The term ‘gang’ has been identified in a variety of ways by different scholars, educationists and philosophers.
It is seen as a “street-based group of young people who see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group, engage in a range of criminal activities and violence…” (Centre for Social Justice, 2009, p.21). A gang usually has a name to them and are seen to be influential to those around them; these are the ways in which gangs are identified. The term ‘gang’ covers a wide range of concepts, therefore, it is seen as an umbrella term. Due to this it does not have a set definition that everyone follows and believes.
However, there are issues to the way they are identified which becomes problematic as they are not properly defined due to the different interpretations given.There is a on-going contemporary discussion about whether gangs are a influence to the increase in crimes. Many people would argue that gangs have been ignored for too long as a result it has created the view that gangs are a serious and growing problem. It is said that “The rise in lethal violence, as seen recently in inner cities such as London, is connected to the proliferation of the gang” (BBC News, 2011, p.1).
It is important to tackle this issue, as gangs are seen to recruit and exploit young individuals. The solution to the growth of urban gang violence is to overthrow it by minimising the coverage of it.”In May 2012, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), had identified 259 violent gangs and 4,800 ‘gang nominals’ in 19 gang-affected boroughs in London. These 259 gangs are thought to be responsible for 22% of the serious violence in the capital, 17% of the robberies, 50% of the shootings and 14% of rapes” (Pitts, 2012, p.
27). Therefore, gangs are seen as the heart of London’s contemporary problem as they result in most of the percentages; this tells us that gangs have a major role in all aspects of crime. In addition to this, “At least half of the 27 murders of teenagers in London in 2007 were gang-related, according to the Metropolitan Police.
“(BBC News, 2011, p.1). This suggests that, in London, gangs are largely impacting murder rates, therefore, taking the lives of young people. By ignoring this, it can result in teenagers becoming influenced and brainwashed to become part of criminal and violent behaviour. In contrary to this, most young individuals do not view themselves as a gang member when they enter a court trial, as a result of this, there is no actual reliable data that contributes to the idea that gangs exist; thus, meaning it is not useful. In addition to this, you cannot rely on the data given by the Home Office, as they have not defined what the term ‘gang’ means (BBC News, 2011). Due to this, it makes it difficult to gather valid information about gangs, because the Home Office has no actual figures on the amount of gangs or the extent of gang associated crimes. There are numbers on the amount of assaults, murders and robberies, but there is nothing gang related that is officially recorded, therefore, it suggests that ‘gangs’ are the problem, is an assumption not actual fact.
M.Krohn (1998), carried out a study, comparing those who were members of a gang and those who were not involved in gangs. The study found that the people involved in a gang were more likely to be part of delinquent behaviour. Whereas, those who were not in gangs did not contribute to delinquent activity. This clearly suggests that by being a member of a gang, does lead to an increase in criminal behaviour. Therefore, it is important to deal with the problem of gangs, because by ignoring the issue, it can lead to an increase in crime rates.Gang membership increases criminality, as by being in a gang it encourages individuals to want to be a part of crime related matters.
This may be due to Individuals wanting to feel a sense of belonging, so they feel a part of something, as they are not receiving that from society. It is said that they feel a sense of “freedom from the constraints they experienced… a place where you became a sovereign agent… a place where it was possible to transcend the limits of rule-based society and enjoy the fleeting sense of empowerment this can bring” (Hallsworth, 2009, p.365). Therefore, individuals may join gangs to feel respected and protected by having a hierarchal status.
In London, groups that claim that they are protecting themselves due to the failure of the police, examples of this is the Asian self-defence group. They believe it is their duty to protect their own area, that “your ends is your territory” (Hallsworth, 2009, p.368).It is important to find the actual cause for gangs, instead of making assumptions and putting the blame on them, as the cause for gang formation may be the bigger problem. Some of the issues individuals face is the reason for them creating a gang.
This may be “lack of employment, lack of resources, there are major issues in the community like overcrowding, deprived areas” (Smithson, 2013, p. 121). Therefore, they may be in a gang as they feel their members understand them, as they have similar issues to face.
In London teenagers are in gangs to drug deal, this may be due to the increase of deprivation. It is found that some areas commit more crime than others. This tells us that in some areas they become organised, as they experience more deprivation in their areas. Due to poverty issues being the risk factor for gangs, it leads to young individuals turning to gang members for help, therefore, it is important to help troubled families.Gunter (2008) uses the term ‘road culture’ to explain how individuals are practicing ‘badness’ and are dedicated to it. This benefits them, as they believe it helps with money problems and helps them to survive, they describe this as the ‘trap life’. Individuals would join gangs when it suits them, they are not always involved, this is only when they can make “easy money” (Gunter, 2008, p.354).
This is mostly occurring in the East London neighbourhood, which tells us that it is essential to tackle poverty issues. Gunter helps to understand the stereotypes that are given to black Caribbean male youngsters and as a result the public continues to fear them. From his research, he found that due to the way they dress; wearing their hoods up and wearing tracksuits, the public instantly think negative (Gunter, 2008). This tells us that the public are stereotyping, it is important to not assume that all groups are the cause to crime.
Moreover, those who refuse to be involved in similar activities are “perceived as weak and effeminate, rendering those vulnerable to verbal and physical abuse/attacks from their more dominant and street con?dent peers.” (Gunter, 2008, p.363). This tells us that individuals may not even want to be a part of gangs, however they feel pressurised to do so, due to the treatment of gang members.Many would argue that gangs are not the contemporary problem anymore, as they believe gangs have changed. Those who work with gang members believe that they are changing, officials like police officers, youth and social workers believe that, by helping these young individuals they are changing their ways (Pits, 2008). Thus, gangs do still exist however it is not a contemporary problem in London. Instead of focusing on them so much, officials should focus on other major issues.
There are other issues that are London’s contemporary problem, such as, vehicle crimes, robbery, sexual offences and anti-social behaviour. From the national statistics we can see that gangs are not the problem. It was found that “711 deaths or serious injuries are caused by illegal `driving” (Office for national statistics, 2017).
Therefore, this tells us that these crimes are ignored due to focusing on gangs. Furthermore, the term “gang culture” and “guns culture” is used, assuming that gangs are always the ones using weapons. Thus, individual criminals using weapons for armed robberies and other crimes are ignored. Hallsworth (2009), discussed that the term “gang culture” is seen as wrong and weak, as it is not only gangs who use weapons. This tells us that they are seen as scapegoats as they are a easy target to blame, despite having nothing to do with it. There are many situations where guns have been used, however it does not relate to gangs.
(Hallsworth, 2009, p.359).Due to the riots in August 2011, it has created a lot of fear for many people and led to an increase in anxiety towards gangs as a result of the assumptions made on them of being responsible.
David Cameron “promised to wage an all-out war against gangs” (BBC News, 2011, p.1). As a result, the public has created this image of gangs and continue to fear them. “Once imposed, will then become their master role which they will re-enact in perpetuity.”(Ferrel et al, 2008, cited in Pits, 2012). By creating a label defining how a particular gang may be it can result them doing as they are expected. Stanley (2002), argues that gangs are exaggerated in the media to be worse than they actually are, which creates a moral panic.
An example of this is the two British subcultures “mods and rockers” in the 1960’s who were branded as “folk devils”. Cohen argues that they were actually created by the medias reaction, as instead of helping to put a stop to it, they focused more on it in the media, which helped it to grow just like they are doing today with gangs. “The majority of Britons will have little or no direct experience of gangs but they are still frightened and fascinated by them in equal measure” (BBC News, 2011, p.1). This clearly suggests that, despite not experiencing anything gang related, due to the fear that has been created by social media they remain to be scared. “People (or groups, or syndromes) do not exist as subjects until they are named and therefore classified” (Hacking, 2004, p.279).
Once groups are given a label they fulfil their labels, this term is the self-fulfilling prophecy. Therefore it is important to not use the term gangs on groups as it can lead to doing what gangs would do. “Individuals become labelled as ‘gang-members’; and exploring the consequences of such labelling processes” (Fraser, 2014, p.155).Hallsworth (2013) argues that it is exaggerated and the gang problem is not that serious.The gang problem is not as serious as some suggest and claiming it is that serious can cause problems. There are many young individuals in groups that are in no harm to anyone “engaged in relatively innocuous adolescent misbehaviour that are wrongly identified as gangs” (Klein, 2008, cited in Pits 2012, p.31).
It may just be subcultures or peer groups who share similar values and norms such as the way they dress and what they are interested in. As “style and music do not define the relationship between the individual and the violence they do, or the weapons they carry”. (Hallsworth, 2009, p.361). It could just be a group of young individuals hanging around together and not actually doing anything deviant. Therefore, gangs should not be seen as the contemporary problem in London.
Furthermore, ‘too often groups of Black and Asian men are seen as “gangs”, criminalized and then dealt with on this basis, by the police, in schools, in their communities and on the streets’. (Smithson, 2013, P.116). This tells us that many individuals are discriminated against due to their colour of their skin. Thus, gangs may not be the actual issue as they do not exist, it is just a way to discuss and discriminate against ethnic minorities, encouraging racism. The term ‘gang’ is used indiscriminately very often in the media and the criminal justice system “its use is stigmatising and racist” (Alexander, 2008, cited in Pits, 2012, p.31). In conclusion, the definitions given are not useful and it must be redefined as groups that are given names could simply be friendship groups with names.
Gangs are not the contemporary problem in the UK, they are mostly just groups to put the blame on, there is no actual official evidence suggesting that gangs are the problem. The perceptions of gangs is an ill-fitting way to describe contemporary urban crime and violence. It has become a lazy way to understand and discuss the other issues that are occurring today. Due to the stereotypes and labelling towards them it has created fear towards groups. It is important to focus on other crimes and actually find solutions to that, instead of focusing on gangs all the time as they are not the main problem in the London today.