We need to talk about gangs

21 June 2015

Gangs are a tricky topic to tackle in a blog, partly because so much coverage of gang culture is sensationalised and we’ve been wary of contributing to the general media noise on the subject, and partly because it’s difficult to do justice to such a complex issue in a short post. But gang culture is having a big impact on some of the young people we work with, so it’s important we do talk about it.

Here are some of the things we see happening:

– Increasingly young men being asked to do ‘favours’, carry money, deliver parcels in exchange for gifts, cash and acceptance into a group that is perceived to be powerful and that offers protection

– Young people carrying illegal weapons either because they are scared or because those weapons convey power

– Young women being sexually exploited by groups of older men in exchange for ‘protection’ and acceptance

– Young women being threatened with violence unless they publicly show allegiance to a particular gang, or because male friends or relatives are involved in a rival gang.

We want to offer young people a different collective to belong to, other forms of security, legitimate ways to earn money. But how do you sell the benefits of a minimum wage job to a young man who can earn hundreds of pounds in a week with little effort, and who doesn’t yet fully understand the risks attached to that lifestyle?

The truth is that don’t have all the answers at the moment. But it’s something we’re working very hard on. There is no quick fix and we only ever see breakthroughs as a result of slow, deliberate building of relationships over a long period of time. So we keep playing pool and table tennis, cooking, having awkward conversations, getting pushed back, trying again. And, while doing so, striking a balance between reaching out to all young people (including those engaged in high-risk activity) and ensuring that Urban Hope remains a totally safe space for everyone.

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