The misconceptions about gangs

A very minute amount of young people are actually involved in gangs in England, however for some unknown reason they are now always the topic of substantial public and political concern. This attention has been prompted by reports of a rise in gang related violence, fear about links between gang activity and the 2011 riots and concern about the sexual exploitation of young women.

Gang membership is still a fairly rare occurrence among young people; with the percentage of gang membership to non gang membership still so vast in comparison; however that trend is on the rise among the age groups 12-16 years old. This has been encouraged by the media and its constant glamorising of gang members. Recent TV series like Top Boy and Postcodes fuelled the interest and excitement of gang affiliation even further.

Media tends only to focus on the glitz and rewards of gang association and not the reality and consequences. This I found very misleading, as the stark truth is gang life brings nothing but pain and uncertainty to all who participate in this chosen lifestyle. And I repeat this chosen lifestyle.

Today as we witness this upsurge in the level of gang association and membership and see families gripped by fear that the next headline of another gang related death or crime could in fact be one of their own loved ones. Yet the constant political interest does not focus its resources towards preventing gang membership, instead the focus and resources is on enforcement, there is a need for enforcement mind you, however not all groups of young people are gangs, yet this area is still very vague.

All groups of young people have members that have been involved in crime, but ascertaining whether or not their crimes were a result of, or motivated by, gang membership is almost impossible to know.

A majority of young people groups are less serious in nature with offending going little beyond fights with rival areas, minor crimes of theft or robbery and drug use, acts which are at some point in life have been carried out by many youths both in and out of gangs and not confined to working class or deprived areas. So the need to really define who is actually in a gang and what is a gang have never been greater. If this is not undertaken, all young groups of people will be seen as gangs and the full measures of the law will be applied against them, basically, turning naughty children in hardened criminals.

The main reason many less serious gangs, or groups of young people, get included in the gang lists of Police or local Authorities is because they may  have a shared identity, a group name and an attachment to a local area, namely a council estate and in most cases a similar group that they consider as a rival. Proving that these lesser groups, or any street gang for that matter, exist solely to participate in illegal activity is also near impossible, yet this is one of the key definers agreed upon by the so called ‘experts’.

Experts have unconsciously tarred everyone with the same brush, so lesser gangs and the most active violent gangs get the same attention and punishments, for some gang members, this is their way of life, to others this is a passing phase, just bowing to peer pressure, no violence, no robberies, no selling of drugs, just smoking cannabis, however the way authorities, schools, councils, police deal with them, is more punishment driven and not enough rehabilitation.

More importantly, the way the authorities view these naughty children is important, because these lesser groups should be considered less serious these groups may engage in fights with local rivals and may participate in other less-serious offending such as street robbery against local youths. However, crimes of extreme violence, use of real firearms and the control of serious organised criminality are not present.
These groups may include some individuals who participate in the drugs trade, as individuals rather than as a group, and others who participate in economic crimes such as street robbery or burglary.

The problem with gang lists/registers/matrix is that they never acknowledge the enormous variation in types of activity carried out by individuals belonging to the gangs. Some gangs, a minority, in London are involved in the importation and distribution of drugs, serious violence and murders. Yet many more are involved in localised area ‘battles’ and lower level thefts and robberies. Whilst others just smoke cannabis and drink alcohol causing low levels of anti-social behaviour.

The exercise of listing gangs is failed by a lacking consensus of what a gang is. If you were to ask many of the young men (and women) attached to these groups what they thought, they would often strongly deny or resist the gang label in attempts to remove the negative stereotyping that comes with the term gang.

Our aims are to improve the manner in which young people, in particular, those involved in or at risk of joining gangs, are perceived, defined and educated in the expectation that they will be provided with the correct range of care and support they need in order to go through the process of rehabilitation.