mr. Jones reads the reasons aloud, one by one, the show of hands gets smaller. Until he gets to "wearing the wrong color." Then every hand in the room thrusts into the air. Every kid here is willing to die for red or blue - the Essays are adamant about this one too.
We are at the heart of gangbanging.
Jones holds up both hands for silence. "Okay, I want y'all to listen hard and go along with this: I'm a madman with a fully loaded 'gauge. You all naked, sittin' there in yo' chairs with nothin' on. But they's some clothes under the chairs - three pairs of pants to choose from: pair of blue pants, pair of red pants, pair of white pants. Now - anyone puts on any color but white" - he hoists the imaginary shotgun, squints down the barrel - "Booyah! You dead." He turns, aiming dead center on a kid's chest. "What color pants you gonna put on?"
The kid's eyes move quickly around the room - everybody is waiting. He licks his lips, "Red pa. . ."
"Booyah!" Jones swings toward another kid.
"Bl . . ."
"Booyah!" Jones shakes his head. "Maybe y'all didn't hear me. I'm a madman, I don't care about no loyalty. I just don't like any color but white, makes me mad if somebody don't like it, too. Mad enough to kill you." He nods at a kid who has his hand up. It's G-Roc.
"But if I choose the white pants instead of my set's color, that makes me a buster."
The other boys nod their heads vigorously. Jones smiles sweetly.
"And if you put on the blue or the red, what does that make you?"
G-Roc shrugs.
"Make you dead for no other reason but a madman's whim. You R.I.P. because he like white pants. Now, how many of you gonna die for that?"
The kid persists. "Yeah, but if I do put on yo' color, I'm just a punk."
"No. I just like white. I don't care about no blue, no red, no pink, no green. I just like white."
G-Roc shrugs. "Okay. I'll put on the white." But he's not happy about it; you can see it all over his face.
"Anybody else gonna die for the red or the blue?"
No hands.
Jones erases the words "wearing the wrong color." Then he turns back to look at the kids again. "Lemme tell you somethin' - you can be down for your 'hood, you can go to jail for your 'hood, you can die for your 'hood. And if you do, if you die, you know what happens? Nothing. Nothing changes. The beat goes on. All your dead homeboys? Even they don't mean diddly. Because nothing changes."
Jones reads off the rest of the reasons that are still on the board. There is no show of hands, until he gets to the words "for his association." This was G-Roc's reason, and he is implacable now: he will kill and he will die because he does not approve of another person's allegiance. When Jones attempts to reason with him, he simply shakes his head, over and over. He remains unmoved even in the face of argument from a couple of the O.G.'s. The only thing that he will say is, "Y'all don't know me."
Finally only three reasons to kill - and to die - are left up there on the blackboard. There is "for his association," with one vote next to it, and there are "for my family" and "self-defence," both of which got a unanimous show of hands.
Now Jones clears the board entirely. Then he puts another word up there:


"Who's heard this word? Irrational."
No hands. Jones writes again, two words this time.


"How about these?"
Some hands go up. Jones gives the nod to one of the O.G.'s.
"Normal means like regular."
"That's right. And 'sprung'?" He points to another kid.
"It mean nutty."
"Right. And that's what that first word means - irrational. Irrational means sprung." Jones leans back against the desk, crossing both arms against his chest. "Most normal people have a kill-die equation. What that means is if your mother prays at church every Sunday at the Ebenezer Tabernacle and somebody threatens her children, she will kill or die for them. Fathers too. That's what protecting the family is about. Self-defense and protecting your family is a normal kill-die equation."
The kids are listening hard now; Jones goes on. "At the beginning of the class we were some abnormal, sprung motherfuckers." A mild laugh ripples through the room. "That's what people think about gang members - they will kill people for any damn thing. That's what people look at. If you decide to be normal, you have to be willing to kill only for that thing you are willing to die for. If you get to that point, you gonna make it - you won't be the kind of person whose numbers are so fucked up that I want him in the penitentiary forever. Forever. Because his numbers are too fucked up."
One of the younger kids - the one who was ready to kill the barber for a less than satisfactory haircut - pipes up.
"How many numbers was up on that blackboard?"
"Y'all gave thirty-seven reasons to kill."
The kid shakes his head. "Thirty-seven's a bigass number."
"Yeah, it is. And if you got more than two for two, then you're the kind of person other people are afraid of. People are afraid of you if you're abnormal."
Jones nudges his head forward a fraction. "Want to get respect? You don't gotta kiss nobody's ass, you don't have to smack (kick ass), you don't have to talk white. Just be a normal motherfucker. Because everybody - even you - are afraid of abnormal people. Abnormal just don't make it."
The kid who thought that thirty-seven was a bigass number nods his head solemnly. "It don't make no sense."
"That's right. It don't make no sense."

Musical talent pens Adidas soundtrack

Kensington Informer
Posted by Greg Burns on May 29, 12 01:22 PM in News

A BUDDING musician is on top of the world after winning the chance to record the soundtrack for a global Adidas advert.

Kayvon Razavi, who studied a Creative Music Producer Level 3 course at Kensington and Chelsea College and also goes by the recording name Scyfa, pitched his musical idea to bosses of the sportswear giants with the brief of creating a youthful sound with pace and rythym.

The 22-year-old, of Fulham, went on to win the chance to produce the soundtrack for their four-week international campaign that has aired online, on TV and radio in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Holland and Canada.

"Adidas explained the concept of the advert and gave me the video so I could match the soundtrack to it," said Mr Razavi. "It took me a few sessions in the recording studio to perfect my idea, although I knew immediately how I wanted it to sound.

"I had to ensure my soundtrack matched their brief exactly as they would never settle for anything less. When I found out I had got the contract I felt quite numb and I don't think it sank in until I saw the final advert with my music on it. I felt really proud at that point."

The talented artist had a passion for music at a young age and said his time at the college helped nurture his skills.

"I'd notice soundtracks to games and would start thinking of ways to put the different sounds together," he said. "As I grew up I became more aware of the sounds around me and realised I wanted to go into music production.

"I have dedicated myself to it ever since. It (the college course) gave me a real insight into performing, production and the importance of organisation. The tutors are also fantastic and very well connected to the music industry.

"I really enjoy producing advert soundtracks as it's a great way to generate income whilst developing myself as an artist and a producer."

Since his success, Mr Razavi has also been asked to produce soundtracks for Audi and Blackberry.

To view the Adidas advert visit

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Book Review, Freedom from the womb, prisoner to the streets, By Robyn Travis

Book Review 

Freedom from the womb, prisoner to the streets 

Author: Robyn Travis 

I had the privilege of being one of the very first people to read Robyn Travis’ new book, Freedom from the Womb, Prisoner to the Streets (abbreviated as P2TS from herein).

Here at London Street Gangs, we have spent over several years documenting what has been regarded as a burgeoning gang culture facing the streets of London, even before the police and politicians were willing to publicly accept that gangs might even exist.

Following the extremely concerning rise in the volume of teen homicides in 2007 and 2008, which saw almost 60 teenagers lose their lives, Londoners descended into a moral panic spurred on by exaggerated and sensationalised media reports of a feral underclass and a gang culture approaching something akin to the United States.

This crucial period where we should have been attempting to understand the problem in real terms and begin to address the root causes was lost, and instead the problem was simply reduced to one of “gangs”. Gangs were deemed to be the issue, and all of a sudden a reluctance to label young people in groups as gangs was turned into a situation where every group of young people, especially in deprived inner city communities, was now being afforded the label.

Whilst the government and authorities came up with knee-jerk responses, focussed predominantly on enforcement tactics, a number of journalists and authors capitalised on the issue. Swathes of media reports and books were published, often taking insight from young men purporting to be gang members who appropriately confirmed many of the stereotypes we might gain from watching US urban dramas. Even Ross Kemp jumped on the bandwagon with the at times ludicrous ‘Ross Kemp: Teenage Gangs of South London’.

Michael W Story sums it up well in his brief presentation on
‘London’s 66,000 guns’ where he points out such stereotypes – the gritty urban scenes, rap music, council estates and claims by young people that they ‘can get access to sub-machine guns in a matter of minutes’. Many of those gang members that defined the content of such media reports and other publications were young men, impressionable and wanting to tell their story, about how their gangs were violent, that they had atrocious upbringings that confined them to lives of crime as long as they could remember.

The stories we saw were bleak, and to many people they would have been shocking eye-openers to a world alien to most. However, it would not be completely out of the question to consider that young people are quite capable of telling lies, of boasting, and trying to boost their ego and enhance their own reputations, you all saw the Sky News interview with alleged looters by the River Thames in south-east London following the riots. Did anyone buy it?

Robyn, was perceived to be a gang member, although he wouldn’t describe himself as such despite earning a bad boy reputation with the Holly Street Boys. The Holly Street Boys and London Fields Boys from E8 in Hackney, separated by less than half a mile laying either side of Queensbridge Road, was the first ever war within a post code. Robyn was a key figure within the Holly Street Boys. He was the definition of a prisoner to the street and is not afraid to admit it. He would ride or die for the estates namesake and for his friends. This war triggered a breakdown in the relationship between groups of young people within estates in the borough of Hackney, a trend which later followed across London. The ‘Postcode Wars’ were born. A competitive mentality that had never been so localised, to the extent that reppin’ boroughs transcended to ‘Reppin the ends’.

His account in P2TS is one of an articulate young man who has had time to reflect on his teenage years as a ‘gang member’. This book is not about boasting of gang exploits, violent crimes and portraying a hard life. P2TS is a brutally honest reflection of Robyn’s own life and that of his peers who grew up to be part of the London Fields and Holly Street rivalry. I spoke to a friend who has worked with gangs in London for 10 years and we agreed that it is about time someone wrote a book to rival the more salacious texts that have dominated in recent years. This book will do much to balance the skewed picture, often perpetuated by those wishing to keep the gang alive, by simply telling the truth.

Robyn, like many who we read about that have been involved with gangs, has certainly had tough times and struggled through a series of unfortunate events. But he doesn’t use these as excuses or as mitigation for his own involvement with gangs. He does not accept that young people are born as ‘Soldiers’ from a young age, something many young people try to portray when interviewed on their gang experience. Throughout P2TS you will learn the human side of those the authorities are quick these days to label ‘gang member’. Through the hard times Robyn shares personal moments of good times and happiness, his love of football and desire to one day play with the Arsenal, his loving grandmothers home cooked meals and the celebration of his own children and re-entry into education.

There are no stereotypes in P2TS, the gangster dealing drugs and making a nice living is a distant reality. Robyn quite openly accepts that as a gangster he was broke, broke as a joke. Even so broke that at times he went without food. Whilst at the peak of his time with the Holly Street Boys, having a fearsome reputation on the streets of Hackney, young Robyn briefly made a living cleaning tables at a Chiquito’s restaurant in London’s West End, never was he a stranger to hard work. When he asked for more hours and an opportunity to progress from minimum wage he was continuously shunned, taking offence.

The branch manager then accused Robyn of petty theft and he lost his job. Another male, who looked nothing like Robyn, was found to be the culprit and caught on CCTV. You can’t help but feel that had he remained in work, he might never have become even more involved in the streets. Robyn’s life has taken him close to death, he has lost many people close to him and has served time in prison. He can now reflect on the rivalry that still burns to this day between Holly Street and London Fields, and can see it for what it is, pointless. Groups of boys who once were friends and attended school together fighting for the title of Hackney amidst two run down council estates owned by a system they so openly detest, yet continue to play into the hands of. 

Robyn’s book is the sad truth, he isn’t afraid to let his ego stand in the way of that, and sees it as a key obstacle in brokering understanding between rival groups of young men. P2TS offers the full spectrum of human emotions that we can all relate to and most importantly it gives us real insight into the mindsets and mentality of young people caught up in gangs. This is unquestionably the most authentic portrayal of life on the roads.

If you would like to be kept updated and notified about the event to launch the book please send your e-mail address to

Friday, 25 May 2012

Surviving Our Streets: Violence interruption comes to London

At birth, Jason’s first home from the hospital was a squat in the Woodberry Down estate, north London, moving shortly thereafter to a flat in Tottenham. Having grown up in Tottenham, he experienced many of the issues facing the youth of today in inner-city London. Sadly, these experiences included the loss of a number of friends and a cousin to gun and knife violence. Jason can relate to those entrenched in street life and has seen firsthand how destructive the lifestyle is.

I first exchanged ideas back and forth with Jason in 2010 via the website. We discussed the issues with responses to gangs at the time noting the lack of community involvement in some areas, and we agreed that ideally material, preventions and interventions dealing with gang members should be peer led. Ex bangers, to borrow an American term and those with experience of violent offending, should be delivering. There’s no point in getting someone without these experiences to deliver anything to this target market. All that young person will be thinking is, “you don’t know where I am coming from, you have not experienced what I live on a daily and if I was from where you are from I probably wouldn’t be doing this in the first place”.

The amount of money spent on “tackling gangs” in London has grown exponentially in the past several years and even since 2010, yet the focus is often misguided in its desire to eradicate ‘gangs’. We will never wipe out gangs in London, they are a normal cultural part of society that have been documented, both factually and fictionally, since Dickensian times when Fagin led his gang of children in committing street crimes. The Mohawk gang from the 18th century who disfigured male victims, the Hawkubites – a gang that terrorised the city of London from 1711 to 1714. Gangs are nothing new to London.

Whilst we may not eradicate gangs, a term that infamously lacks any definitional consensus, it doesn’t mean that we can’t change the behaviour or address the issue of violence. Imagine, ex-gang members and those with a history of violent offending, those with certified street statuses spending time in their communities on the ground level circulating the blocks and estates, providing a consistent presence to their younger peers with the aim of stopping the violence and killings that cause so much concern and heartache in our communities. Using their previously negative life stories in a positive light, reaching out and working with those many have written off as “unreachable”.

Throughout 2010-2012 Jason visited CeaseFire Chicago, a pioneering gang violence prevention project and secured International Replication Partnership status with CeaseFire.

CeaseFire (CF) is an interdisciplinary public health approach to violence prevention. CF maintains that violence is a learned behaviour that can be prevented using disease control methods. Using proven public health techniques, the model prevents violence through a three-pronged approach: 1) Identification and detection 2) Interruption, intervention and risk reduction and 3) Changing behaviour and norms. CF combines science and street o utreach to track where violence is heating up, and then cool the situation down.

An independent evaluation of the CeaseFire project by Dr. Wesley G. Sokgan, a professor at Northwestern University, ascertained that the link between CF and the decline in shootings was statistically significant (Evaluation of CeaseFire). Communities typically reported reductions in shootings in excess of -20% and reductions in retaliatory homicides as great as -100%.

Jason and his team visited Chicago to learn from the primary source just how the CeaseFire Model works and have brought to London that knowledge and experience with SOS – Surviving Our Streets, a charity seeking to engage those most likely to be involved in street based violence, either as perpetrators or victims. Through street-based networking and personal contacts on the ground level the right people have been identified as Violence Interrupters (street savvy individuals trained in high-risk conflict mediation) in a part of London, which has recorded over 1,000 stabbings, and shootings in the past three years (MetPolice data).

Those who are employed as Violence Interrupters have firsthand experiences of street culture, they are credible messengers with gang affiliation and/or violent behaviour in their past. This allows for a “real recognises real” approach which leads to a potent peer led programme. To answer the question, what makes this model different? The great thing about the CeaseFire Model is it’s the perfect marriage of scientific methodology and street work, data driven but peer delivered. Its time we look at violence through a new lens.

Click here to view contact details for SOS, or call +44 (0) 207 284 3322

Reformed gang member insists DSN 'is dead'

This is Local London Friday 25th May
Exclusive By Hannah Williamson »

An ex-member of one of Croydon's largest criminal gangs claims the notorious Don't Say Nothing (DSN) no longer exists.

Mikey Giwa

Mikey Giwa was a prominent member of DSN, whose members have been jailed for offences including armed burglary and robbery, but turned his life around and is working as a mentor with anti-knives organisation Lives Not Knives (LNK).

DSN have been linked with an attack on two police officers in the town centre in 2008, and the murder of 16-year-old Wesley Sterling, stabbed after a large group, allegedly of DSN members, caused a fight attempting to gatecrash a party he was at in 2010.

Mr Giwa, who served time in prison for affray, said the gang had not been in existence since his release two-and-a-half-years ago.

He said: "This gang you are talking about is from years ago. We are in 2012, I'm talking about 2007, 2006, the gang is dead now.

Mikey Giwa with fellow mentor Tara Norwood and 'Lives Not Knives' founder Eliza Rebeiro

"If one person from Croydon and one person from a different area decide to have a fight on the High Street, when they go to court they say it is gang related or because of the DSN, but the DSN is dead.

"There will be younger people probably from Croydon saying 'Yeah we're DSN,' but doing that is making the media and police think the DSN is still active.

"Speaking for myself and what I know, the gang DSN is dead."

The 23-year-old said prison time convinced him to change his ways.

He said: "One of my friends got stabbed and he died and I just thought that is not the way forward.I don't want to be getting stabbed and killed.

"If I don't turn my life around for the better, something bad is going to happen to me.

"When I used to see police back in the day my instinct was they are just going to come to me so just run for it, and I don't want to be living like that. That's not the way I want to live my life."

Mr Giwa admitted there were things he regretted from his past.

He said: "I have seen a few people I've done wrong in the past, someone I might have had a fight or got into an argument with.

"They recognise my face and try to hide away, but I approach them and let them know I am sorry for what I've done.

"Everyone I've done things to, if they want to speak to me about how I affected their life they can do that through LNK. I am really sorry and if I could change it, I would."

He hopes his work with LNK, in schools and in the community, will deter youths from a life of crime.

He said: "The only way it will stop is for someone like me and a few of my friends to sit down with this young kids and say 'Right, we're older than you, we've been through what you are talking about, 'llow it.

"Go to school, go to college and get your education, don't be hurting people.

"I've moved on from being in a gang now, to trying to help people that are in gangs or people that want to get out of gangs. When I got introduced to LNK I thought 'This is the answer.'

"Croydon is not a bad place, let's put Croydon on the map as a good place to come to. If you want to, jump on my wave and help stop your little brother or sister from doing all these stupid things."

To get in touch with Lives Not Knives email or visit

Youth worker sets up Streatham football academy to help tackle gang culture

This is Local London

10:40am Friday 25th May 2012 

Sam Peoples
Youngsters playing at the football academy in Streatham

A youth worker determined to make a difference by giving children an alternative to gang crime has set up a football club and academy.

Trevor Elliott, 21, said he set up the club on the South Oak Road estate, Streatham, so that young children would be able to channel their energy into something positive.

He said: “There is nothing for the children in the area to do, which is why the gang culture has emerged. I am hoping that by organising football for them, they will have a chance to do something else.

Mr Elliott, who used to live on the estate, has seen many friends get sucked into gang culture and he wants to make sure that he can make a difference to the youth of today.

He said: “All I wanted to do when I was young was play sport and the only way to get through to the children is with sport. All they ever talk about is football.”

The social inclusion project, for 11 to 16-year-olds, has proved popular with more than 25 regularly attending the weekly sessions.

It was set up following a cash boost from the Lambeth Play Association, a charity that offers small grants to local youth projects.

Mr Elliott hopes to join the club in the Tandridge football league and gain an association with the London FA.

A charity has also been set up to try to raise the funds to support the club for the children, and, with a football camp scheduled for July and a youth centre in September, the academy is looking to expand and give more children opportunities.

The academy runs every Sunday between 1.30pm to 3.30pm on the South Park estate playing fields.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Gangs, violence and the pressures on urban boys to act tough

Institute of Education, University of London

Posted on May 23, 2012

Jenny Parkes (

Home Office statistics show that 40% of the young people brought before the courts following the August riots were on free school meals; more than a third had been recently excluded from school and two-thirds had a special educational need. Fewer than one in five of those arrested were gang-affiliated. The vast majority – 90% – were male.

These statistics chime with our findings on young people and neighbourhood risk. Although the London neighbourhood where our study took place was identified as a “hotspot” for gang activity, most of the young people we spoke to were highly critical of gangs and of youth crime and violence. What emerged from the discussions that my colleague Anna Conolly and I had with young people were the frequent dilemmas boys in their early teens faced in working out how to deal with the risks and dangers they encountered routinely in their neighbourhoods.

Boys felt pressured to appear tough, streetwise and resilient. But this bravado could sometimes lead them into dangerous behaviour, as boys tried to demonstrate to each other how they live up to tough masculine ideals. One 15-year-old told us: “I’d fight back. If they stabbed me, yeah? If someone’s running towards you with a knife, yeah, they’re thinking you’re going to run away, but my mind says, to run towards them, because you don’t – they don’t know what you’ve got on you.”

This concern about reputation was most marked in the boys at risk of exclusion or excluded from mainstream schools. One 13-year-old boy in a pupil referral unit, for example, told us how a friend “got robbed, and now he just gets bullied in school”. For him, fighting back was seen as necessary to evade the threat to reputation which could evoke further violence and exclusion within his peer group. For some boys tough talk could mask fears and anxieties about risks of the neighbourhood.

So what does this mean for the government’s plans for ending gang and youth violence? The government’s response to last summer’s riots and other instances of youth crime has been to set up panels of experts on Ending Gang and Youth Violence and on Riots, Communities and Victims. Their reports stress the need for multi-faceted interventions, but pay surprisingly little attention to these pressures on boys.

Our findings show firstly how important it is to take seriously the way particular ideas about masculinity influence the way boys think and behave. They show the need to develop sensitive interventions to help young people reflect on fears, pressures and safety strategies. Second, our findings show the importance of tackling school exclusion and under-achievement – though the After the Riots proposal to fine schools for failing to teach reading properly will surely only reduce the resources to improve teaching and learning in those schools. Rather than blaming teachers or parents, we need to learn from and build on the strategies teachers, youth workers, parents and young people already employ.

Finally, £10 million is being directed to 30 neighbourhoods deemed to be hotbeds of youth violence and gang activity. But beyond these few neighbourhoods it is hard to see how plans for prevention can be realised with the massive cuts to Sure Start and youth services? And if we are to tackle the pressures on young people, we need to make sure they can achieve their future aspirations with the provision of educational and employment opportunities. Too narrow a focus on gangs and the most visible forms of violence and disorder detracts from important issues around masculinity, exclusion, and poverty that emerge in the aftermath of the riots.

Jenny is Principal Investigator for ESRC study: Negotiating danger, risk and safety: An exploration with young people in an urban neighbourhood.

See research summary here, full report coming soon.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Residents shown how Westminster gang problems are being tackled

Westminster Chronicle
Posted by Greg Burns on May 22, 12 03:38 PM in News

A CAMPAIGN was underway this week to reassure concerned Westminster residents that the borough's rising gang problem is being tackled.

The Your Choice: Your Community Week, which ends on Friday, involves Westminster City Council trying to show how it is working to discourage gang violence.

Young people and parents have been able to speak to professionals such as the council's gangs and serious youth violence teams, along with staff from the Fresh Start employment and the Tell It Parents Action Group.

The week of activity is the first in a series of planned events to allay community concerns about growing levels of violence.

Nickie Aiken, council leader for children, young people and community care, said: "I share residents' concerns about escalating youth violence and gang involvement across Westminster, and the north-west of the borough has seen a particular rise in incidents over the past three years.

"My door is always open for residents to share their concerns and ideas around the issue of gangs, but I hope that this dedicated week will help us to be even more available and receptive to local people's views."

Westminster gangs and youth violence worker David Savizon said: "I'm also looking forward to hearing the feedback, which will be invaluable in shaping our gangs work in the future."

Friday, 18 May 2012

Do you wanna be in my gang?

The Times Educational Supplement
May 18, 2012

Irena Barker

Youth violence is hyped by the media, but it's a very real issue in some schools. Irena Barker explores the solutions.

Students start turning up at school wearing matching purple shoelaces. Graffiti tags begin to appear on walls around the site. Unsavoury characters on BMXs start lurking around the school gates when the bell goes. Rumours abound that the school has a "gang problem".

All these worrying signs could prompt sleepless nights among headteachers: the stigma of being seen as a "gang school" could set the rolls falling and send the good teachers fleeing. Visions of a downward spiral ending in Ofsted failure and eventual closure haunt school leaders' nightmares.

But just how much do schools need to worry about gangs? Are they really penetrating the nation's schools? Are graffiti tags and playground brawls symptoms of an alarming problem - or just part and parcel of school life?

And if a school does identify a problem - either within its own walls or affecting pupils in the local community - what can it do? Are metal detectors and embedded policemen the right approach, or is it better to get children involved in thought-provoking drama workshops? Is it enough to stagger school closing times to protect children from the postcode wars on their way home?

More importantly, what can the school do to prevent young people from falling into gang membership in the first place?

Quantifying the problem

Various pieces of research have tried to quantify the problem of gang culture in schools, but few have come up with convincing evidence that it is widespread. Ofsted's Managing Challenging Behaviour report from 2005 found that gang culture was "perceived to be a problem in one in five secondary schools", but added that "few schools had evidence of it".

One in five of the 11,000 teenagers in the Safer London Youth Survey carried out in 2005 said that they would call the group of friends they hang around with "a gang" but less than 4 per cent were in a gang that had a name and a designated territory.

And academics who have studied gang culture at close quarters claim that much of the panic over perceived increases in gang culture in schools is overblown. Many gangs, they say, are friendship groups far removed from the organised criminal fraternities at the heart of the drugs trade.

Simon Hallsworth, gang expert and professor of social research at London Metropolitan University, says that youth gangs have become "a folk devil par excellence", being blamed for everything from last August's riots to school failure and dangerous dogs.

"Group violence is not a new problem in schools, it is part of our perennial history. There's always going to be a bunch of hard kids there saying, 'You're gonna get your head kicked in'," he says.

Government drives to tackle gangs are largely centred around London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool; Nottingham is also recognised as having a problem. However, the rest of the country appears to be reasonably free from serious gang culture.

However, educators working in the heart of notorious gang areas are not as keen to downplay the problem. They have seen too many alienated young people failing to engage with school and being lured into the gangster life.

"People who say gang culture is not as bad as they say it is should come down to Hackney for the day," says Anna Cain, chief executive of the Boxing Academy, which works with pupils at risk of exclusion in the London boroughs of Haringey and Hackney.

Richard Brown, headteacher of the Urswick School in central Hackney, says that gang culture adversely affects the lives of many of his pupils outside the school gates.

Concerns over violence and intimidation mean that the school hosts its prom night on a Thames river boat, far from the local neighbourhood, for fear of gatecrashers and problems with security.

"It's a pretty sad thing that we can't host what is in effect a school disco," he says. "This school is a happy learning environment, a safe haven, but I won't pretend there are no problems for the kids once they leave the site."

The school uses weapon detection wands to search pupils when necessary and employs a "walkabout team" of support staff to ensure security at key times of day.

The role of schools

So, the problem certainly exists, and for some schools it is a daily challenge - even though the headlines can be exaggerated at times.

The current trend is to look to schools to solve many of the problems that teachers know are bound up in a complex web of social issues they cannot tackle on their own.

The final report of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, which investigated the possible causes of the 2011 riots, called on schools to play a key role in preventing youth violence.

Published in March, After the Riots says that schools are failing to improve the "resilience" of their charges sufficiently, and suggests that schools "should assume responsibility for helping children build character" and introduce a "character test" in order to "help them realise their potential and to prevent them making poor decisions". How welcome such an initiative would be on the ground is uncertain.

The report also highlights the fact that many parents believe schools are not doing enough to tackle truancy - a key factor in young people becoming involved in gang activity. But schools are already inspected on attendance, and many will feel that there is not a great deal more they can do with the resources they have available.

So, amid all the headlines, the rhetoric and the blame, what can every school realistically do to broach the issue of group violence inside and outside school, whether it has already identified a risk or not?

Graham Robb, a former headteacher who now serves on the Youth Justice Board and leads the advisory group on education on the government's new Ending Gang and Youth Violence team, which emerged from a report on the subject last year, outlines a simple list of things every school can consider.

"First, you need to send a very strong message to all pupils that most children aren't in gangs, aren't carrying guns and aren't committing crime. It is important to establish positive social norms," he says.

Schools should also be wary of the offers they get from training and drama organisations to carry out anti-gang work. A whole industry has sprung up with consultants offering quick-fix interventions - often imported from the US - that may not have proved their worth. "Schools need to ask what the evidence base is for the work," Robb says.

He stresses that "shock tactics", such as schemes to take young people on tours of prisons, in the hope that it scares them off crime, have been shown to be ineffective. "Pupils need to engage with moral dilemmas, questions of values," he says, adding that all programmes need very careful preparation and follow-up work.

Schools do not exist as islands, and Robb stresses that they must keep on top of changes to the structures of other local agencies working with young people, as well as initiatives such as the new Troubled Families teams.

He points out that school site security should also be a concern: "Heads need to consider how a site would be managed by the police and school staff if there was a critical incident," he says.

School staff should also make themselves familiar with any court orders their pupils are subject to and the conditions of those orders. "Schools play a huge role in preventing reoffending," he says.

Forming links with local community, ethnic and faith groups is also essential for building the trust of parents, he adds.

Robb also recommends the use of confidential reporting systems such as Sharp - the School Help Advice Reporting Page (

Striking a balance

Once these things have been considered, a school has to decide what balance to strike between preventative, educational and enforcement approaches.

Clearly, a school with no identified gang problem is not going to install a metal detection archway, but it may wish to invite a drama troupe to provoke discussion among its students about responsible decision- making.

A 2009 report by the NASUWT teaching union, Gangs and Schools, highlights that enforcement techniques such as weapons searches can be used effectively. But it warns that schools need "to consider carefully their response to avoid placing those who carry weapons through fear at greater risk of exclusion and therefore involvement in gangs".

Hallsworth of London Metropolitan University has written about securitised school sites turning children into a "potentially criminal population" before any crime has been committed. Other leading researchers have also warned against excessive use of enforcement-led approaches.

Dr Jenny Parkes, senior lecturer in education, gender and international development at the University of London's Institute of Education, has interviewed young people living in troubled neighbourhoods about their attitudes to violence and gangs as part of the 2008-11 study Negotiating Danger, Risk and Safety: An Exploration with Young People in an Urban Neighbourhood.

"Gang culture spills into schools even with strong discipline systems," she says. "It's important for schools to look beyond zero tolerance."

In Merseyside - an area where gang problems hit the headlines in 2007 with the accidental shooting of 11-year-old Rhys Jones in Croxteth - police believe that they have helped schools to strike a balance.

The force has 34 schools officers stationed full- or part-time in 60 secondary schools under the Safer School Partnerships programme, which it has been running for the past eight years.

"Embedded" officers carry out a variety of tasks, from tracking down truants to delivering PSHE lessons on citizenship, responsibility and safety. They use everything from DVDs to restorative justice sessions to deliver key messages to students. But officers will also deal with flashpoints and incidents on site.

Inspector Colin Lewis, from the force's youth engagement unit, says that there is no longer any stigma attached to a school that has an officer on site, as there was in the early days. "Every school we work with describes their officers as invaluable," he says. "The only complaint I have now is: 'Why can't I have one?'"

Merseyside Police has also been proactive in its use of drama to reach pupils at schools in at-risk areas. In 2008, it commissioned a play, Terriers, and a supporting 10-week educational resource mapped against the key stage 3 English curriculum showing the consequences of becoming involved in gang culture.

Pupils are encouraged to explore moral dilemmas through creative writing, storyboards and monologues. Another version has been developed for use in primary schools, as the imperative to target children early increases. The Metropolitan Police has shown a strong interest in the project, bringing it to five gang-affected schools in London in March. And European funding could take the play as far afield as Marseilles in France, Gdansk in Poland and Cologne in Germany.

"Previously, police officers went into assemblies and told children not to get involved in guns and gangs, but this allows the young people to go on a journey and really think about the issues," says Detective Inspector Alison Foulkes, from the Matrix gun, gang and organised crime team at Merseyside Police.

Just listening

But there may be even simpler methods to reach students at risk of falling into gang culture and crime. Experts on the front line say that many young people simply need to be listened to and have a key "parent figure" or mentor to nudge them on to the right track.

At the Boxing Academy, students at risk of dropping out are put in classes of just six, with a boxer as a mentor. "The main aim is to build a relationship with the young people. Then we get to work on their literacy and numeracy," says Cain.

But the key to the school's success is relatively simple: "We get massively involved with their lives, whether they like it or not," she says. Staff even go out to drag pupils into school if they fail to attend. "We turn up at their door and they are gobsmacked," she says.


- Leap: a social enterprise offering training and resources on conflict resolution. Its Working with Gangs and Young People course explores safety, territory, status, reputation and revenge.

- XLP: a faith-based urban youth work charity, which works with more than 60 London schools to help children make the right choices and avoid gangs and crime.

- Chance UK: an early-intervention mentoring programme for 5- to 11-year- olds with behavioural difficulties.

- NASUWT Gangs and Schools Toolkit: information from the teaching union on tackling all aspects of gangs and schools. oolkit

- The Home Office's November 2011 report Ending Gang and Youth Violence provides case studies and examples of best practice in schools.


Many of the experts we spoke to agree that drama and role play can be vital in helping young people to think and talk about their feelings in relation to gangs and street violence.

And while the NASUWT teaching union warns that schools should be wary of the quality of the organisations offering programmes, there are good ones available.

The publicity for Bare Drama, a play exploring gang culture and prevention produced by Birmingham's Women and Theatre, says: "Young people can be sensitive to hectoring on 'issues' and are often resistant to work on subjects that are sensitive or exposing.

"Theatre provides a forum for them to explore complex situations."

Women and Theatre's projects coordinator Pippa Frith adds: "You can have discussions about issues very close to home through the creation of fictional characters. Pupils can project their own emotions on to characters without admitting they are having those feelings. It opens a dialogue and gives them a voice."

But she recognises the limitations of theatre: "Drama is never going to do everything on its own, there needs to be a lot of activities around training and education as well," she says.

Let's not lose our heads over gang culture

The Times Educational Supplement
May 18, 2012
Michael Shaw

Gangs and schools do have some things in common. Both can force young people to participate. Both can insist on specific dress codes. Both were wrongly blamed for last summer's riots.

The negative impact that schools can have on young people's behaviour has been wildly exaggerated by the press and certain politicians. So, too, has the impact of gangs.

In many cases, what can look to an adult like a gang - and even be referred to by a pupil as a gang - is simply a small bunch of mates. Not a criminal enterprise and not exactly the Bloods and the Crips, or even the Sharks and the Jets.

So, if gangs are overhyped, why is TESpro running a special feature about them? Won't that add to the problem?

Actually, the aim of today's report is partly to try to dispel some of the exaggerations about youth gangs in the UK. But it is also to recognise that, for a certain minority of schools, they pose a genuine threat. Those schools are often the only safe havens in their pupils' lives, and they need every possible support.

One popular assembly option in tough areas is to bring in a reformed gang member to tell their gripping tale about how life on the streets turned nasty, and how they later found redemption.

But such interventions can backfire by normalising or even - unintentionally - glamorising such behaviour. Similarly, heavy-handed tactics such as introducing metal detectors and searches for knives and guns sends out a message to students that they are presumed to carry weapons and that such things must be part of their daily lives.

Former headteacher Graham Robb is right when he says that the first priority must be for schools to establish positive social norms. "You need to send a very strong message to all pupils that most children aren't in gangs, aren't carrying guns and aren't committing crime," he says.

That message does not just need to be heard by pupils. It is a message that many parents, journalists and politicians - and even a few teachers - need to be reminded of, too.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro @mrmichaelshaw.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Mother of knife victim Milad Golmakani says she wants to 'hug and kiss my son’s killers, to say someone loves them’

Camden New Journal 
Published: 17 May, 2012

Fatemah Golmakani with son Milad, who was killed last year in an attack on a sports pitch

Above, from left, killers Mohammed Hashi, Sean Ferdinand and Sean ‘Jack’ Hutton. 

 A young Milad pictured with his mother with the pigeons in Trafalgar Square

THE mother of a young man stab­bed to death by a gang plans to sell her diamond earrings and give the money to her son’s killers.

Fatemah Golmakani, 56, said she wants to open a charity, The Milad Trust, in her son’s memory, and to “open his killers’ eyes about the world” when they come out of prison by taking them “on trips to Europe, to eat good food, wear nice clothes, show them what life is really about”.

Ms Golmakani, who lives in Swiss Cottage with Milad’s two brothers and sister, said she plans to visit the killers in prison and “hug them and kiss them and hold their hands, and tell them that someone loves them”.

She told the New Journal that she had reflected on the case after her son’s killers were jailed earlier this month and in the light of the reaction to her first interview in this paper.

Milad died after being stabbed on a sports pitch in West Hampstead in April last year, an Old Bailey trial heard.

The court heard of tensions between two groups of youths and how Milad’s killers had travelled together in a minicab from Gospel Oak in a special mission to carry out the deadly attack.

Ms Golmakani, who came to London from Iran 18 years ago, said she would be selling diamond earrings given to her by her great-great-grandmother, a crystal chandelier that has been in the family for more than 200 years, a 25-year-old crystal chandelier and a watch belonging to her grandmother that Milad “was obsessed with playing with when he was a little boy”.

She said: “What these men didn’t realise was that when they murdered my son, all their hopes and dreams were buried in Milad’s grave with him.

"Because they can’t just go and visit their girlfriends while they’re in prison, they can’t go to a party, see their friends, play games.

"All that went away when they killed my son.

"So really when we buried Milad we buried these murderers too.

“Milad sleeps in peace, but there are four human wishes lying there with him. They weren’t born murderers.

"I have been thinking a lot, and I can’t bring my son back, but I do want to unmask the killers.

"I want to take the mask that makes their faces look like murderers and lift it up and say: ‘No, look, that’s not really you, you have this other face underneath.’

"That way maybe if they are out on the streets eventually, they won’t hurt another mother like this.”

Ms Golmakani, who suffered a suspected heart attack in court while hearing graphic details of how her son was murdered, said she had been through a difficult year in which anger had turned to sadness and now, finally, to forgiveness.

“I used to think it was an eye for an eye, but now I realise that makes the whole world blind,” she said.

“I want to replace their knives and guns with flowers. I want to bring their humanity back even if my son’s gone.

"They have killed themselves with their hands, and all I want to say to them in prison is: ‘Young boy, I am so sorry for you, look what you have done to us all.’

"If I slap them in the face they will want to slap me back, but why would I want to do that?”

The four defendants in the case were 19-year-olds Sean “Jack” Hutton, of Kentish Town, Sean Ferdinand, from Chalk Farm, Mohammed Hashi, from Enfield, and 17-year-old Lij McSween, from Maitland Park.

All were defended by leading criminal legal teams, and they strenuously denied any participation.

McSween, described in court as “a youth with attitude”, is serving a minimum 19 years, while the other three were jailed for 22 years.

Ms Golmakani said: “I have thought that these boys... were the boys who had no presents as children, they are the boys who have no money for the bus so they try and get on without the driver seeing, they’re the boys who everyone gave up on in school and now they sell drugs for how much? Under £200 a week maybe?

“Then they went home and had problems there. All they know is the estate and the street.

"What do I want to slap their faces for? It’s what they’ve had their whole lives and that’s why they slap back, and they kill.

"Maybe if I hug or kiss, it will wake them up? How else do you make a noise that the humans inside the murderers will hear, and finally come out?”

Ms Golmakani says her material belongings no longer matter to her, but “doing what I can after Milad’s death makes my heart feel comfortable once more”.

She says money raised for the charity will enable her to run a safe space in Camden Town, which will support pupils who fall behind in school, providing internet facilities and careers advisors to help them get jobs.

“It will campaign for businesses in Camden to employ young people in the borough, or at least give them work experience so they know they are able to fit into a work environment,” she said.

“I’ll make links with those businesses.

“I want to have speakers give inspirational talks to people who have come from poor backgrounds but who have made something of their lives.

"There are many people like that, and these children must see that.

"They need to be inspired by strength, and see themselves as heroes not villains, by seeing and meeting other heroes, not other villains.

“You see so many children in Camden Town sitting outside the pubs, on the street, in big groups just drinking, selling drugs.

"I can’t see it anymore because now I know if that culture wasn’t there Milad would be here.”

Milad, who himself had a street nickname and was known as “Dirty”, died from 14 stab wounds.

A younger friend survived the ambush.

Milad’s mother added: “If they all had jobs, Milad would have been at work, not playing games.

"Those boys would have been at work, and then by the time they were back their minds and bodies would be too tired to kill.

“This charity will be a present to the killers.

"It will say to them: ‘Hey, you’ve ruined your lives, and mine and my sons’, but if nothing else here’s this to help others like you, and to help you.

“I don’t want to look down on them.

"I want to help them look for jobs, and I want to make dinner for them like their own mothers should have done.

"Maybe then they’ll go back home and teach their own parents what they should have been taught years ago.”
'Racism still there beneath the smiles'

FATEMAH Golmakani said the reaction to her son’s death and coverage in the press had made her worry about the level of racism in London, writes Pavan Amara.

She said she was upset by website comments left alongside newspaper coverage of the case.

She said: “It seems if you don’t have blonde hair and blue eyes, it is okay to hate you, even if you have just lost your son.”

The comments related to Ms Golmakani being an immigrant to the UK, and to her Iranian ethnicity.

“It is sick, it shows the sickness in the minds of some people in this country,” she said.

“Do some people think if you have white skin you hurt for your son more? I pay tax in this country and I have a British passport, but I’m still not equal.

“Do people really think I don’t cry when I read those comments, or hurt for my son every night? Can I not talk about my son from the heart without being a target because of my race?

“People say racism’s fading. It’s not. Beneath the smiles it’s still there. It’s not fashionable, so they hide behind their keyboards, and they think it rather than say it openly.

“Even in most newspapers they will show it as black-on-black crime, or young boys from minorities killing each other.

"They’re not human beings to them. The same doesn’t happen when it’s white boys doing the killing and being killed.”

She added: “The police and victim support have on the whole been excellent, but would it have been easier for me to get through this if I was English?

“I think yes, without a doubt.

“Firstly, people would have seen me as a mother who had lost her son, and not as a woman with brown skin and black hair.”

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Gangs aren't the problem, gang violence is

Gangs aren't the problem, gang violence is

By Karyn McCluskey

Being in a gang isn't something you choose. It just sort of happens.

Most of the young people involved in our gangs project, CIRV – the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence probably wouldn't say they were in a gang. To them, they're just hanging around with friends, their brothers, an older cousin. They don't think of themselves as a gang.

And gangs aren't necessarily a bad thing: gangs are groups of people coming together for a common purpose. So by that token, politicians are a gang, journalists are a gang, the police are a gang. It's what the gang does when it comes together that is the issue. No-one would mind if groups of young men gathered on street corners to play chess or basketball. But when the common purpose is violence, then that cannot be tolerated.

Much has been written about gangs and how to tackle them, to "bust" or "break" them. But for many youngsters gangs can be a positive thing, offering the kind of support, encouragement and approval they don't get at home. That can be very important, and we don't want to destroy that support network. We just want them to stop being violent.

In order to tackle the problem of violent street gangs, we therefore decided to use a strategy that uses the gang dynamic in a positive way rather than one that seeks to destroy it.

Drawing on a model developed by Dr David Kennedy and used in Boston, Cincinnati and several other US cities, we developed a programme that worked by treating the gang as a unit rather than as individuals - using the gang themselves to address their own behaviour.

The issue then was how to get others on board: there are many different agencies working at the many different stages of dealing with youngsters who are involved in gangs, but with each working more or less in isolation from each other, the territorialism between services was often just as much of an issue as it was with the gangs themselves. However, although lengthy negotiations were required to resolve this problem, what was always clear, right from the start, was the commitment of all involved in tackling gang violence.

Working with such a wide range of partners – education, social services, housing, police, community groups – also had significant benefits. Primary among these was the sheer volume of knowledge about gangs, which enabled us to tailor the programme to suit not just the Glasgow context but the particular nature of gangs in the east end and north side of the city: geographically, these areas are very close, but even here the nature and makeup of gangs differs, with older gang members and the element of organised crime being more prevalent in the north than the east.

Following intelligence gathering, to which all partners contribute, those considered suitable for the programme are identified and approached by CIRV street level workers with the offer of help to find an alternative to a violent gang lifestyle. They are then invited to voluntarily attend a self-referral session, which is held at the Sheriffs' Court.

The session is essentially a piece of theatre: groups of different gangs are brought in to attend a carefully scripted meeting where they are addressed by a senior police officer, an A&E consultant, members of their community and the parent of a victim, among others. The senior officer assures the gang members that they will all leave after the meeting, but that if any of them – including members not present – commits a violent crime, they will pursue the whole group, not just the individual. This has the effect of pushing gangs to police their own behaviour – after all, no-one wants to hang out with someone who is going to get them into trouble. The A&E consultant talks about the problems of trying to patch up victims and offenders and former gang members warn youngsters not to follow in their footsteps.

But most effective of all, perhaps, is the testimony of a mother who has lost her son to gang violence. She sees in them boys who are treading the path her son trod, unaware or uncaring as to where it may lead. They see in her their own mother.

"What if it was her, standing here?" she asks them. "What if it was your mum?"

Often, there are tears, not just hers.

The session ends with gang members being given the phone number of a "one stop shop" where they are given help to access education, health services, careers advice, social services and diversion if they want to turn their lives around.

Not all gang members come to us via this route. Some will never attend a court session – indeed, for some, the simple idea of being in court is too much. Others will attend two or three self-referral sessions before they sign up. Some will come to us via word of mouth.

Once a gang member has signed up, their needs are assessed and they are putting on relevant programmes. These range from anger management and conflict resolution to employment skills such as CV writing and interview techniques all the way through to physical activities like football. The aim is to show them there is a life outside the gang, to influence them to change their behaviour. But behaviour change is not a straightforward process. Young men that have grown up in communities where gang violence has become part of the scenery, where grandfathers, fathers and sons have run in the same gang and where it is not uncommon to see three or four generations of unemployment, they will not change their behaviour overnight. It will take time. We fully expect some will "fall off the wagon". Those that do commit acts of violence while working with CIRV are disengaged from the group, although we do believe in second chances.

CIRV has now been running for just over two years. In July this year, we published our final report on the project. From the outset, we always said that if the project, scheduled to run for an initial two year period, was successful, it would become part of every day business. Our final analysis showed that among the 400 gang members who had signed up to the project, violent offending had been reduced by 46 per cent, rising to 73 per cent amongst those who undertook CIRV's most intensive programmes. The project has now been handed over to Strathclyde Police to become part of their day to day business.

Yet while these figures are testimony to the great work done by everyone involved with CIRV and to the commitment of young men who geuninely want to change their behaviour, gang violence hasn't stopped. It has been a problem for Glasgow for years and it won't go away overnight. We have made inroads into tackling it, but the key now is keeping up momentum. If we can look back in 10, 20 years and still see a reduction, then we will know this has worked.

Karyn McCluskey is co-director Violence Reduction Unit

This article is from the forthcoming edition of Public Service Review: Home Affairs