Ganging up on ‘Yoof’

Dave Clements | 23 February 2012

While they are, if claims coming out of last week’s summit are to be believed, to blame for the rise of al-Shabab in Somalia, the role of gangs in last summer’s riots was, at the very least, negligible. That much is acknowledged by pretty much everybody. It has even been reported that gang leaders called a truce during hostilities. Bless ’em. But still the government’s anti-gangs taskforce has work to do apparently, and will not be diverted by the reality on the ground. There is too much at stake for that.

According to the children’s commissioner, as many as 10,000 young girls are being exploited by these no-show gangs. Admittedly, he said this ahead of a two-year inquiry presumably charged with finding out whether such dubious claims have any basis in fact. But there is clearly an appetite for this sort of thing in government. Lynne Featherstone, minister for equality, for instance, has already made her mind up. She recently claimed that “people would be shocked if they could see the level of violence and abuse against girls in gangs”. She didn’t elaborate.

But an absence of evidence that we have a gang problem in the UK, or that they are engaged in systematic abuse of young girls, is not about to hinder those on a an anti-gangs/anti-abuse mission. Local bodies – from health and social care to housing authorities and schools – will put together their own multi-agency, ‘early intervention’ strategies to deal with whatever it is they have convinced themselves is happening. Whether its ‘working with toddlers’ as Theresa May puts it, youth workers stationed in A&E departments waiting for victims of gang violence to turn up, or GPs reporting those hoping to get some medical attention for their gun and knife wounds to the authorities.

It is hard to know where to start with the wholly objectionable extended state apparatus being put in place for a problem that has yet to even be established. The official obsession with gangs – and a particularly unhealthy obsession with ‘girls and gangs’ – threatens to make things worse. Where are the opposition you might ask? Are they up in arms – if you’ll excuse the pun – about these unwarranted intrusions into the lives of young people ‘at risk’ of getting involved with gangs. At the very least, at a time when public services are under threat, you might expect this to be singled out as a waste of public money? Not a bit of it. They complain, for fear of looking soft on crime and to show their concern for the ‘vulnerable’, that yet more resources need to be pumped into community safety and policing.

Which reminds me. In an inspired piece of casting sure to endear young people still further, it turns out that Trident (the Metropolitan Police’s black/gun crime unit) is to head-up the joint gangs taskforce. This is the same Trident that was behind the operation that led to the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham last August. You know? The incident that didn’t cause but certainly triggered – there I go again – those self-same riots that gangs are being framed for.

This piece first appeared in the Huffington Post Blog on the 23rd February 2012


Author: austinwilliams

Austin Williams is the director of the Future Cities Project and author of a number of books on the environment and on China. The latest are "China's Urban Revolution" (Bloomsbury) and "New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future" (Thames and Hudson).

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