«Tara Young, Wendy Fitzgibbon and Daniel Silverstone London Metropolitan University CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 ...»
Firmin, 2010) and exposure to violence is the cost family members have to pay for their relatives’ involvement. The majority of respondents here, however, stated that violence against relatives, such as mothers and sisters, was rare. A number of male participants explained that there was an unwritten rule that, for their group, non-involved family members are not harmed. This code is illustrated below.
‘People don’t really go for other people’s family.’ (Jorell) ‘Gang fights ‘at ah was involved wi’, ye wuds ne’er goon [never go] loch fur [look for] somebody’s coosin. Ye woods be fightin’ wi’ th’ fowk ’at fooght against ye, an’ that’s ’at! Ye wuds ne’er gan an’ fuck wi’ people’s mum’s an’ dads.’ (Alexander, white, male, 18–24) One interviewee, an ex-gang leader with over two decades of experience in a wellestablished street gang, referred to an incident where family members were directly
targeted but stated that this was ‘the only one in 25 years’. He clarifies:
‘Really and truly like there’s no risk to families, coz you know, the person that’s on the road really they’re responsible for their own actions... however, there are certain lines that you just don’t cross you know.’ (Clifton) None of the respondents referred to instances where non-involved members of their own family had been attacked. A couple had, however, heard of someone’s family home being ‘shot at’.
‘I know of at least four houses that have got shot at. These are the homes of mums of the guys [her gang friends], and other side has found out and done these things.’ (Sharna, African Caribbean, female, 18–24) The threat of violence against the family member is therefore real in some situations (irrespective of family reputation) for those with gang-involved relatives, and an enhanced risk of victimisation exists for those people with ‘pagans’ (these are ‘enemies’).
Having ‘pagans’ is potentially dangerous for family members of gang-involved individuals, particularly for those who have committed serious crimes against others or who have unsettled debts.
In keeping with the ‘codes of the street’ (Anderson, 1999) and the intrinsically violent and retaliatory nature of the street as described by him, some respondents illustrate the lengths to which some people ‘on road’ will go to avenge past infractions. According to a number of interviewees, if an individual has ‘pagans’ and they can’t avenge themselves on him or her directly then they may target family members.
‘If they can’t get you, and they know that they can’t get you they’re moving on to the next thing that’s closest to you, your family. If they hurt one of your family members that’s the only way without physically hurting you, that they can hurt you.’ (Joshua, African Caribbean, male, 14–17) The enduring worry and concern that having ‘pagans’ can cause is encapsulated in this
statement from William:
‘Sometimes... ah see somebody fa ah ken [that I knew] mebbe 10 years ago ’at ah hud a barnie wi’. I’ll see these fowk comin’ towards me... an’ ah can feel myself startin’ tae build inside; th’ heart’s poondin’, an’ ah teel myself, “Recht, [right] it’s okay” an’ ’en ah hink, “Recht, whit if they attack at me?” Yoo’ve got tae teel yerself, “No, jist donner [walk] hame, an’ jist nod yer head”.’ As real as the threat of violence against family members posed by ‘pagans’ and other groups may be, it is important to stipulate that the respondents deemed this type of violence to be relatively rare. Victimisation by police was cited as a more common occurrence. A number of African Caribbean participants, particularly those from the West Midlands, complained about consistent harassment by the police. As a group the respondents recalled multiple stop-and-search situations and police house raids. It was the perception of many respondents that the police were a racist organisation that stigmatised and stereotyped black youngsters. A common complaint from ex-gang members and those who had ‘come off the road’ (ie were no longer dealing drugs or with the gang) was that the police did not recognise their change of behaviour and continued to stop them at any given opportunity.
‘There was one officer, he used to just, anytime he used to see me he used to stop me. All the time, like. I was legit, I had a driving licence, insurance, MOT, everything, but he’d always stop us. Just like trying his hardest to try and catch us with anything but at that time I wasn’t dealing no drugs or nothing.’ (Jorell) 4.6.3 Disappointment and regret Another cost to the family perceived by respondents was disappointment. A significant minority (six) of ex-gangsters and roadsters regretted the pain, worry and confusion that
they had caused to their family as a result of being involved. As Alexander notes:
‘I hink ah was selfish an aw when ah hink back. Sae fur me, ah don’t hink it hurts as much as whit it did fur mah ma an’ mah aunties.’ (Alexander)
4.7 What were the main reasons for leaving the gang or coming ‘off road’?
In this study, getting out and staying out of the gang and coming ‘off road’ was seen by some respondents as a challenging experience. When asked what motivated them to disassociate from their group or come ‘off road’ a number of reasons were cited and these mirrored some of those cited in the literature. The most common themes were incarceration, growing up and out of the gang, becoming a father, and over-exposure to violence and criminality.
Fourteen participants had been to prison because of their involvement ‘on road’ or with gangs. Many more had witnessed the incarceration of peers and family members, some for long-term sentences spanning decades. Serving a jail sentence prompted at least three young people to reassess their gang lifestyle. Bradley describes his jail time as a ‘leveller’
that taught him the value of his life:
‘Jail’s change me a lot, for the better. Some people it changes them for the worst....
You kinda realise in jail [that] you’re down on the floor innit. You’ve got nuffin.... It’s kinda a reality check.’ Similarly, two other respondents, both of whom had been sentenced to serve a long time in prison, realised the futility of gang life and on release began the process of turning their lives around.
4.7.2 Exposure to gang life, violence and criminality As stated above, many respondents had perpetrated violence against another person, witnessed many violent incidents or had been victims of violence. By far, this latter factor was the most influential for this cohort.
The fear and threat of violence was a constant reality for most gang-involved individuals.
The continual ‘having to look over your shoulder’, having constantly to be out on the beat, having to answer the phone to secure a drug deal, having to sleep ‘with one eye open’ and live in a heightened state of anxiety eventually took its toll on respondents.
It was the ‘drip, drip’ of violence that eventually caused Gayle to extract herself from the group to which she was affiliated. Echoing the experience of Gayle, Judith told of how, after being exposed to the hyper-violent and exploitative nature of gang life, she realised the futility of being involved in a notorious street gang.
‘My experience of road life was nothing but hell in the sense that whilst it appeared loving, protecting, cool and the “in thing to do”, actually it was nothing but misery.
Having to be ….constantly paranoid about your own safety … and nothing but torture and hell.’ (Judith, Asian, female, 25+) Similarly, ex-gang member Nick, after years of running about with a group involved in serious interpersonal violence, quit shortly after witnessing his friend’s arrest for suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm to another person. Nick’s decision to extract himself from the group brought about its demise.
‘The change came when one of my friends was arrested for stabbing someone. I thought it was time to turn my life around. I started to see things on a different level.
Everyone went their separate ways.’ (Nick, Asian, male, 25+) 4.7.3 Growing up and out Four respondents described gang life or ‘being on road’ as losing its significance as they grew up. They talked about being ‘bored’ and ‘disillusioned’ with life ‘on road’ and the realisation that being ‘on road’ was counterproductive.
‘A lot of people that are involved in this situation... they all want out, they all don’t wanna be involved in it, they all wanna have a nice family, kids, woman working nine till five, they wanna have that, but erm, they ain’t gonna say it to you. [They will say] “What am I working nine till five for £250?” Everyone wants a normal lifestyle, they wanna – they don’t wanna look over their back.’ (Marvin) A number of factors can be identified as being correlated with this growing out process.
What brought these factors together was an opportunity to change. For Anthony, it was the prospect of a new job; for Christopher finding a girlfriend was instrumental to his leaving his
group. Here he notes her distracting influence on him and his behaviour:
‘Gettin’ myself a bird an’ jist bein’ wi’ ’er, it’s jist stopped me thinkin’ aboot th’ streets.’ (Christopher) Similarly, at 16/17 when Scott had ‘had enough’ he was doing well at college and took the opportunity to concentrate on his academic future rather than being in a gang or ‘on road’.
Like Christopher, Kenneth and Alexander thought, after a few years of fighting and drug dealing, ‘What’s the point?’ and went to find a job.
‘Drug dealing and fighting are a young person’s game. The longer you are on road the less respect you are given unless you are ‘seriously flossing’.20... [There is a] realisation that you’re getting too old for the game.’ (Alexander) One of the motivations for being involved ‘on road’ was the promise of making money, but as the interviews have demonstrated this could come at a high price. It was the stress of gang activity and the lack of long-term benefits that caused this street-based drug dealer to
‘Nice life, getting away on holidays. Whatever! Nice cars, nice clothes. Girls come with it. Raving, going on. Everything, really. But there comes a time when you just say “It’s got to stop sooner or later”. The older you get, you can’t continue to do it.’ (George).
4.7.4 Becoming a parent Part of the growing up process for some respondents involved becoming a parent and assuming responsibility for their own children. Becoming a father, wanting to be instrumental in their children’s life and not having them grow up with a feckless, absent or dead father was a pivotal theme in the lives of both Jorell and Fraser who, given the chance to put things right for their children, decided to leave their previous lives behind.
‘I pure techt [mean], Ah jist want tae be a braw da an’ mah dochter [ I just want to be a decent dad to my daughter] an’ ’at. Ah don’t want tae expose ’er tae th’ mince [stuff] I’ve seen gonnae oan.’ (Fraser) ‘Well, for me personally it’s like, I’ve got, I had kids from when I was young so my kids now they’ve got bigger and like I’m with them most of the time, I couldn’t take the risk of like either going back to jail or ending up dead because I just wanted them to see me.’ (Jorell) ‘Flossing’ is similar to the term ‘blinging’ and it means that an individual is able to demonstrate to others that they are materially successful.
4.7.5 What influence does the wider family have?
One important finding was that, on the whole, it was the respondent’s perception that parents had little power to stop young people from being involved in street-based groups.
Similarly, according to the majority of respondents, despite being warned off, pleaded with, chastised, over-supervised and coerced by parents, parental techniques of persuasion had little influence over their decisions to leave. Quitting was a decision that the gang-involved individual said they had to make for themselves.
Despite the bleak outlook, some parents were influential in attempting to steer their children away from trouble and gang life. Callum explains how his mother, aware of the trouble he was in and knowing her son’s limitations, took steps to help him out.