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Youth Gangs in the UK. How different are they from their American counterparts? Judith Aldridge, Juanjo Medina, Robert Ralphs University of Manchester, UK. Outline: comparisons to US gangs. Context and background Prevalence History & evolution Structure, organisation, drug dealing Culture

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youth gangs in the uk

Youth Gangs in the UK

How different are they from their American counterparts?

Judith Aldridge, Juanjo Medina, Robert Ralphs

University of Manchester, UK

outline comparisons to us gangs
Outline: comparisons to US gangs
  • Context and background
  • Prevalence
  • History & evolution
  • Structure, organisation, drug dealing
  • Culture
  • Ethnicity
  • Violence
uk objections to gang research
UK: objections to gang research
  • Create moral panics
  • Demonise young people ‘ASBOs’ ‘Hoodies’
  • Stigmatise young people, communities
  • Reinforce, glorify, perpetuate, even ‘create’ gangs
  • Nothing new to see here: in UK, groups are the same as we’ve been seeing/studying for decades
top headlines in guardian newspaper search
Top headlines in Guardian newspaper search
  • ‘Turf war among drug gangs blamed as youth, 17, dies after shooting’
  • ‘Drug gangs rampant in top Dublin youth jail’
  • ‘Youths pick chic Paris mall for gang rumble’
  • ‘Gang chased youth, 16, and stabbed him to death, court told’
uk why we persist
UK: Why we persist
  • Use of term ‘gang’ in UK not new
  • Must remedy predominant focus in research, police & journalistic accounts on ethnic minority youth
  • Must balance journalistic accounts that glorify gangs
  • Policy transfer from USA NOW occurring
  • Demystify gangs
  • Challenge overly punitive official responses: schools, government, police
context conclusion
Context: conclusion
  • Discussion about gangs is ‘newer’
  • Different research ‘history’ (focus more on youth subcultures, not gangs)
  • More wariness/fear of the label by academics, policy makers
    • But actual use of the term increasing in the last five years particularly
  • YOCJS: (10-19 year olds)
    • 3% in street gangs, group existed 3m or more, group commits crime together
  • NEW-ADAM: (arrestees 17 and over)
    • 4% in a gang with name and territory
  • Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime (13 year olds)
    • 3.5% of 13 year old in a gang with a name & special saying or sign
  • Communities that Care (11 – 17 year olds)
    • 4% in London in a gang with a name and a territory
  • Staying Safe Study (14 schools in south of England)
    • 3.9% in an ‘offending gang’
prevalence conclusion
Prevalence: conclusion
  • Difficult to say because of variations in measurement, samples, age groups BUT:
  • Possibly broadly similar to US
    • Nevertheless, undoubtedly lots of very interesting differences, but research isn’t quite there yet to disentangle them
    • Some comparative research currently under way
yogec research design and methods
YOGEC: Research design and methods
  • ESRC funded ethnographic study: 2 years fieldwork
  • 3 neighbourhoods in large English city
  • Group Characteristics; Drug use and dealing; Violence; Ethnicity; Gender; Community relations; and Lifecourse (onset and desistance)
  • 100+ interviews - gang ‘members’, ‘associates’ (friends, girlfriends, relatives), key informants (e.g. police, youth workers, local government)
  • 9 focus groups - non-gang involved young people, parents, & representatives of community/statutory agencies
  • RC gangs going back 2 decades, even 100+ years
  • In Inner West we documented history going back to 80s and early 90s
    • Predominantly ethnic minority youth
    • Drawn to informal economy for standard of living above basic survival
    • Specialist drugs gangs operating open drugs markets
    • In pyramid structures, dealing heroin & crack
  • By late 90s until now:
    • Open to closed markets (mobile phones, police crackdowns)
    • Heroin and crack to cannabis
    • Gang coordinated to individual dealing
    • Greater to lesser earnings
      • Combined with legitimate income sources
history conclusion
History: conclusion
  • Likely very similar history of gangs
  • RC was unusual in this specialist ‘drugs gangs’ status in the UK
    • Evidence anecdotal, police
  • In a similar way, American has research identified these specialist ‘drugs gangs’ in some cities (e.g. Chicago)
  • But like the UK, in the US, specialist drugs gangs are rare even if drug dealing is common
structure organisation drug dealing18
Structure, organisation, drug dealing
  • Little evidence of hierarchy in these same gangs
  • No evidence that X and Y were ‘leaders’ or ‘running’ this gang
  • In contrast to heroin in cocaine the vast majority of the dealing we identified was cannabis
  • Most dealing not gang co-ordinated – sold individually, 2/3s
  • Individuals kept all their own profits
  • No evidence of dealers being paid a wage at the lower levels (though this did happen with ‘runners’, though nothing like at this level)
  • Members do not live extravagantly, more concerned with status
  • No "card-carrying" members, loose affiliation
    • But this view amongst police ‘new’, does it arise as a result of our report? In all our research, referred to clear affiliations
structure organisation drug dealing conclusion
Structure, organisation, drug dealing: conclusion
  • Probably very similar for most US youth gangs
  • Specialist (e.g. drugs) youth gangs in US are the exception rather than the rule
    • True of UK too
  • Exception: we found one specialist girl gang – highly organised, shared profits from illegal activities, role differentiated - got the job done, did so without violence or the threat of it
    • But! Key members of group were sisters/relatives of highly involved male gang members, group virtually disbanded now
  • Gang ‘joining’ probably not that useful a term
    • No recruitment
    • Consistent with the formation of neighbourhood and school friendship groups
    • To ‘join’ more about developing different kinds of relationships with existing contacts
      • Self-protection, labelling and taking advantage of illegal opportunities define the ‘difference’
  • Cultural identifiers
    • No initiation rituals (though ‘proving oneself’ sometimes discussed)
    • Few/no identifiers like colours, tattoos, hand signs
    • Few ‘codes of conduct’ (though a few are patchily referred to and almost always betrayed)
    • Few/no organised meetings
    • Some of these things may be changing – especially through social networking sites (e.g. MySpace)
culture conclusion
Culture: conclusion
  • The process of ‘joining’ is probably very similar to the US
    • The idea of ‘joining’ in both US and UK based on stereotyped media image
  • US likely to have more rituals and cultural signifiers
    • Even though there are signs this is changing
media political discourse around gangs and race
Media & political discourse around gangs and race
  • Strong media & political tendency to present black community as responsible for gang problems:

Tony Blair, April 2007:

“The black community – the vast majority of whom in these communities are decent, law-abiding people horrified at what is happening – need to be mobilised in denunciation of this gang culture that is killing innocent young black kids.”

  • NEW-ADAM: Majority of gang members are white
  • Edinburgh Study on Youth Transitions and Crime: 94.3% of the sample were white and so were the overwhelming majority of gang members
  • Offending Crime and Justice Survey (2004): there is little to suggest ethnic differences or a particular over-representation of young black males in gangs
  • YOGEC: in predominantly white areas, we found gangs were mostly white; in areas with the highest concentration of black ethnic minorities, we found gangs that were mostly black
ethnicity surprise
Ethnicity: surprise!
  • Areas with higher ethnic (black) population received media and policy attention
    • Police claimed not to use race as defining criteria, but do!
    • Whilst: much more gun violence there (reflects police priorities)
      • But white gangs also used guns!
    • Thus greater vulnerability of black youth to discriminatory, aggressive, intrusive policing
    • White areas complained of ‘discriminatory neglect’!
  • Black community leaders: stuck
    • Recognised gun/gang violence in their communities (empowering?)
    • But drawbacks to ‘racialising’ the gang problem
      • negative stereotypes about black people, ‘suspect’ community, allows for simplistic explanations, legitimisation of inadequate interventions, police harassment
ethnicity conclusion
Ethnicity: conclusion
  • Immigration history, ethnic make-up very different
    • UK: shorter, less (8%), different groups
      • Indian sub-continent, Caribbean and Africa
    • US: longer, more (~ 30+%)
      • Hispanic/Latino & Black American
  • UK less geographically segregated
    • Highest ethnic minority areas in RC still mostly white
    • We do not have racial ghettos (by definition)
  • Gangs arise in areas of deprivation, and their ethnic composition reflects the composition of the neighbourhoods that spawn them
how different is context of violence in the us and uk
How different is contextof violence in the US and UK?
  • In relation to gun crime & homicide:
    • US > UK
    • St Louis > Research City
    • BUT!
    • Research City ~ St Louis
firearm violence in research city
Firearm violence in Research City
  • Firearm violence for last 20 years relatively high in RC for the British context
  • Disproportionately concentrated in Inner West
  • Victims and perpetrators often/mostly gang affiliated
violence in rc gangs
Violence in RC gangs
  • Gangs did not ‘specialise’ in violence, generally tried to avoid it
  • But! Violence symbolically and rhetorically important
    • Potential often present; references to, memories of, violence
  • Idea of ‘trigger happy’ gangster motivated to protect reputation
    • Alternate conflict resolution strategies employed
  • Conflict within gangs as important as conflict between gangs
    • More ‘important’ day-to-day
    • About: business, friendships, romantic relationships, family – same for most of us
    • Jealousy and debt recovery were key – came up over and over – generally, these are likely within not between gangs
violence and drugs markets
Violence and drugs markets
  • Violence was linked to drug sales, but not disputes over markets/customers
    • Instead, ‘taxing’ other dealers (same & different gangs)
      • Played role in gang members arming themselves
  • Even in the hey-day of Inner West specialist drugs gangs, conflict only rarely about drugs markets
unacknowledged trauma
Unacknowledged trauma
  • References to violence, and exposure to violence as victims, perpetrators and witnesses was part of everyday conversation and growing up
  • Ex-girlfriend of key gang member explains:
    • ‘There was that many shootings at the time that it was just normal, it was sad and everything, but then a couple of days later you would have forgotten about it and somebody else would have been shot’ (30 year old woman)
interview with female gang member sister of male gang member
Interview with female gang member, sister of male gang member
  • I lost the plot when I seen that poor – when I seen that poor boy got shot dead, and in front of me. I could have took that bullet, it could have been me dead. I had the Regional Crime Squad, I had the Murder Squad at me door. Do you know what I mean? I was getting phone calls – shit myself. I thought, “I’ve gotta get the fuck out of the city. I’ve gotta get away.” And I couldn’t cope with what I’d seen, and I cracked up and went to me doctor’s. The police weren’t interested, they just wanted to get me statement, I told them to sling it. Do you know what I mean? Went to me doctor’s, told him, you know um, “I’ve seen someone shot.” And he said, “Well you shouldn’t put yourself in them situations, should you?”
  • Different gangs, different violence
    • Inner West: having, holding, accessing, using guns all important re: gang status
    • Far West: valued the masculinity of physical fights (being ‘handy’) as opposed to ‘cowardly’ resort to guns
  • But access to guns (‘real’ and ‘replica’) common across all gangs/research sites
sources of violence
Sources of violence
  • Most violence emanated from interpersonal disputes
    • often about friends, family and romantic relationships
    • Not linked to disputes about drug markets
    • Jealousy and debt motivated a considerable degree of within-gang conflict
  • Association (by blood or company) to other gang members was a ‘risk factor’ for bullying and victimisation
    • By other gangs, by police
  • ‘Unsolved’ violence (esp. murders) by police resulted in violent ‘vendettas’ among these gangs (‘crime as social control’)
    • Glorified in plethora of recent journalistic books
violence conclusion
Violence: conclusion
  • Suspect many similarities
    • Research in UK early days
    • But lack of connection between violence and drugs markets consistent
  • Our focus on ‘within gang’ conflict not discussed widely in the US
    • Does not necessarily point to cross-national differences
    • Could be our research focus.
gangs in research city
Gangs in Research City
  • Not well-organised profit making hierarchical criminal enterprises with an interest on franchising themselves and active recruitment
  • But “bunch of kids with guns”, small minority older members involved in more serious money-making criminal activities
  • Cultural identity as ‘gang’ not as institutionalised as in the US
  • Drug sales now mostly individual activity, not controlled by the gang, although sometimes involving some cooperation and division of labour