«Tara Young, Wendy Fitzgibbon and Daniel Silverstone London Metropolitan University CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 ...»
In addition to living with a mother who abused substances Chesney (16) was raped by a male relative and was disturbed by this event. When asked whether she’d received any official support she responded that outside of legal representation she did not get any. She went on to say, ‘I couldn’t deal with it but at the time I thought I could. I’ve had to deal with so much in the past... it’s just another stepping stone I had to get over.’ Trying to cope with the multiple stresses in her home, Chesney went to the youngsters on her estate whom she felt would understand and keep her safe. She describes herself as being ‘on road’ from aged ten. She identifies the start of her ‘road life’ as following the time when her relative raped her and said that she felt safe outside with her friends because she knew that they would protect her. As she illustrates below, ‘There was this one particular boy who knew what had happened, so every time my uncle would come and try to get me from them he wouldn’t allow it which made me feel more bonded with them... ‘cause you could see that they wouldn’t let nothing hurt me’.
Not all young people cited violence in home, neglect or abuse as a precursor to their being ‘on road’ or involved in gangs. Indeed, young people with no familial history of domestic violence or substance abuse ended up in gangs or ‘on road’. Even within the sample of young people who had these hardships there was an overwhelming reluctance to attribute any blame for their gang membership to their parents (see Section 4.8).
4.5 Do the families know about respondents’ involvement in gangs or being ‘on road’?
The young people were asked whether their parents or other family members knew about their involvement in gangs or their experiences ‘on road’. Ten participants said that a parent, specifically a mother, did know that they were in a gang or engaging in some form of antisocial or criminal activity. However, most were keen to stress the limitations of parental knowledge and to make a distinction between knowledge and parental collusion.
‘They know some of the stuff that I do, but not all of it.’ (Mark) The issue of parental knowledge was linked to that of control and supervision. Whilst acknowledging how well their parents managed them inside and outside the home, the respondents said that parental control dwindled as they matured and so did the amount of knowledge parents had about what they were doing and with whom. Mid-teen age (14–16) was identified, by almost all respondents, as the point at which parents began to lose influence over their children’s behaviour.
‘She could try and call me, but she knows that obviously – not that I won’t listen....
I’m older now, I’m not gonna really – you understand – be as on it as when I was younger.’ (Harvey) ‘That’s what I believed. I’m of age now. Sixteen, seventeen, I’m of age. Yeah, I would still go out and stay out, but they would still phone to make sure, wherever I am, to make sure that I’m safe.... I’m a man now, I’ll stand on my own two feet. Do what I have to do.... I’ll still listen to them, because obviously they’re my guardian innit, but when I go outside, that’s my time. When I’m inside, it’s their time.’ (Rhys, 14–17) This last quotation refers to the distinction young people made between home time and street time, and it was this splitting of the world into two that enabled a significant proportion of the young people interviewed skillfully to hide their involvement in gangs or criminal activity from their mothers.
Below, Bailey describes how, when he was ‘on road’, he had two identities, his home identity and his street identity, and how he strove to keep these separate.
‘So it’s like you’re two different people. You go outside, then you go back home –... I mean Mum – Mum doesn’t know who you are outside, she just knows who you are when you’re at home, innit?... Mum might not even know they call you that name.
She can hear people calling the name – some mums don’t even know that, just say Mark’s got a name and they call him ‘Bell’ outside, and Bell’s going on with all like he’s shooting people and everything. He might be your son, but you don’t know him as Bell. People have been telling you stories about this guy Bell and you’re saying, “Yeah, what a bad breed of a (pygmy) he is”, or whatever), and then you get to find out one day it’s your son.’ (Bailey, African Caribbean, male, 18–24) The participants took active steps to hide their behaviour and gang involvement from their mothers: sometimes this was to protect them from the disappointment of knowing that their child was involved in a gang or criminality, but at other times it was because they believed, as did an ex-drug dealer, that it was no longer their business.
‘No, I hid it well. I would just say, “I going out’ innit!” She don’t need to know what I’m doing when I’m out... she’d ask me where I’d got the clothes from, but I didn’t tell her.’ (Anthony, white, male 18–24) The frequency with which respondents spoke of falsifying the information given to their mum or taking steps to hide their behaviour from her seriously calls in to question how much knowledge parents (principally mothers) have about their child’s behaviour and
whereabouts. As one young female acknowledged:
‘My mum don’t know the truth. I can tell my mum, “Yeah, I doing this”, but I will be going something else’... If she actually knew what I was doing I wouldn’t be able to’ve done it!’ (Emily, white, female, 14–17) Consequently, it could be argued that the lack of information significantly hinders parents’ ability to supervise, control and advise their children.
4.5.1 Familial collusion?
As noted above, it is possible for family members (particularly mothers) to know nothing about gang membership or to have limited understanding of the extent to which their children are involved in gang or ‘on road’ activities. As one respondent notes, his family was ‘blinded by lies’. However, five respondents believed that their parents knew more than they expressed but ‘turned a blind eye’ to their behaviour until it drew attention to the family.
‘My parents just say to me “Don’t bring police back to my door!” That’s it, and then you’re good with your parents, that’s all, that’s the rule with parents in our area basically.’ (Joshua, African Caribbean, male, 14–17) ‘That’s what my mum used to say to me, “Don’t bring police back to my door”.’ (Clifton) Having the police ‘knock the door’ was unacceptable and the above quotations illustrate how enduring this cultural trait is. It indicated that the child had not been skilled enough to hide their dealings from the family, had exposed the family unit to the criminal justice system and overstepped boundaries of tolerance within the family. The presence of the police at the door also denied the family the chance of pleading ignorance about their child’s involvement in a gang or being ‘on road’.
Whilst some parents engaged in a subtle form of collusion, ‘turning a blind eye’, this did not always mean that they condoned their children’s behaviour or indeed that they were able to stop it. A great many young people, particularly those who were involved in the illegal drug economy, described how ‘knowing’ parents would argue with them about their involvement in a gang or ‘on road’, and would try to deter them from being involved. Few young people indicated that their parents were successful. One reason for this was the inability of parents to compete with the allure of the lifestyle of the gang or to offset the external pressures brought to bear on their children once they were out of the home. The following statements illustrate how difficult it was for parents to intervene.
‘I only remember one time she searched my room and found the money and said “What’s this?” and then all hell broke out … but I still didn’t stop. All it is, is I didn’t hide the money at home.’ (George) ‘I was in there, I was in that lifestyle and, at the time, it was too hard to just walk away.’ (Marvin) ‘She doesn’t want it in her house. She can’t stop you from doing it; she can’t lock you up forever. You have to do what you have to do as a boy child. All your friends and everybody else is active: they’re not working, they’re on road. They’re going out, they’re buying trainers, you can’t be always saying “I’ve gotta go to my mum, ask my mum or my dad to get me a pair of trainers”, you’ve got to learn to stand on your own two feet, so if that’s – if it has to be the way, then it has to be the way. I don’t wrong no-one for doing it; it’s how you’re doing it. You can do it and be discrete about it.
That’s what I believe.’ (Bailey) The last respondent recalled how his mother tried to stop him but noted that the pull of the street was too great to resist, particularly since his friends were involved and they were making money.
Lack of money and peer pressure meant that he was not going to stop dealing drugs. He felt bad about what he was doing to his mother and about the fact that his dad ‘was dead against it’ but their disapproval was not enough to stop him. Whilst his parents did not directly benefit from his involvement (by actively taking money or goods from him) he took pride in the fact that he was able to ‘pay for his keep’ and ‘look after his mum’ in the way that he wanted to.
4.6 What are the benefits and/or costs for the families of people involved in gangs or ‘on road’?
Two of the main questions arising in relation to gang membership are the extent to which families benefit, materially, from their children’s involvement in gangs and, given the levels of violence associated with gang groups and being ‘on road’, the extent to which family members are victimised. One key benefit recurring throughout the interviews was protection from victimisation. Perhaps one of the reasons why this was the main benefit cited was that the respondents repeatedly attempted to keep their involvement in gangs separate from their home life.
4.6.1 Protection from victimisation Having family members involved in gangs or ‘on road’ was thought to give protection, particularly if the family had a credible street reputation.
‘Where I felt that where we’ve already made our name in our estate and you’ve done whatever else, paved the way for them to have an easier ride. So when they did probably wanna just go to the park or wanna go to play football they could because they knew that no one ain’t gonna try and trouble them if they get seen.’ (Marvin) ‘On road, he was well known and no one would really touch him and I used to be proud of that because I used to think that no one would touch me because that’s my older brother.’ (Gayle) However, there is a disjunction between the myth and the reality. The protection afforded to a family member did not always appear to work for those who were gang-involved.
Gayle, like other respondents, was not protected from victimisation by her brother’s reputation as a well-known gang member: his status did little to protect her or to override her own gang status. At the time of interview, she had been attacked, shot at and stabbed by members of a group she used to know in her area. Talking about a ‘run in’ she had with a group of boys she describes as being known ‘for stabbings and things like that’, she notes
‘They don’t like me now but I don’t care. Once, they’ve seen me and grabbed me down and thrown me in the corner and went to beat me up. If they see me and they beat me up the most it will do is hurt me for a day and them I would be back to normal.’ (Gayle) Associating with a gang eroded any protection she thought she had because of her brother’s involvement in gangs or his reputation.
4.6.2 Families and victimisation Exposure to violence was commonplace for the interviewees and they had witnessed a whole gamut of interpersonal crimes ranging from street robbery to murder of a friend or relative. They had themselves been beaten up, robbed, stabbed, shot and/or sexually abused because of being involved in street gangs. As illustrated in other research, gang members are significantly more likely to be engaged in crime and violence than non-gang members. Some of our respondents had themselves engaged in serious interpersonal violence.
Research in the UK has shown family members to be targets of gang violence (Pitts, 2007;