Category Archives: Crime

The issue of #youthviolence must go from protest to production: “Lead, follow or get out of the way”

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Another day in London and another young person who has been murdered as a result of youth violence. Michael Jonas was found with multiple wounds in Betts Park, Anerley, South East London on Thursday 2nd November 2017 at about 19:30 GMT. Michael, who was 17, becomes the 16th young person killed in London in 2017.  (Source: BBC)

As a society we should be shocked but the truth is we’ve become desensitised to the regularity of youth murder. We should be heartbroken but how many times can a person’s heart be shattered until you become too numb to even shed a tear. So here we are. The bleak reality which impacts our youth culture in 2017.

Here’s the problem. Easy solutions are not being implemented. There are people who are working hard to try and eradicate this problem. There are people who care. There are people who are willing to put their money where their mouth is. But there are not enough people doing this and this is the issue. Too many people protest, pray and shout about youth violence, not many people turn that frustration into production, deed or action.

To quote Mobb Deep “There’s a war goin’ on outside no man is safe from. You could run, but you can’t hide forever”. We’re losing the war because we’re not fighting smartly. Traditionally those working in the youth sector are great at ground war/hand to hand combat: mentoring, delivering short term programmes/interventions and mediation are some examples. The problem is that this type of combat is exhausting and costly. Many soldiers suffer from weariness in this type of battle and many never return to the frontline. Casualties are high. We suffer from what Paul Tough says in his excellent book Whatever It Takes from Superman syndrome: with good intentions, we think we can save everyone. We can’t and become emotionally, mentally and physically spent. What we need to improve is within the area of air warfare: advocating for the victims, changing legalisation, challenging policy, healing hearts and minds, providing jobs and impacting youth culture in the areas where young people get their morals and values from. A couple of victories in the air makes winning the war on the ground a lot more likely.

Pastor TD Jakes being interviewed by Pastor Steven Furtick on his new book SOAR, spoke about how “God never made a table” (I appreciate that the more theological astute may argue that God coming in the form of Jesus who was a carpenter challenges this argument but bare with me). TD Jakes said “God made trees”. His point is that God will meet us more than halfway but we are to take what God has given us and turn it into something special. My challenge to communities impacted by youth violence is to go and “make tables out of trees” and go and solve this horrendous issue.  You may be the answers to your own prayers. For things to change we need social enterprises (children need skills, training and money), mentors (children need role models “We can’t become what we can’t see” – Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook), free therapeutic intervention (children and parents need a safe space to open up), free legal advice specific to youth violence issues (children and parents need to be clued up) and more than anything: children, families and communities impacted by youth violence need love.

While I think we are all capable of developing these interventions, my vexation lies with the church. As I always say the church have the biggest resources (Heaven) and the biggest volunteer service (congregations) but quite frankly has an appalling record of engagement in the area of youth violence.

So my message to pastors, senior leaders and elders is this: your communities are suffering from an epidemic of youth violence. You might not think this impacts you but one day it will be on your door step. Trust me. Do not be like the the priests in the story of Good Samaritan and literally walk past dying people. We are called to the lost. Don’t ignore the problem.

The time for protest is over. We need to move to production. “Lead, follow or get out of the way”.

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Listen, Understand, Respond: A Foundation for tackling Serious Youth Violence by Selina Stone

Over the coming weeks and months I have invited key professionals to write a piece on my blog about ideas on how we can combat the Gangs and Serious Youth Violence issue in the UK. Our first guest blogger is Selina Stone who looks at the importance of listening to the voice of the perpetrator to help us develop strategies in combating the gangs and serious youth violence issue.

Listen, Understand, Respond: A Foundation for tackling Serious Youth Violence by Selina Stone

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” – Stephen Covey

In the area of Serious Youth Violence there are many voices to be heard; the newsreader relaying the media story, the police condemning the crime, the victim’s family demanding justice. There is a place given to every voice, except the voice of the one who has committed the crime. In general, we do not recognise the importance of listening when it comes to those who commit acts of violence. Why should we care what they have to say? Because the key to an effective response can be found in the act of listening; not to reply, but to understand.

So what do I mean by ‘listening’ and why is it so essential?

The temptation for any person who wants to create change is to begin with ideas of what needs to be done. This tendency exists because we assume we already understand what the problem is. We have various means of informing our understanding; we can read statistics on the current picture, we can depend on our own lived experience or the reflections of those who have gone before us. All of these sources of understanding take us away from the reality that regardless prior knowledge, nothing is more important than the stories of those whose lives we want to see transformed.

‘Listening is the process through which speech and information is retrieved by an individual before proceeding to storage.[1]

As a community organiser at the Centre for Theology and Community, I depend on 121 meetings to drive the social justice issues we choose to tackle at the grassroots. Before we consider setting an agenda or strategy we begin by listening to the stories of the people who live and work around us. The listening campaign uncovers shared concerns or issues, helps us to clarify a clear objective and to identify leaders. Rather than exerting political power over communities, grassroots organising seeks to develop relational power with people. It is through listening that we uncover what makes people angry, what their self-interest is and who the leaders are who can make change happen.

So how does this relate to youth violence?

Each young person has a story that explains why they think or feel the way they do and how they have ended up where they are in life. The process of storytelling allows them firstly to recognise themselves. A person is able to acknowledge their life journey with its defining moments and influential relationships in order to understand how they have become who they are. The sense of identity and self-understanding this brings causes each of us to have the confidence to imagine the kind of future we want for ourselves.

When we help a young person tell their story and we choose to listen, we give them the respect and dignity due to all human beings. It is an act of humility on our part to listen, acknowledging that in that time and place, what the other person has to say is more important than what we want to communicate.

“(Some young people may have) difficulties understanding and expressing emotions, or (display) challenging behaviour as a means to communicate feelings.”[2]

Aside from the stories of individuals, we must also become experts at listening to the collective story being told by the young generation, including those engaged in violence and crime. Nonverbal communication is as essential to informing our understanding as verbal communication. Young people communicate individually through their choices of dress, their facial expressions and their life choices. Collectively, they communicate through their common interests, trends of behaviour and attitudes which become defining aspects of their generation. Before we seek to address social trends and impacts of serious youth violence, we must be willing to listen to the individual and collective stories of young people. Only through this act of humility will be equipped to reply effectively to young people and to wider society.

So what we can do?

This ‘listening to understand’ needs to take place in our families, in our friendship groups, in our faith communities and in wider society.

How well do we understand the young people in our homes and families? How much time do we spend time listening to those who attend our churches, youth clubs or mosques? How well do we understand the young people we are friends with? Do we take time to listen to young people in prisons or detention centres? Do we know the young people in our neighbourhoods?

Through a regular commitment to 121 conversations we can discover the stories of these young people and work with them to redefine their lives with a brighter future. Violence does not have to be the final voice in the lives of our youth.

Selina Stone

Twitter: @Selinars1

  
Selina Stone is a church based community organiser working to develop the capacity of churches to work on issues of justice in their communities. Her PhD research is looking at the significance of justice in Pentecostal understandings of salvation and mission. Selina currently works for The Centre for Theology and Community

Selinas@theology-centre.org.uk

[1] http://psychologydictionary.org/listening/

[2] http://theconversation.com/neglecting-neuroscience-has-criminal-consequences-for-youth-34872

If you would like to contribute to our blog please tweet me @bcwlindsay

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Boyz N the Hood: Revisited. 2012 UK Edition

Last week while searching for something to watch, I came across a film I had not seen in years. John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood was released the summer of 1991. The film stared an unknown future oscar winner, Cuba Gooding, Jr and the gangster rapper Ice Cube known for being in ‘The Most Dangerous Group in the World’ N.W.A. The film depicted the story of three friends as they battled through the tough streets and social problems of south Los Angeles. You had Doughboy (Ice Cube) deep in the gangster life style – drugs, alcohol and gang rivalries dominated him and his crew’s time and energy. Meanwhile you had Doughboy’s half brother Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut), the hope, the all American sports hero. Ricky was the good, clean cut kid who was getting the scholarship and going to college. Somewhere in the middle was Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr). Tre was fortunate to have his brilliantly named father, Furious Styles (Lawrence Fishburne) who was every sons dream and nightmare combined (handsome, intelligent, clued-up, deep and all up in your business – we all remember his legendary Compton speech!). In a nutshell the film contained drugs, gangs, violence, sex, moral and ethical questions, police brutality, tragedy, bad parenting, pipe dreams, tears, laughter and heartache. Just another day in L.A.

This was L.A. 1991 and I sit here in London in 2012 and the landscape painted in Boyz N the Hood is now all too familiar in the UK. When I watched this film in 1991, aged 13, nothing like this existed around me…well not to this extent. 20 plus years later and Boyz N the Hood paints the grim picture which is witnessed in parts of any major city in the UK. Don’t believe me?

In 1991, 1729 people were sentenced and found guilty of being in possession of carrying a knife in England and Wales. In 2010 the number was 6475. Source: Knife crime statistics, House of Commons, 2011

In 1998, 3667 people were admitted to hospital for assault by a sharp object in England and Wales. By 2011 this number had risen to 4643. Source: Knife crime statistics, House of Commons, 2011

In 1991, 12,129 offences were recorded by the police in which firearms were reported to have been used in England & Wales. By 2008 the figure stood at
17,343 (in 2011 the figure was 11, 227)
Source: Firearm crime statistics, House of Commons 2012

Regarding, sexual health: Between 1990 and 1997 there were between 2,000 and 2,700 HIV diagnoses reported annually in the UK. From 1999 there was a steep increase in the number of annual HIV diagnoses, peaking in 2005 at 7,982. There was a slight decline in subsequent years, but the number of new diagnoses today is still far higher than the pre-2003 rate. Source: United Kingdom Statistics Summary

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Although I have only taken a snapshot of some of the issues plaguing inner cities (knife crime, gun crime and poor sexual health), the statistics demonstrate how stagnant the UK have been to treat the issue depicted on film in Boyz N the Hood 20 plus years ago. We have caught up with America. Re-elected London Mayor Boris Johnson recently said tackling crime and keeping London safe continues to be a top priority for the Mayor. Let’s hope in the next 20 years London and the UK are still not playing catch up in terms of prevention and intervention.

Father Deficit

One thing which Boyz N the Hood highlighted was the need for positive male role models. The need for fathers. On reflection, one of the reasons Tre did not go down the route of Doughboy or suffer the same fate as Ricky was the steady stream of advice, nurturing, encouragement, support and love from his father, Furious. As Martin Glynn wrote in his report on young gang members in Baltimore entitled Breaking the Forth Wall:

‘The vast majority of these young men are functioning, positive, and healthy. However, at the tail end there is chaos, mayhem, and turmoil. The need for a father and to experience positive fathering is on an epidemic scale, and should be treated as a public health issue. All of the young men spoken to had absent fathers who were not around for a whole series of reasons. The impact of this area of young men’s lives cannot be underestimated or ignored. Once again there are many books, research reports, programmes, activities, workshops, conferences, and seminars designed to improve and address this situation, but research would suggest that many of those young men have “opted out” from wanting to address their feelings on this issue, and find solace in their crew and extended peer group. For some young men the issue of “being a man” is a continued problem’.

The issue around father deficit is an area which at times is ignored when gangs and serious youth violence strategies are developed, yet the loss of a father can be the root of many issues that young men and women are going through. In Mark Stibbe’s excellent book ‘I Am Your Father’, he quotes Dr. George Rekers:

‘A positive and continuous relationship to one’s father has been found to be associated with a good self-concept, higher self esteem, higher self-confidence in personal and social interaction, higher moral maturity, reduced rates of unwed teen pregnancy, greater internal control and higher career aspirations. Fathers who re affectionate, nurturing and actively involved in child rearing are more likely to have well adjusted children’

In the UK where 1.5 million boys are separated from their fathers and half a million have no contact with their dad, isn’t it time policy makers invested money and resources into an area which is responsible for so much devastation. Let’s hope it does not take another 20 years before we realise the UK has ignored a problem.

*Update*
In it’s report, Against All Odds: Mind the Gap, the charity Family Action argues that welfare cuts and poor quality housing is having a negative impact on mothers’ mental health and their ability to bond with their babies. Family Action insists that early intervention should mean intervening before at-risk babies are born, by providing services that support vulnerable mothers emotionally and help develop parenting skills, alongside financial support.

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