«Tara Young, Wendy Fitzgibbon and Daniel Silverstone London Metropolitan University CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 ...»
Setting aside the tricky application of the gang label, some interviewees, particularly those from the London and West Midlands areas, were affiliated to named groups that were known to law enforcement agencies, groups that featured in gang surveys undertaken by the Metropolitan and the West Midlands Police (Metropolitan Police Service, 2006).
Gang status and role
The majority of interviewees did not describe themselves as performing a particular role within their groups. However, when speaking about their experience ‘on road’ some older participants claimed to be ex-gang leaders. It was common for these respondents, in the late 1980s early 1990s, to claim responsibility for starting the feuds that persisted in their area.
‘I’m saying, in my day it was totally different because, obviously, I’m from a generation where all this gang banging started. We started this in the whole place.
Obviously, this is our area... we was moving here, growing up, we was the originators of the whole gang thing.’ (Clifton, African Caribbean, male, 25+)18 As the above quotation illustrates, few, if any, of these claims were boastful. These statements were said with sorrow and regret at the ongoing rivalries experienced by the younger people.
In addition to the ‘gang leaders’ the pool of interviewees included several (five) girlfriends of known gang members and a number of ‘shotters’ and ‘hustlers’. Within this cohort of respondents these terms were commonly used to describe individuals who were engaged in selling illegal drugs.
In this section full respondent details are given once, either in the text or following the quotation.
Offending profile Respondents were asked not to disclose offending for which they had not been arrested and/or convicted. Participants revealed engaging in a largely ad hoc range of criminal activities, a phenomenon described by some researchers as ‘cafeteria style’ offending (Klein, 1995).
These included, but were not limited to:
handling and distributing stolen goods;
possession of an offensive weapon;
serious violent crime involving firearms and other weapons (eg knives);
Within this cohort, both males and females revealed committing offences of these types although, in keeping with the offending profile of female offenders more generally, offences tended to be less frequent and less serious amongst female respondents than their male counterparts (Chesney-Lind and Hagedorn, 1991; Young, 2009). From the interviewees it was difficult to classify the offences committed as ‘gang-related’ offences, but it is noteworthy that many respondents had committed an offence with other people, particularly street robbery and common assault.
4.2 Family structure and upbringing Respondents were asked to describe their family structure and home environment at the time of interview. Seventeen participants described growing up in a family home with both biological parents and siblings. The remainder were reared in single-parent households or ‘reconstituted’ households (step-family or living with other relatives).
There were a number of reasons why participants grew up in households headed by a single parent (in all cases their mothers). In many instances the participant’s father was not known to them or had ‘not been around’ for most of their lives. In seven cases the father had left the family home and was either separated or divorced from the mother. In three cases the father had died (one murdered) and one young woman’s father had gone to prison.
Over half of the respondents grew up in large families with three or more children (the average being four children per household). Of those from smaller families, eight had one sibling and three were only children; four interviewees did not state whether they were an only child or grew up with other children.
It was commonplace for participants from large families to describe living in properties that were too small. For example, Harvey’s experience of living in a household with many people sharing a small space illustrates some of challenges faced by these children. Whilst growing up, Harvey shared a house with his parents and six other children. He described his living conditions as ‘crazy’ and ‘cramped’, and so he spent a considerable amount of time outside the home. His family eventually moved to a bigger, five-bedroomed, property and he acquired his own room, which gave him the private space he needed but Harvey continued to hang out ‘on road’ with his friends.
Acting as a carer to young siblings was also common amongst those in families with three or more children. Shantelle (19), who grew up in a ‘broken’ home, described her early childhood as ‘hard’ and regarded herself as a ‘single parent’ because of the frequency with which she had to look after her two siblings.
‘I’ve been through a lot basically. I’m basically the father of the family that’s how it is because I am the oldest.’ (Shantelle, African Caribbean, female, 18–24) Shantelle’s job as ‘father of the family’ was made more difficult by the poor relationship she had with her mother (see below) and because her younger brother (15) was ‘on the road’.
4.2.1 Relationships with parents Whilst some young people spoke positively about the relationships they had with their parent(s), 23 participants had experienced problems with parent(s) and/or carers. Most of these difficulties were linked to conditions within the family home. These ranged from parental substance and alcohol abuse to domestic violence (see Section 4.4.3), fighting with parents and parental mental health issues (eg depression).
Two out of five respondents had been exposed to domestic violence in their homes and a quarter made reference to alcohol or substance abuse by their parents. Whilst growing up brothers William and Simon lived with parents addicted to heroin. It was commonplace for them, as young boys, to have to tend to and care for themselves when their parents were not able to do so. This was an experience shared by Chesney who, along with her younger sister, resided with a mother who was also a habitual substance user. Chesney described how she was often left alone in the house by her mum and frequently went hungry.
Eventually, she was placed in local authority care and then with her grandmother.
Ten young people spoke about fighting with, or being beaten by, their parents or carers. A key driver for this violence was the difficult relationship male respondents described with fathers or step-fathers. These fractious relationships were exacerbated by alcoholism, substance misuse and mental ill-health.
Fraser, along with five other participants, recalled being beaten by one, or more, of their parent/carers. As a young boy, Fraser lived with his alcoholic parents and experienced extreme forms of violence from both his mother and his father. This resulted in his experiencing some psychological trauma which contributed directly to his gang involvement and offending behaviour (see Section 4.4.3).
Two male respondents had difficult and frustrating relationships with their fathers which resulted in a ‘beating’ or a ‘fight’ on more than one occasion. In both cases, it was their opinion that the father was trying to impose order on a son he deemed to be becoming unruly or disrespectful to the household.
Controversially, one of these respondents, Bradley, described these altercations as having had a positive impact on him. Despite witnessing numerous incidences of domestic violence against his mother by his father and being the recipient of his father’s violent rage, it was his perception that his behaviour ‘on the road’ would have been much worse if his father had not been tough on him. Below he illustrates how the fear induced in him by his father stopped the escalation of a feud he was engaged in with a local boy over a girl.
‘I had an incident with a girl, someone said I was seeing her and her boyfriend wanted to fight me. They came knocking at my door at 10 o’clock... I was thinking, I’m going to go out there and do something to this boy. I remember my dad saying, “no”. I was so angry... because he (the boy) had come to my school, he was threatening me, he was telling people he was going to do things to me.... My dad said, “You can’t go out” and I had to stay in.’ (Bradley, African Caribbean, male, 25+) It was Bradley’s retrospective view that had his father not stopped him he would have gone out to face his protagonist. He stated that, in this instance, his mother’s protests or attempts to control him would have failed. This was a sentiment shared by one other respondent (who did not reveal whether his father had beaten him or not) who said that it was his father’s aggressive stance that curbed his gang-related behaviour.
Other respondents were not so positive about the remedial effects of their fathers’ aggression or attempts at control. As a consequence of fighting with his father, Rodney was thrown out of the house and the doors were locked. When this happened he would ‘stay out, put the windows in or break the door down’ but his reaction was consistent and he grew more resentful, angry and thus more aggressive towards his father. At least five more respondents had been thrown out after fighting with their parents, although some, like Susie, thought it was justified.
‘I caused mah ma all sorts ay shite... my ma couldnae take it.’ (Susie, white, female, 18–24) Susie put some of the relational problems she had with her mother down to her own marijuana smoking and identified this as being the point when the relationship really broke down. It was about this time that she ‘started running about with Toy’ (gang) and was eventually thrown out and found herself living in a hostel.
4.3 What were the main push and pull factors for being involved in a gang or ‘on road’?
Respondents were asked to highlight the factors that pushed or pulled them into gangs.
Four inter-related key factors emerged as being instrumental. These were the social environment, educational experience and school exclusion, unemployment, subcultures and peer group pressure, and the search for independence and identity.
4.3.1 The social environment
Many of the respondents who engaged in this research came from some of the most deprived areas in London, the West Midlands and Scotland. Areas like Hackney in London, and Handsworth and Whitmore Reans in the West Midlands, from which our sample of respondents was drawn, are ranked amongst the 5% most deprived areas in the Indices of Multiple Deprivation (Wolverhampton Council, 2008; Middleton et al, 2009).
Areas such as Barrowfield towards the east of Glasgow and Renfrew towards the west, home to roughly one third of the respondents, have the highest level concentration of deprivation in Scotland (Scottish Government National Statistics, 2009:1). In nearly all of these areas the worklessness, substance abuse, unemployment and exposure to gangrelated violence and criminality is higher than the national average (Wolverhampton Council, 2008; Scottish Government National Statistics, 2009).
Respondents described the areas that they grew up in as ‘hostile’, with few opportunities for work or to engage in positive play activities. Over three-quarters of the sample referred to living in high-crime areas riddled with gangs. They recalled plenty of incidences of violence and had witnessed a spectrum of interpersonal crimes ranging from street robbery to murder. Frequently, these crimes involved weapons such as knives, guns, golf clubs and balls, broken bottles, bats and machetes.
Simon grew up in an area where gang fighting ‘happened every night’ and described himself as ‘de-sensitised’ to the violence.
‘I bide [grew up] in Barrowfield... an’ thaur used tae be ae lot of violence; ae lot of violence.... th’ folk that lived in it created th’ violence, th’ feud got split in two.’ (Simon, white, male, 18–24 years old) 19 The psychological toll of living in a neighbourhood characterised by crime and violence can, as Vigil (1996) notes, prompt gang membership. Both male and female interviewees described how living in high-crime areas left them feeling they had little choice but to be associated with gang groups as protection from victimisation. Describing the tempestuous
area he grew up in Rabbie states: