Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


39.  Memorandum submitted by the Peace Alliance and the Black Church Leaders Forum

1.  EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  1.1  This submission has sought to recognise some of the challenges facing black youngsters with their overrepresentation within the criminal justice system (CJS)[218] and the public perception of criminality amongst young black people. It has attempted to address these concerns through a nine-point approach; persecution and policing, parenting, peer pressure, perception, poverty and places, preventative measures and prisons.

  1.2  The recommendations proposed are structured around a five-point principle with solutions in:

    proper Parenting.

    effective Education.

    celebrated Achievement.

    mobilised Communities.

    sustainable Enterprise.

2.  INTRODUCTION

  2.1 Reverend Nims has served as a pastor in the black community for over 20 years, and in more recent times he has gotten involved in a number of key committees including the Operation Trident Independent Advisory Group (IAG), Operation Blunt IAG and as a governor of the College of North East London. He has played an active role in the review and development of the Stop and Search strategy supporting the Metropolitan Police Authority, the Metropolitan Police Service and Home Office investigations. He is also a London Board member of the Commission for Racial Equality and chairs the London Criminal Justice Board IAG.

  He is the Chief Executive of the Peace Alliance, a national organisation working with local communities to reduce crime and increase cohesion amongst communities.

  2.2  He has particular experience in issues around violent crime in the black community; directly supporting families of victims of violent crime and delivering partnership projects to address this. He has with a number of partners developed a range of educational resources for young people to deter them from a criminal lifestyle. These include the Untouchable? DVD and teacher resource pack on real life experiences around gun crime and; a three-part "What's the Point?" comic on knife crime. He also developed the "Inside Out" project which takes ex-offenders and professionals into Youth Offending Teams and other youth institutions to warn young people about the impact of life behind bars and also gives information about the role of the criminal justice system. He was invited in November 2003 to give evidence in the All Parliamentary Group on gun crime and previously served on the Home Office Crack Advisory Board.

  2.3 Reverend Nims acts as a mentor for young boys in his local borough in Haringey and is in close contact with a number of disaffected black boys. He also serves on the Local Strategic Partnership Board, Crime and Disorder Partnership Board and chairs the Haringey multi faith forum.

  2.4 Reverend Nims brings a wealth of experience and knowledge in issues around community cohesion and has involved schools, youth clubs, community organisations, the statutory, voluntary and business sectors in the London Week of Peace which profiles community safety and cohesion.

3.  YOUNG BLACK PEOPLE AND THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

  3.1 There are a host of theories and views purporting to explain the high levels of black people on the wrong side of the CJS. While there is a seductive tendency to the mono-casual explanation of this negative encounter to race and racism, this Committee needs both to understand and resist the seduction so as to explore other issues from an open perspective. We start by quoting a local crime data analyst who once commented that to solve the black problem in this community would be to solve a majority of the crime problem in the area.

  So what then is the "Black Problem?" if there is such a phrase.

  The topic has been approached from nine different aspects and reports on the actual and perceived experiences of young black people leading to an overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. Most of the evidence put forward has been collected over six years of working and supporting black youngsters and their families as well as hosting community meetings to discuss these issues.

3.2  Persecution and policing

  The reality of day to day living of black young people in UK today demonstrates various levels of persecution which is reinforced by negative stereotypes and media portrayals.

  Unprofessional Stop and Search practices by the police continue to be high on the list of experiences suffered by black boys and statistics from recent published figures illustrate the scale of the negative encounter of black people with the police and other members of the CJS and the reality of disproportionality.

  Feedback from young people at an Education to Employment (E2E) programme was that nobody was going to employ them as their accent and colour did not fit the jobs out there. This view is affirmed simply by looking at many corporate structures in UK today. This has created a sense of despondency leading to a parallel community that does not easily align itself with mainstream society. Some young people have said that they would rather create their own job opportunities rather than relying on a failing system. This often results in illegitimate drug trading.

  Concerns within the education system were highlighted at our Young People and Parents Conferences.[219] These included the difference in the way black young people were treated in schools mostly due to the lack of adequate support, poor communication skills, fear and negative preconceived notions displayed by the teachers. This impacts on the high exclusion rates of young black people leading to overrepresentation at pupil support centres which then becomes the first step in their exclusion from mainstream society leading to potential criminal behaviour.

  Young people have also said that schools in certain communities do not encourage enterprising behaviour, but rather reinforce a poor working class mentality. The absence of an all year round historical education on black heroes was also seen to undermine pride within young black minds. All of these factors produce negative responses to education leading to underachievement and in some cases a disproportionate level of exclusion.

3.3  Parenting

  An acknowledged breakdown in the social fabric of many black families is most typically exemplified by the lack of a strong father figure in the home. In addition, (the multiple jobs that) some single parents and low income families work long hours to make ends meet, thus creating very little time for effective parenting and children miss out on simple family experiences such as the dinner table, learning together and so on.

  A far greater concern is the increase in teenage pregnancy without adequate parenting skills and appropriate guidance for their equally young children.

  An excellent study on gang related activity[220] in Hackney, by Superintendent Leroy Logan identified that "productive, ever present parenting is an essential part of the solution", and we agree without belaboring the point.

  A major issue compounded by the lack of father figures in single parent homes was indicated by feedback from some sessions conducted which seem to indicate that young black boys are influenced by a "get rich quick" mentality and in some cases feel the responsibility/pressures of being the sole providers for their families. This often results in an alternative economy which is drug related.

  We also learnt that some black parents and carers/guardians are often disengaged with the child's learning experience in schools.

3.4  Peer Pressure

  With the absence of appropriate role models, support structures and figures of authority, young black boys have created an alternative family structure which in most cases is outside of the safety of the home environment. In some cases, this can be linked with petty criminality or anti-social behaviour. In more extreme cases, the leaders of such groups are often associated with serious levels of criminality including drugs and violent crime. Some young people in seeking to get "street cred" resort to making wrong decisions in order to get respect.

  Superintendent Leroy Logan, in his paper stated that we are starting to observe "peer group street collectives" (PGSCs) and gangs producing their street videos transmitted on several digital music channels advocating violence and retribution against their rivals.

  On a different frontier, there is an increasing feeling of insecurity and lack of confidence in the criminal justice system within the young black community. This has led to young black people feeling pressured to carry knives for their own safety. During workshops with young men we have heard this sentiment expressed continually.

  Giving another aspect to the problem, a number of young people in Newham, when asked about carrying knives, all identified the need to be cool, or as one of them put it, "to be like big people".

  These concerns are not only restricted to the black community but often still lead to further discrimination and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.

3.5  Perception

  There is a perception within certain quarters of the black community that within the media, there is an under reporting of black young people and the black community at large as victims of crime. Whilst on the other hand, the portrayal of black boys as criminals is somewhat excessive.

  It can also be argued that the negative stereotyping of young black boys has further compounded the issues causing even members of the public to be cautious around groups of black boys on public transport, street corners, shopping centres and other public areas. A young man once said "don't judge me just by what I wear". Stereotyping has produced negative attitudes leading to a self fulfilling prophecy.

  We also agree with Superintendent Leroy Logan that the numerous empowerment and crime reduction programmes seem to focus on the intellect of the individual and diversionary activities such as sports and music. This does not always prevent them from standing up against the peer pack mentality or the resentments and fears that come from the negative stereotypes. We need to "develop changes from within to address the condition of the heart, based on the person's resentments and fears and the damage it may have on that person".

3.6  Poverty and Places

  A large number of black communities are geographically located in socially deprived neighbourhoods which although in itself is not a basis for criminality cannot be ignored as an influential factor. In these communities, low self esteem impacts on behaviour and a "ghetto" mentality prevails. Young people have continually asked for social space. The lack of places for young people to spend their leisure time has been an ongoing issue between the black community and the government both locally and nationally. When young people feel disenfranchised and without a place to go, they resort to hanging out on the street making themselves targets for police and vulnerable to themselves.

  Though this challenge has resulted in some regeneration activity and more youth provision, we argue that some of this needs to be channeled through faith, community and voluntary groups who currently do excellent work with young people under serious financial pressures. Again this was highlighted as a key issue in the Damilola Taylor Murder Investigation Review.[221]

  Works undertaken in a faith context seem to have positive influences on young people's behaviour. Peers and friends alike have cited the experience and confidence gained by participating in activities such as boy scouts and girls brigades. These should be provided within a strong community network such as established faith institutions.

  Recent trends indicate that 44% of church goers in inner cities are from black and minority communities, and these churches should be empowered to run sustainable youth programmes leading to self esteem, inner development and wide exposure of life, and not just concentrating on sports and music.

3.7  Prevention measure and prisons

  The CJS has demonstrated numerous gaps in working with young black boys who leave the criminal justice system or those who are at great risk of entering into the criminal justice system due to their current environment.

  In a particular case encountered, the practical solution was to relocate a particular young person and his family from his immediate environment as remaining in that environment was likely to force the young person into criminal behaviour, either to protect himself from certain gangs or to remain in a certain gang in order to be in a position to get protection. Where such young persons and their families are willing to make these moves, no statutory support or exit strategy exists to extract them.

  There is inadequate community based support for ex-offenders leaving prison. The programmes that exist sometimes only reinforce the feelings of social exclusion, loneliness and despair. Feelings which sometimes only go away when they are restored back into a criminal or gang fraternity.

  Support should be community based. A faith example shows a family supported by a local church taking in ex-offenders and providing a community context for rehabilitation in a safe and secure environment.

3.8  Conclusion

  Community faith based partnership in conjunction with parents/carers and statutory agencies is vital without faith organisations feeling restricted by undue funding regulations.

4.  RECOMMENDATIONS

  Through our five-point P.E.A.C.E strategy, we recommend a tiered approach to working with young black people.

4.1  Parenting

  Encourage stronger parenting role models through active participation in the child's education through Parents Teachers Associations and governorship boards.

  Parents and carers should be supported and encouraged to be involved at the early stages of their child's educational development (ie ages 0 to 4 is critical).

4.2  Education

  Supplementary schools and other after school programmes should receive greater support from local authorities.

  Peer mentoring must be a response to the challenges of peer pressure![222]

  Sports programs that encourage competition should be implemented in schools.

  Schools should review exclusion strategy to keep excluded children on the premises with specific duties.

  Discrimination in schools and within the CJS should be identified and appropriately addressed to give young black students a greater confidence in the system.

4.3  Achievement

  Parents and community groups (including faith groups) and schools should be encouraged and funded to work together to develop schemes that recognise and reward achievers.

  The work of "Black Boys Can" should be evaluated and its best practice piloted in relevant communities for national roll-out.

4.4  Community

  Community based anti-gang and leadership activity should be supported and funded on a long term basis.[223]

  Research should be undertaken in a community context to understand complex issues surrounding the incidence of mental health in black communities and its link to the CJS.

  Support organisations should be developed for parents and carers who are not too confident in dealing with concerns around their child's education, particularly to offer help when dealing with problems in schools.

  The recruitment of black magistrates is vital to avoid potential discrimination of the bench.

  Police should be continually trained to be more professional and in some cases understanding in their handling of Stop and Search within the black community. The critical encounter often determines the response of young black boys.

4.5  Employment

  Technology, finance and other key vocational areas should become pivotal in developing more skills amongst young people.

  Job placement opportunities in every tier of society is vital from entrepreneurship, entertainment and politics.

Reverend Nims Obunge

October 2006



—  Black people were overrepresented for violent crime (2 victims for every white victim)

—  Black People were largely overrepresented for homicide (4 victims for every white victim), racist offences (7.4 victims for every white victim) and domestic violence (2.5 victims for every white victim).

—  The homicide ratio was 4 black victims to every 1 white victim in London.

—  The stop and search ratio was 4 black people to every 1 white.

—  Black people recorded the highest general arrest rate per 1,000 head (76) followed by other-BAME groups (28), white people (23) and Asian people (22).

—  29% of black people accounted for 50% of youth committing robbery, and over 30% of those being dealt with for drugs and violence.








218   Evidence reveals that Back

219   A hard copy of this report is attached (not printed). E copies can be made available by calling the Peace Alliance on 020 8808 9439 or email info@peacealliance.org.uk Back

220   A hard copy of this report is attached to this submission (see Ev 317). Back

221   Damilola Taylor Murder Investigation Review: The Report of the Oversight Panel, MPS: December 2002. Back

222   CONEL operates an in house peer-to-peer mentoring scheme where they match high scoring students to young students of a similar age to support them in their studies. For example, level 3 students working with level 2 students, sharing aspirations, work ethics, building confidence and assisting them in how to do their work. They have learnt that black young people like to meet with other black people who are doing well in school. CONEL's results in 2004-05 were 20% better than the average of Black/Caribbean colleges. Back

223   Examples such as the recently concluded TRUCE summer activity should be evaluated and its success recommended as transferable best practice to other areas with similar issues. A report on Truce is attached to the Hard Copy of this evidence (not printed). Back


 
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