«Tara Young, Wendy Fitzgibbon and Daniel Silverstone London Metropolitan University CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 ...»
‘Er it was radge [mad], a’ folk [everyone] jist to jump aboot... an’ barnie (fight) wi’ each other an’ smashin’ other’s windows an’ we used tae barnie against the Hucks.
A’ folk used tae fight.’ (Rabbie, white, male, 18–24) Consequently, Rabbie would emulate the behaviour of older people in the community because ‘they were frightening and I was trying to impress them’. In a similar vein, Bradley
and Christopher adapted to their environment:
‘You’re sort of thirteen, fourteen and you find yourself and your mates growin’ up in the area I did... there was a lot of knife crime, and robberies was the trend as well and people going to other schools and causing havoc.’ (Bradley) The names of participants have been changed to maintain confidentiality and preserve anonymity.
‘When you’re young an’ ye see folk fightin’ ye hink that’s alrite an’ ’en ye jist get’s intae it an’ wantin’ tae dae it an’ aw that.’ (Christopher, white, male, 18–24) For Marvin, gang membership was also influenced by consistent harassment by people in his area. As a young man of 16/17, on several occasions he was ‘chased down’ by armed men looking for his brother.
‘You know what, “fuck it”! No chance. I’m not accepting this, all of a sudden it’s twice that I’ve ran, now they’re gonna start thinking that this is the situation. Ever since that day I’ve just stood up.’ (Marvin, African Caribbean, male, 18–24) This was enough of an influence for him to affiliate to a well-known crew in his area.
4.3.2 Educational experience and school exclusion The respondents were asked about their school experience. Of those who spoke about it, 14 were excluded from school, three others had been suspended and one had ‘left’. The most common reason for being excluded was ‘fighting’ with other pupils or, on several occasions, with teachers. One respondent, George, was excluded from two primary schools and three senior schools for fighting. The majority did not complete their secondary education, resulting in a lack of qualifications.
Exclusion from school had considerable effects on these young people. Among them was failure to attain any qualifications and disillusionment with the whole experience. The latter was experienced by George, who had become jaded and despondent with school after his multiple exclusions and what he perceived to be unfair treatment. He explained how, after being excluded, he began attending college in the hope of completing his education but further complications at the college made this unachievable.
‘I had to go to college with all the people who’d been kicked out of school, but at that point I didn’t really care less to be honest. So it all started to go downhill from then.’ (George, African Caribbean, male, 18–24) George went on to explain how, without school to occupy him, he would hang about with older people and smoke cannabis all day. Taught not by professionally qualified teachers but by the scholars of the street, he began his street education and ‘learnt lessons’ that would be useful when ‘on road’. He described learning how to hustle, fight and distrust people, particularly those who are your friends. This lesson proved valuable to him as later on in his road ‘career’ he was almost killed by one of them.
Bradley joined a gang at the age of about 13/14, when he was in school. He grew up in a London area historically known for gang-related violence in the form of shootings and stabbings. Bradley was aware of his potential to be victimised and as such took steps to avoid this eventuality. As the quotation below suggests, one way to stave off victimisation
from other people was to band with others in a group and become the aggressors:
‘[When] you’re growing up in an area I did, especially at that time when there was a lot of knife crime, and robberies were the trend in them days, we was well, erm, going to school and sort of causing havoc.’ (Bradley) Jacob’s school experience was similar to Bradley’s. He described a consistent cycle of bullying and fighting that used to occur between his ‘team’ and a rival ‘team’ at a nearby school.
Harvey was as jaded about school as George, Bradley and Jacob. His disenchantment with school arose because being at school couldn’t make him money. At the time of interview he did not believe in, nor was he committed or attached to, school. It was, however, through school that Harvey became involved in selling drugs. He describes how a former school mate ‘introduced’ him to the idea of dealing drugs.
‘I was thinking to myself, obviously, this is the only way I could get money. I’m not working and what else can I do? Signing on money ain’t going far enough; that couldn’t even support a sixteen-year-old much less me... One of my friends from a long time ago. He used to go to my secondary school, he kind of, not told me to, but he said I should do it... [he said] like it’s quick, easy money.’ (Harvey, African Caribbean, male, 18–24)
4.3.3 Unemployment, subcultures and peer influence
Amongst this group of respondents the social cultural setting in which they were raised shaped the types of groups to which they belonged and the criminality they engaged in.
Scottish respondents were exposed to a drinking and fighting culture, and the groups to which these young people belonged reflected these characteristics. Scottish respondents talked more often of engaging in physical confrontations than their southern counterparts.
Young Londoners and those from the West Midlands were more likely to live in proximity to men or ‘elders’ in the community engaged in illegal economies such as the drug trade (see below) and thus to be exposed to a subculture committed to making money by hustling, and it was this, along with fighting, that acted as a pull for young men. Only one female, Audrey, cited making money as a motivational factor for her involvement in a street-based gang group but her money-making schemes were influenced by her brother’s involvement in the gang.
Poor educational results and exclusion from school led to several respondents (8) being attracted by the prospect of making ‘easy money’ by dealing drugs to peers. After leaving school at 16 without the qualifications required to find work and uninspired by the prospect of doing a low-paid minimum wage job, Jorell could not see any real short-term solution to
his cash-flow problems and so:
‘I just ended up on the road, just making, trying to make some money... selling weed, selling drugs and stuff like that.’ (Jorell, African Caribbean, male, 18–24) The experience of Jorell mirrored that of other young men who, after witnessing displays of wealth in the community, and recognising their relative poverty, became involved in drug dealing, street robbery or hustling to get money. Another respondent illustrates how the
process worked and why many young men living in his area ended up hustling on the road:
‘I don’t think they’re forced. I think that they’ve – they’ve seen the glamourised life through some of the elders and they want some. There’s no way that they’re gonna get up every morning, they’re not doing nothing with their life, knowing that they can make money: there’s no way these youths will say “All right, I’m going to sit down for a while” – they’ll observe it for a little while, but after that they – something ticks in their brain, they’ll go the older one and say “Blood, I beg you bring me in, what’s happening? You’ve seen me every day, you’ve seen me struggling and I beg you bring me in.” So sometimes it’s the youths that actually push it to the olders to say “I wanna make money” and then the olders bring them in.’ (George) ‘I couldn’t find a job or nothing else... I was literally on my arse, and I had a girl that I felt embarrassed to kind of show her that I’d got no money left. So I thought it would be easy to turn to the drug situation and erm, I was only in it for two months and I got caught.’ (Marvin) Consistent with findings from other gang research, our interviewees saw the opportunity to hustle or deal as a rational response to the constrained choices available to them. They consistently voiced that they did not want to take this route but saw it as an ‘easy option’ and a quicker way to ease their poverty, or to make money.
‘I made a conscious decision, I ain’t got any money, I want money, my mum can’t buy me this and that, and I want this, I gonna get it for myself.’ (Clifton) ‘I remember one of the things that made me wanna get into selling drugs was – I remember,... one of them was having a birthday party and they must’ve gone to town. Erm, I remember seeing the receipt and it’s a bit over £1000 just on shoes... at the time, coming from a single-parent household where we hadn’t really got much money, and you see someone spending £1000 on shoes and that, it – it – it’s a big thing like, especially when you’re young and impressionable. I mean they used to give us like a tenner just to go shop and then like they’d give us £20 and go and buy some cigarettes and they’d say like “Keep the change” and all that; and as a child, like, when you see that, it’s a big thing like.’ (George)
4.3.4 The search for identity and independence
The real and perceived promise of money, coupled with the mystique and respect accorded to successful dealers and people in gangs, proved to be a strong magnet towards ‘the road’ for young people with a desire to be independent from the family or with little to keep them attached to the family unit or committed to social institutions they believed had failed adequately to provide for them (see above quotations). In terms of a growing need for
independence one young man expressed it thus:
‘When you maybe reach fourteen or thirteen or fifteen, you just feel, “I’m free!”. 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. It’s only when you start growing up you realise what you’ve done when you’re young.’ (Mark, African Caribbean, male, 18–24) ‘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. They were still parenting me and I was still listening, I wasn’t rebelling in that way like that, I still had manners towards my mum and my dad. You know, maybe you might have the little arguments for whatever it may be, but I’ll still listen to them, because obviously they’re my guardians innit, so I’ll still listen to them and that, but when I go outside, that’s my time. When I’m inside, it’s their time.’ (Rhys, African Caribbean, male, 14–17) These statements show that, for these young men at least, it was the allure of being free and outside the confines of the family that attracted them onto the road and into streetbased groups. For teenagers with little alternative means of expressing their individuality and creating an identity separate from the family, the road, quite literally, provided a space for people to socialise in the company of like-minded youngsters. For these respondents going ‘on road’ was part of growing up, the start of their search for independence, selfdiscovery and control. It was in their peer groups, and not necessarily in the home, that they began to ‘become a man’ under the guidance and influence of ‘road guys’ and it was to these men that younger males turned when they wanted to make money and gain respect.
When they were ‘on road’ the respondents were still attached to their parents and bound to the home; their parents also tried to retain some control over them, but the desire to socialise, to ‘stand on my own two feet’ and ‘to be a man’ were stronger influences.
4.4 Which push/pull factors were ascribed to parenting or the family?