30. Memorandum submitted by
Professor Gus John
On Thursday 27 April, I am launching a book,
Taking A Stand, which deals with issues of education, race,
social action and civil unrest in the period spanning 1980-2005,
issues which are germane to the objectives of this inquiry. My
preoccupation with that project has not enabled me to provide
a thoroughly researched series of observations at this stage in
the inquiry's work. Nevertheless, I offer this for what it is
The matters the Committee wishes to focus upon
are complex and must be approached with extreme care. For one
thing, it is important to be clear as to the specific groups that
cluster within the ONS Census ethnicity category "Black or
Black British". Public perceptions of criminality among young
people of Caribbean extraction are different from perceptions
of criminality among West African or Somali young people. Within
the generic "African" group there are further variations.
Popular perceptions of criminality among young Nigerians differ
from that among Ghanaians or young people from Zimbabwe.
It is important in this regard to consider patterns
of migration and settlement and the profile that certain "black"
groups came to have or to be given in the society since the early
1950s. Authors such as John Lambert and Camilla Filkin (Crime,
Police and Race Relations 1970), Augustine John (Race in
the Inner City 1970) and Humphry & John (Because They're
Black 1971 & Police Power and Black People 1972)
were among early writers pointing to the process of "racialising
crime" and criminalising young black (African Caribbean)
people indiscriminately that was a major source of concern to
black communities. The racialisation of crime mirrored the racialisation
of immigration and of other processes and practices within the
society. In time, that process became more and more widespread
and invasive, extending to the racialisation of school exclusion,
youth unemployment, etc.
The importance of this approach lies in the
fact that too often there is a failure in these discussions to
have regard to context. They also fail to take into account that
certain categories of people experience their oppression as a
group, whether they be asylum seekers, Asian women or the children
of "first generation" West Indian immigrants. That context
is shaped first and foremost by the state and its apparatuses,
particularly the police and the criminal justice system. But it
is a context determined in time, also, by the excluded and marginalised
groups themselves. That context is equally important to our understanding
of different patterns of crime among the same category of people
over time. It also helps to explain the attitude towards crime
that future generations of young people develop because of the
lifestyle and life choices of those around them and which they
regard as "cultural" and functional.
Lambert, John, etc, wrote in the early 1970s
based on work done at the end of the 1960s. By 1978, in a seminal
study that is still critical to the work of an inquiry such as
yours, Stuart Hall et al, (Policing the CrisisMugging,
the State and Law and Order) were able to point to the way
the police, the judiciary and the media had racialised "mugging"
and street robberies and in the process had profiled black youths
(British born of African Caribbean descent) as a potential threat
to safety on the streets and to law and order more generally.
It is worth exploring here, also, how a culture
of racism in the society, manifesting in job discrimination, negative
attitudes to young black people and low expectations of them,
their unjust treatment by the justice system, especially when
colluding with police malpractice, has spawned a culture of resistance
to the values that the society projects as consensual: the work
ethic, respect for persons and for property, obeying the law,
etc. There is a tendency in public policy circles and among social
analysts to examine young people's involvement in crime or on
the periphery of crime purely from a socio-economic perspective.
Educational attainment, employability, availability of jobs and
income are typically the variables employed in such analysis.
A concern that a number of parents and social commentators have,
for example, is why is it that despite the Gordon Brown "revolution"
and the fact that the country has enjoyed almost a decade of low
inflation and low unemployment, youth offending amongst black
young people and the incidence of gun related crimes have shown
no marked decrease.
This is a question that needs to be addressed.
Without any attempt at a considered response,
I would argue that part of the "culture" within our
communities to which I referred above is the fact that in addition
to the well known indicators of social exclusion that impact upon
black young people (low educational attainment, school exclusion,
low income, single parent families, repeated offending, etc),
social exclusion of an active kind is being perpetuated. Active
social exclusion could be defined as:
"... the form of exclusion that comes about
when young people lay claim to particular identities and make
choices about lifestyles which compound their disadvantage and
their existence on the margins of the society". (Tom Wiley,
National Youth Agency)
Young people's persistent involvement in certain
practices within the "alternative economy" even in a
period of low unemployment, the lifestyles that accompany that,
the consequences of those practices for their parenting, for their
offspring, and for their communities are all manifestations of
that active social exclusion. Interestingly, there is growing
evidence of this phenomenon precisely at a time when workers from
the former Eastern Europe are inserting themselves into the economy
and taking jobs which are equally open to those young black people.
Their involvement in the "alternative economy",
however, continues to support the mainstream economy and the activities
of other young (and older) black people within it. Their patronage
of mini-cab firms, barber shops, hairdressers, food outlets, fashion
outlets, hair products, private gyms, music and entertainment
outlets, etc, within the black community is huge, let alone their
engagement with the mainstream economy.
The concerns of the Youth Justice Board and
other agencies, and the findings of the Cabinet Office's study
on Ethnic minorities and the labour market (2004), point
to what I have described as "... the inexorable growth of
a British born, British schooled, black underclass, operating
on the margins of society".
Certain structural arrangements serve to exacerbate
the growth of this marginalised sector of the population, school
exclusion being among the most serious:
"The 13,000 young people excluded from school
each year might as well be given a date by which to join the prison
service some time later on down the line".
Martin Narey Director General of the Prison
"Of 400 young people in a Young Offender
Institution (YOI), 200 had been excluded from school".
Two-thirds of the population of YOIs had left
or been put out of school at age 13 or under.
Showing evidence of the link between school
exclusion and social exclusion, Lord Warner of Brockley, then
Chair of the Youth Justice Board observed:
"80% of young offenders of school age are
out of school, either through exclusion or refusal to attend;
... mainstream schooling is not willing and not able to deal with
children with challenging behaviour".
The fact that black school students (African
Caribbean boys in particular) are still six times more likely
to be excluded than their white counterparts is a further source
of concern, given the link between school exclusion and youth
Social exclusion, passive or active, and the
resistance/rebellion that has come to characterise the "culture"
that obtains within sections of black communities is leading increasingly
to forms of a-moral existence for a section of the young black
population. The Committee will hopefully hear evidence, empirical
and anecdotal as to just how large that section is.
That existence is characterised by "life
on the edge", by life threatening violence and a general
cheapening of life, by conduct which suggests that there are no
moral boundaries or checks and balances on the actions of individuals.
In 2003, for example, Commander Alan Brown
Head of Operation Trident (against "black on black"
gun crime) reported as follows:
21 black on black killings in London and 67 other
attempted murders during 2001.
16 murders involving black gangs fighting for
control of London's crack cocaine market. (77% increase in figures
74 attempted murders by black gunmen in 2002.
"There were clear attempts to kill, and
it is only because of poor marksmanship or poor ammunition that
these people were not killed. It seems to be a matter of luck
whether you suffer an injury or you die".
The spectrum of youth offending is clearly very
wide and types of offending differ as between young men and young
women and within those groups also. Some young men engage in thefts
from the person and do not indulge in any form of smoking. Others
smoke cannabis and do not engage in any other form of offending.
Some young women engage in credit card fraud and burglaries, others
only in shoplifting. At the extreme end of the spectrum, young
men engage in drive-by shootings and other gun related murders.
Whatever similarities there may be between the
criminal behaviour of young black people and young people of other
ethnic groups, it is important to have regard to the respective
percentages of the group in question within the population locally
and nationally. Similarly, it is critical to have regard to the
internal dynamics of the group in question and the profile that
the wider group of which it is a part have had in the society
and in the criminal justice system over time. As far as black
young people are concerned, for example, perceptions of them as
underachievers espousing "alternative" lifestyles, prone
to school exclusion and as being in conflict with the police are
crucial in determining the way they are treated by the public,
public agencies and the criminal justice system.
With specific reference to guns and gangs in
African Caribbean communities, we in GJP have been developing
and delivering modular programmes for conflict resolution and
peace building. The broad principles on which this work is based
are explored in some detail in Taking A Stand. This work
is being done with young people on the periphery of gangs and/or
those wanting to leave gangs. The two, inter-related modules we
have developed so far are entitled:
Working With Young People in Conflicta
programme of self-development and strategies for avoiding conflict,
Interactive Sessions for Self Development: young
people understanding conflict and developing personal strategies
for avoiding and resolving it.
There are in Manchester and elsewhere various
multi-agency approaches to combating gun crime and gang activity
among young black people. My observation is that too often there
is an over-emphasis on a "quick fix" at the expense
of the careful work I believe to be necessary with individual
young people, with groups of young people, peers and parents.
Indeed, I have a concern about the level of understanding agencies
bring to a situation which needs considerable thought, discussion
and intervention within the dynamics of the black family and community
from inside of our experience, and from an African perspective.
I say that because the problem is essentially
a product of the dynamics of race, class and identity within this
society itself. So, while it manifests as a law and order, crime
and disorder, youth offending problem, it is essentially an expression
of pathology and evidence of the implosion at the very core of
the black community itself. Yet, we buy into multi-agency approaches
and address the issue from a crime and disorder perspective before
we as black people give ourselves the space to do the painful
work we must do on ourselves, by ourselves, in order to own the
problem and draw upon one another's strengths in arresting it
at its roots. It seems to me that many multi-agency approaches
leap-frog over that critical part of the process, the stage most
likely to guarantee sustainability.
I believe that it is necessary to create space,
safe and secure space, and time ... for our young people and their
parents to work with black individuals not linked to these agencies
and who have the skills and competences to assist them in making
effective use of that space. Such community healing (which is,
after all, what it must be) requires time and it also requires
sensitivity on the part of agencies such as the police, youth
offending teams, etc. We have seen the progress that has been
painstakingly made with young people who are hell bent on self
destruction jeopardised totally because of some overzealous and
inflexible reaction on the part of the authorities or because
of the absence of assessment of risk to the individual breaking
ranks with his "posse".
Restorative justice as one approach, despite
its limitations, must be given a chance to work in these situations
where inter-family and inter-group conflicts escalate and revenge
killings are planned and executed.
Our work suggests that in addition to the work
of the statutory agencies such as the Youth Offending Teams, Crime
and Disorder Reduction Partnerships and the rest, there is a need
within communities for:
Local support cells for young people
and parents, not connected to such agencies.
Peer strategies for learning development
and conflict resolution.
Local mediation councils.
Local and national initiatives for
celebrating success in combating young people's involvement in
gangs and in crime.
Local and national campaigns against
Local and national campaigns against
firearms and against the murders in our communities...
In conclusion, these are but some "broad
brush" observations which I hope will assist the Committee
in focusing upon some key areas and maybe inviting specific evidence
in relation to them. I shall make available to the Committee a
copy of Taking A Stand and other such background material
I consider of use to you (not printed).
Professor Gus John
Visiting Professor of Education, University of Strathclyde,
and Chief Executive of the
Gus John Partnership Limited.