«Tara Young, Wendy Fitzgibbon and Daniel Silverstone London Metropolitan University CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 ...»
You just want to go out now, and you just want to enjoy, you just want to mingle with friends, whatever they’re into, you’re just gonna get into it.’ (Brother of gang member and ex- gang member) However, these developments could represent a trying time for mothers, as encapsulated in the quotation below. Mothers struggled both physically and emotionally to set boundaries for their children (especially adolescent male children), particularly in the absence of a
‘We had a bit of an argument the night I heard he got slashed, he got suspended that day from school. He went-“I take it I’m grounded the night”, I went – “Yes”. Oh my god all hell broke loose in this house, he set about his room, wrecked his Xbox.’ (Mother of a gang member) Secondly, in addition to gang members, all the families also contained individuals who were in employment and were not currently involved in criminality. There are several examples of families with parents and siblings in employment where only one child/sibling was involved in serious criminality.
Although the majority of families suffered from multiple issues (such as bereavements and post-traumatic stress disorder), in only one case could the family be characterised as significantly criminal. In this instance both parents were heroin addicts, one of the three siblings was in prison and a second sibling was being sanctioned by the criminal justice system. A more typical example would be a family where the mother worked intermittently, a brother might drift in and out of less serious criminality and a sister might be studying or working.
Thirdly, there is a generational gap. The older generation, represented by mothers in particular, hark back to a time where parents had more control over their children and could use physical chastisement, such as smacking and beatings, more freely.
For the younger generation, in contrast, there seems to be a process of normalisation taking place in regard to participation in ‘road culture’ or ‘gang life’. Normalisation is a concept taken up and developed by pioneering British academics to describe the burgeoning recreational drug scene in the late 1990s (Parker et al, 1998). In this context it was deployed to show how drug-taking had moved from the margins towards the centre of youth culture ‘where it joins many other accommodated “deviant” activities, such as excessive drinking, casual sexual encounters and daily cigarette smoking’ (Parker et al, 1998:152).
Parker et al argued that normalisation does not have to be concerned with ‘absolutes’ but just the extent to which drug use is regarded as usual or commonplace amongst both users and non-users. In the context of the present study it seems that for these family members, a young person being ‘on road’ or ‘exploring street life’, both of which could include membership of a gang, is an accepted deviant activity in the areas in which these respondents live. The majority of young men and women do not participate in gangs but those who don’t nevertheless acknowledge and accept others who do without making moral judgments or proposing significant alternatives to what is taking place. Instead, those who are involved and those who are not, and others who desist having had some brief involvement, acknowledge that socially there is a shared legitimate aspiration for symbolic material goods and this is one possible, albeit potentially risky, way of attaining those goods. This mirrors attitudes to drug taking and low-level drug dealing found in other studies (Parker et al, 1998; Measham, 2004; Sanders, 2005).
This attitude, however, was not found in the Scottish sample, where the group criminality has some significantly different aspects. Here territoriality was more significant, although a number of respondents said that even where group territoriality was well established the younger people were uncomfortable with the violence that accompanied it. As active gang members expressed in the earlier section, in Scotland the group offending in which respondents were involved revolved around drinking, fighting and knife crime, and less around generating income from the criminal economy. Only one respondent mentioned the drug business, and the criminality articulated seemed to be more violent and ultimately selfdestructive than revenue generating.
The final theme is the importance of gender. This has two dimensions: first, if there is any acknowledgement that the family dynamic has some influence in family involvement with ‘gangs’, the culprit is the lack of an effective father figure.
‘My dad is there when he wants to be. He hasn’t really supported my mum. We have seen her struggle. If my dad was there, then maybe he would have chosen a different path, he would have had support.’ (Sister of gang member) These sentiments were also voiced by several mothers who pointed to problems caused by the absence of the child’s father. This was expressed by several mothers who described adolescent sons smashing up their homes, both in England and Scotland.
‘Cos he put my window in one time, and I did phone the police, cos that time I didn’t know what to do and I thought I’m going to have to phone them for housing to fix this.’ (Mother of gang member) ‘Ah he was punching holes in his own doors and everything. Really bad. Getting dead, dead angry he was on curfew.’ (Mother of gang member) Although road life is normalised throughout the sample, from the sample of families here it was only the young men who entered gang life. Despite some counter-evidence, the finding that gang membership in the UK is overwhelmingly still a male preserve is consistent with current research (Young, 2009, 2011). Indeed, there were a number of examples of older sisters playing very supportive roles in tackling their brother’s violence and criminality.
5.1 Family characteristics 5.1.1 Socio-economic background The families in the sample all lived in socially deprived areas, often in the most disadvantaged wards of their respective boroughs. The family members’ lack of education and employment, whilst not uniform, is consistent with that found in other research (Hagedorn, 1998; Vigil, 1996; Hallsworth and Young, 2010). However, it is also worth noting that several respondents were well educated and had been, or were currently in, employment. For example, the sample includes Family A, with four children and a mother not working, and Family B, with both parents present and working and three out of the four siblings currently employed. Also in the Scottish sample, more than in the English sample, several gang members were employed or entering employment. Initially this was in conjunction with their offending behaviour, but ultimately employment displaced this behaviour. It is worth noting that unemployment for young (16–24) black men is at record levels of 55%, twice their white counterparts, and this is reflected in a qualitative difference within the transcripts (Ball et al, 2012). In Scotland, several mothers, sisters and aunts spoke of their criminal relatives’ aspirations within the work world as achievable if they contained their criminal behaviour. This narrative is entirely lacking within the interviews of black/mixed race families in England.
5.1.2 Family structure and discipline ‘So when he went to look for his father he wasn’t very impressed with what he found.’ (Mother of gang member) ‘Our father left when he was about two or three, I can’t remember, never seen him again... I don’t even know where he is.’ (Sister of same gang member) Most of those interviewed came from families above average in size. In the UK the average family includes 1.9 children, whereas the majority of those interviewed were in families with three to five children. It is also worth noting that several parents of gang members had their children relatively early, between the ages of 18 and 21 compared with the national average, which was around 28 at the time (Bates, 2011). However, neither family size nor the parents’ age when the children were born was acknowledged as important by respondents.
Almost all the families were headed by single parents and of the remainder only two couples had stayed together in reconstituted nuclear families. There were two families in which the parents had been together when a child had joined a gang and in one of these cases the young man had eventually desisted from offending. In this instance, the presence of both parents did seem to make a difference to the family’s ability to cope with the children’s offending.
In this sample, however, (with two exceptions) siblings who had experienced the lack of a father had very different trajectories (for example in Family A, one sibling was a professional while the other was incarcerated for drug dealing), suggesting that the lack of a father does not in itself necessarily have a determinant effect on the propensity to engage in criminal behaviour. The lack of a father was nevertheless highlighted as having a significant impact on family members’ criminal and gang involvement, both in relation to the respondents’ own families and in relation to other families within the community.
‘I brought up the kids up myself, but they do need a father … he feels he has to handle his business as his dad doesn’t do anything for him, taking into account that all our baby fathers are absent out of our lives.’ (Mother of gang member) The lack of a father figure was identified as a problem by several women who noted that they lost control of their teenage boys as they reached adolescence and there was a general consensus that often the families found it difficult to control or discipline their children or place appropriate boundaries on their behaviour once they reached the age of 13 and beyond. These interviews support previous research in this area (Thornberry, 1998;
Loeber and Farrington, 1998) and the parents’ views also echo sentiments expressed by gang members in the previous section, that adolescence is a critical time for parenting.
‘After a while my mum start to realise that he was getting into trouble why he wasn’t coming home, but he was very hard to keep track of, it got a point where my mum had to let him do what he had to do.’ (Sister of gang member) ‘We lost – your son has taken control of your household.’ (Mother of a gang member) ‘You know, going out and taking a lot of drugs and drinking, he was very rebellious and there was a lot of arguments in the house, and he would be punching doors and ….then he would storm off for days on end.’ (Sister of gang member) Within the English sample, the problems of lack of control, discipline and respect for siblings and parents were compounded by what parents saw as their lack of power to address the situation. Respondents in England, both parents and siblings, harked back to their experience in either the Caribbean or parts of Africa where parenting could legally include physical chastisement beyond smacking. It is also likely that harsh physical punishments were deployed by some parents and this resonates with the experience of the ten young people in the earlier section who were emotionally scarred by these parenting tactics. Despite research evidence on the negative impact of physical disciplining of children and the tragedies which can ensue (Kandel, 1992; Gershoff, 2002; Shute, 2008)
the following comments were typical:
‘We was brought up and not beaten but not smashed up or anything but you would get a good slap for stepping out of line! In this country the parent is powerless.’ (Sister of gang member)
5.2 Family facilitation of gang criminality ‘One of my cousins came back one day and got beat up and he obviously went and protected his cousins and that caused a big thing in the family.’ (Sister of a gang member) The interviews reveal a diverse group of experiences in relation to the role of the family facilitating gang criminality. It is important to recognise that within families, siblings’ experiences and life trajectories can be very different. What emerges from the interviews is gang involvement and criminality by one sibling contrasting with professional success by other siblings. For example, within a family based in Wolverhampton one brother went into gang life and was soon arrested whilst his younger brother eschewed all criminal activity and is now a university-educated professional.