Saturday 7 January 2017

How we should challenge gang culture

In September last year the Brent and Kilburn Times published an article by Cllr Zaffar Van Kalwala (Stonebridge) on gangs. I republish it here as a contribution to the debate taking place LINK on this blog ahead of the Time to Talk About Gangs event to be held at the Roundwood Centre on January 17th.

The immediate challenge is to get the young people directly affected along to the event.

Recently, six people wearing balaclavas began firing gunshots at each other on the streets of Brent. What should have been a quiet Thursday afternoon turned into something resembling a scene out of a Hollywood movie. It was a timely reminder that gangs still cast a dark shadow over our community.
As chair of Brent’s Gangs taskgroup as well as having been born in the borough, I have become all too familiar of the impact gangs have on our area; some of the people I grew up with are either in prison or no longer with us – guns and gangs did that. Current estimates indicate almost one in every ten Brent 11-19 year old is a gang member and according to the Met. Police, gangs are responsible for 16% of the total drug supply, 26% of aggravated burglaries and 14% of all types of rapes. Even international events are adding to the toxic mix. My ward’s Safer Neighbourhood Team Sergeant once remarked that young people arriving from conflicts in Syria and Libya, traumatised by their experiences of violence and death were joining gangs. 

Although there are some very good examples of work being done in Brent. Initiatives carried out by the youth offending service, the police and the voluntary sector such as Stonebridge Boxing Club, which worked closely with ex-gang members to develop mentoring and physical routines to help change their lives around. 

The efforts of those working with some of the most hard to reach young people have not gone unnoticed – these are committed people genuinely trying to make a difference. But the truth is that many of the responses have at times been uncoordinated and fragmented. This is further exacerbated by the closure of youth facilities such as the Brent Adventure Playground, youth unemployment and the erosion of ‘community spirit’.

Gangs are also leveraging in brand new Nike trainers and designer clothes for gang members who have more often than not experienced family breakdowns and live chaotic lifestyles. A lack of positive role models, poor educational attainment, mental health and lack of aspirations are just some of the factors that lure young people to this violent subterranean street culture. Young women are also at risk from gangs whether it’s sexual exploitation, violence or becoming involved in criminality.   

Our solution to gang culture needs to move away from a one-dimensional approach, which focuses solely on increasing resources. Although this is important, increased investment in young people will achieve nothing without paying attention to other factors such as housing, education, family support and tackling social deprivation.

We need a more inclusive approach, which empowers the local community to develop youth-led initiatives. Local models can respond to local dynamics, and can be specific to the communities in which gangs operate. This should also be extended nationally and locally where we encourage young people to use their skills positively. Perversely, gang members can possess an entrepreneurial drive namely, building up their ‘gang business through clever branding and slick You Tube music videos. 

We should develop innovative schemes to provide business ‘start-up’ funding for young people who could be at risk of joining gangs to help them achieve their real potential. Moreover, we should have wider apprenticeship opportunities whereby those that display the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ are given opportunities to work in sectors such as banking and finance to make better use of their abilities. 

Brent is home to the largest industrial estate in Europe, Park Royal. Our young people should be given the opportunities to be apprentices at some of the largest companies in the world. And with Brent collecting £15m from the community infrastructure levy (CIL) from developers building new homes, maybe some that funding should go towards building the future of our young people. 

We are at a tipping point, do we accept gangs and gang culture or do we together as a community say enough is enough?


Anonymous said...

Very interesting. How many of these initiatives were taken-up? Or were they immediately by Butt because of his hatred of Van Kalwala?

Anonymous said...

Its interesting to watch the video's produced by these gangs.
Slick presentations with clever use of drones, capturing the best details. Funny how the Council CCTV footage, and Police are using camera's that have been used since the early 90's, graininey images etc. It should be possible in the 21st century that survelliance of these gang's territories should mean that no one enters or leaves the estate without being captured on CCTV. Operation Trident has been a gross waste of money, and the Police have little or no intention of resolving the issues, as its just gang on gang warfare, saves them the hassle of trying to get evidence to put a case together. If they policed these estates like they did premier football matches, I'm sure they would put a stop to a lot of it. The Housing Associations and Brent Council also play their part by not enforcing Housing Policy in relation to evicting known Drug dealers and their families, along with allowing their properties to be used as Drug Dens, plus the closing down of any building, Park or play area that fosters community spirit, where in the past successful projects have been allowed to flourish.