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Unsafe London…. street gangs and their own sense of justice

The United Kingdom is the country with the most criminal violence in Europe. Around five thousand teenagers use violence almost daily to establish respect and to instil fear.

Blades or blunt-edged weapons are utilised by young people between 10 and 24 for extorting city-dwellers. And they are not alone. They gather in groups according to their ideas and act according to their particular sense of justice.

They are the street gangs: ‘Groups of people that feel a close, or intimate relationship, whereby they tend to have a close friendship or interaction with common ideals or philosophy among the members.’

This generic description results in a diverse composition of the gangs. And also, creates difficultly cataloguing them, because urban tribes are on the fringes  (Mods, Punks, Rappers).

The Metropolitan Police of London estimate that there are 250 street gangs. They distinguish themselves with a type of uniform, (colours, headscarves, clothing, tattoos) one that is known by those who are wrapped up in the language.

According to the mentioned source, each group is formed of 20 to 30 members that are organised by a leader. Hence some 5,000 people are parte of one of these formations.

According to the website, the figure indicated by the MET (250 gangs) is inaccurate. In their opinion, they should add the 120 groups that remain inactive or have been dissolved since 1970.

In turn they indicate that they are some 380 less important formations that work cohesively with others of greater magnitude. In their opinion, there could be around 750 youth organisations predisposed to using of violence.

This enormous number of gangs force their members to share the same field of activity. The most saturated districts are Hackney and Tower Hamlet, where 25 large youth groups coexist. Enfield follows with 13; Lambeth and Merton 12 and Waltham Forest and Brent with 11 gangs each.

Among them, 90 gangs were involved in the rivalries that ended the life of a victim. The most active groups are Peckham, Brixton, New Cross or Brent. According to LondonStreetGangs, the neighbourhoods with the most criminal activity are: Lambeth (11), Hackney (10), Lewisham (8), Newham (8) and with 6 Brent, Haringey and Southwark.

Increase in violence

According to the figures registered by the police of England and Wales, they generated 43,748 hate crimes between 2011 and 2012. Of which, 82% (35,816) were racially motivated, 10% (4,252) sexually, and the remaining 4% being religiously motivated and because of hatred towards the disabled.

On the other hand, an analysis by the European Commission showed that in 2007 around 5.4 million crimes were registered (that’s more that 10 per minute). Only exceeded by Sweden.

In addition it had the largest number of killings in 2007 than any other country of the EU (927) and it sits in fifth position in terms of theft (164 for each 100,000 habitants).

The causes of this increase in aggression are unsure. Some associations place them on the evolution of the August 2011 disturbances while others explain it by the increase in immigration and the lack of employment opportunities for the disadvantaged.

For the Red Cross, this aggression “tends to coincide with a elevated level of poverty, strong discrimination, profound economic and social inequality, and the increase of the consumption and trafficking of narcotics.”

Many of these actions are attributed to the street gangs, an association of ideas that The Centre for Social Justice wants to avoid.

“In London just one of every five arrests is a member of a gang, and the real number is probably greater because many of the those involved still haven’t been captured”.

This wave of urban violence has increased at the same rate as the urban development shaping the marginal neighbourhoods and has created ethnic groups.

Its in this marginal environment where children are born with little access to school or “without any motivation to study’ they survive by making mischief.  For the Red Cross this contributes to very early ages of recruitment for gang members.

Both the Red Cross as well at the CSJ underline that kids that are born into poverty, those that suffer economic inequalities or social exclusion, are more inclined to enrol in street gangs that are consistent with their ideas.

Through illegal and non-political acts of violence against property, common citizens or members of other gangs satisfy the need to be part of something and the recognition that lies within them.

Other factors that rouse the spiral of violence are the class differences, mixed communities, xenophobia, marginalization, and among others, police brutality.

New tendencies

Closely related is ‘Happy slapping’, a gratuitous violence and one done for fun that originated in the south of London in 2005.

Since then its polularity has been increasing, both in aggression and in number of persons that approve of this type of actions, reproducing o distributing videos.

The youths attack a citizen whilst another films the scene with a mobile phone. Immediately afterwards they spread the video among their friends and on Youtube. The objective, to show their ‘exploits’ to the world.

Although the term makes reference to acts of less violence – slaps or clouts – it has produced a change and there has been serious sexual aggression, rape, and including killings.

For Example the case of Ekram Haque, 67 years old, who was attacked in August of 2009 in Tooting whilst he was leaving a mosque and died as a result a few days later.

These forms of physical and moral aggression have opened the debate on the prohibition of mobile devices in schools.

Micheal Wilshaw is in this line, Chief Inspector of Schools in England and president of Ofsted. As director of the Mossbourne academy in Hackney he banned the use of mobile phones for “their distracting effect” and because “they can be used for cyberbullying and access to online pornography”.

A wager for education

Education and schools play a fundamental role. Humanitarian organisations put their hopes and trust in schools for the eradication of violence, or at least its reduction.

The report from the CSJ, completed through interviews with community leaders and organisations that work with the problem of violence, indicates that ‘it is fundamental to improve the self respect of children between 5 and 11 in order to avoid this feeling becoming negative’.

It also criticises the work of prevention in families most disadvantaged “they have become forgotten”. From its point of view it should be ‘reactivated in order to eradicate the problem from the root’.

Initiatives like the SOS Gangs Project, created by St Giles Trust, shows that youths can get out of the situation. This group has helped over 300 youths leave their situation and start a new life in more favourable surroundings.

A glimmer of hope to make London a tranquil city, and so that it remains without violent altercations.

(Translated by Adam Brown- Email: )

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