50. Memorandum submitted by
the Damilola Taylor Trust
1.1 My name is Heidi Watson, I am the Chief
Executive of the Damilola Taylor Trust. The Trust was established
a year after Damilola's death to prevent young people (under 25s)
from becoming either victims or perpetrators of crime. We run
educational anti-crime events for young people at risk of becoming
entrenched in violent criminal behaviour as well as education
in schools and the community. We work in partnership with national
and local police, the Home Office, schools and other private and
voluntary sector organisations.
Many of the young people we work with are involved
in gangs, living in deprived areas, and a wide cross section are
from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. I am the Vice Chair
of the IAG for New Scotland Yard's bladed weapon strategic unit,
Operation Blunt. I chair a Knife Policy Group at Portcullis House
with a children's think-tank called Kids Count. I will be speaking
on knife crime at fringe events for the three main party conferences
this year. In addition to this I also work for Serco Home Affairs
business development team designing custodial and community solutions
to rehabilitate youth and adult offenders. My previous experience
includes work with the homeless, street prostitutes, chaotic drug
users, youth and adult ex-offenders and long term unemployed and
socially excluded people.
1.2 My evidence is based on experience of
working with young black people in the community and criminal
justice system, victims, suspects and perpetrators alike and gaining
a first hand understanding of the cultures and subcultures which
shape their lives in this country. It does not have supportive
research analysis as I am not an academic. My job is to change
the hearts and minds of young people and in order to do that you
must first understand them.
2. SOCIAL STEREOTYPING/MEDIA
2.1 In my experience, the neighbourhoods
most likely to report crime are those from a higher socio-economic
spectrum. Often in these neighbourhoods, young black people exist
in lower concentrations and are more likely to be treated with
mis-trust than areas of concentration, where they are better understood.
In inner city areas like London this is compounded by the fact
that areas of extreme deprivation and poverty border areas of
high wealth and a young black person entering a wealthy neighbourhood
from the "wrong side of the street" is viewed cautiously
and is far more likely to be reported to police for looking "suspicious"
or being in close proximity to a crime. Because they are viewed
as "out of place" this makes them more memorable if
a crime occurs and more likely to be seen as the likely perpetrator.
Young people feel this and it builds an automatic barrier in their
minds, a feeling that they can never achieve wealth legitimately
as they will never be accepted in wealthy social circles.
This leads to a likelihood of police being directed
to question young black people about incidents with which they
may have no involvement. Young black people often cut themselves
off from the police, believing that they will be brought in for
questioning just because they are blackwhich only adds
to the feeling that wealth and social acceptance is beyond them.
This is compounded by the media, with reporting
on "feral children", "hoodies", the "yob
culture" and their tendency to highlight young black men
as being the perpetrators.
3. YOUNG BLACK
3.1 Young black people in this country are
more likely to grow up in with a single parent (usually a mother)
bringing them up, making successful parenting more difficult.
In areas of poverty schools are more challenged in terms of quality
of teaching, facilities and services. There are more likely to
be concentrations of anti social and unruly pupils, distracting
those who do want to learn and pressuring them against this. There
is a lot of anger generated by the feeling of being trapped in
poverty and not "let into" opportunities for wealth.
This leads to a "why bother" approach for many, already
struggling against the odds. The home environment is often not
conducive to schoolwork, learning and concentration. Small houses
mean no self contained study room, therefore study is often interrupted
by the other occupants of the house, further adding to the problem.
3.2 Getting to school is far more dangerous
as young black people are more likely to become a victim of crime
themselves and the few possessions they have are at risk of being
stolen by perpetrators who arm themselves for the purpose of intimidation.
This leads to a belief that they need to band together for self
protection and to "further" themselves financiallythis
can result in carrying weapons for self protection and adoption
of gang culture as a protection mechanism.
4. GANG CULTURE
4.1 To some young black people gangs are
a way to enter a family which provides belonging, safety, money,
status and power. Gang culture has been glamourised by black hip
hop and rap stars from America whose claim to fame is the shootings
they have survived and injuries they live with. Music videos show
these outcast role models surrounded by symbols of wealth and
success, female attention and movie star lifestyles. Young black
people who feel that they are outcasts in our society are presented
with role models who they can identify with and a lifestyle to
aspire to without having to overcome the prejudices of society.
4.2 This is a dangerous trend attracting
outcasts from across white, black and minority ethnic groups towards
a culture which is marketing a lie. A gang lifestyle cannot bring
the financial and societal rewards shown. Most find that they
are stuck in a low paid, high risk "job"being
runners and pushers for the illegal drug industry. Unfortunately,
by the time young people discover this for themselves, they are
in danger if they attempt to leave the gangs and they may already
have a criminal record which further decreases their chances of
any kind of legitimate income success.
4.3 To these young peoplepolice are
seen as another gang, no cooperation is allowed and engagement
is frowned upon. Police are more likely to target young black
people in a group, believing them to be a gang with criminal intent.
For a group of young black friends who do not deal drugs and are
not criminalsthis further alienates them from the authorities
set up to help them.
5. VIOLENT CULTURE
5.1 In my opinion the Film Industry, Video
Game Industry and Music Industry set the tone of youth culture
more than reflect it. Far too often they glamourise violence,
portray rewards for criminal behaviour, and pander to the more
base emotions which young people should be encouraged to suppress
not indulge. This sets up role models who are anti-social, violent
and achieve success through violence.
5.2 Computer/video games which allow young
people to play out violent fantasies, gain rewards for car theft,
murder, the carrying of weapons and general anti-social behaviour
are leading impressionable young minds into the subconscious belief
that this is how you achieve your goals.
5.3 The attachment of an 18 certificate
is no barrier to young people in socially deprived neighbourhoods
since they can easily access pirate copies and are therefore unlikely
to buy them over the counter, subject to legal restrictions. To
the young black people who see themselves as society's outcasts
this is a far more glamorous way of life than trying to build
a career against the odds.
5.4 Even in the more mainstream television
programming conflicts are rarely resolved through intelligent
negotiation or social skills. Instead, the more sensationalist,
extremist behaviour is shown to attract ratings, creating a culture
where the extremist becomes the norm.
6. CAREER BARRIERS
6.1 For those young black people who are
able to overcome all of this negative role modeling, anger and
fear they have yet more barriers to face.
6.2 They are far less likely to come from
a home where university is an affordable, realistic option. Parental
financial support from a low income or single income household
for a young person who is studying away from home is highly unlikely.
6.3 Even if they overcome this barrier and
find a way to support themselves, once again they are outcast,
since it is likely that they will need to work in a paid job as
well as study to financially support themselves, therefore having
less available time and energy for their studies. They are also
less likely to be able to enter the social side of university
life as they cannot afford the time or money to do this.
6.4 If they overcome all of this and gain
a good qualification young black people are then less likely to
be chosen by an employer to interview if they have an obviously
ethnic name. Once interviewed they are less likely to gain the
best career opportunities since they have had neither the time
nor pro-social modeling to allow them to develop the most persuasive
and adept social skillsthey are still disadvantaged.
7. YOUNG BLACK
7.1 Some young black people are from the
Muslim religion. With these young people, not only do they face
all of the above prejudices, stereotyping and societal barriersthey
also face the additional factor that their religion is becoming
a symbol of terrorist fear in this country. Since 9/11 and 7/7
young Muslims in this country increasingly feel under threat,
isolated and victimized by society. This further compounds other
issues of social exclusion detailed above and is a worrying new
facet to an old problem.
8.1 Social Stereotyping and Media Reporting:
Media Reporting can change behaviours as well
as setting the tone of them. Media should be encouraged to celebrate
young black people who have made a success of their lives or have
contributed significantly to society by their behaviours or examplea
more balanced approach to young black people in this country.
Increasingly young people across the ethnic spectrum feel that
they are viewed as a problem for societywhatever their
Role models are strong motivators to shape young
black people's behaviour, it is up to us to create the right ones.
Mentor schemes between people who have achieved financial and
social success (from all faiths and ethnicities) and young black
people struggling to get on the first rung of the ladder can be
a powerful tool. Those who do not understand the barriers which
social deprivation puts on a young person's life will always fear
the young people who are "different" to themtherefore
this is a two way learning progress.
Community engagement and integration events between
wealthy communities and their poorer neighbours should be encouraged
to foster a bridge between them and try to walk in each other's
shoes. Young black people should be consulted, engaged in the
planning process and put at the heart of these schemes so that
it is not something which is done to themrather it is something
they have achieved.
8.2 Young black people in the education
Supervised study rooms should be made available
for deprived young people (of all ethnicities) who want to study
in safety and quiet, this could be supervised by local business
people as part of a corporate social responsibility initiative.
Teachers should be recruited locally so that
they have a good understanding of the cultural base of the neighbourhood
and are representative of the cultural mix.
8.3 Gang culture:
Safe houses for young people who are in danger
of being victimised by a gang or want to escape from one should
be set up in areas with known danger hotspots. These should be
zones where young people can go, without being questioned, to
be protected from danger.
The only authority set up to protect young people
is the police force. They are seen by many young black people
as being prejudiced, confrontational and always looking for a
means of gaining their next conviction, rather than being someone
they can turn to for help. Young people increasingly feel that
they need to protect themselves, this must be overcome if the
number of weapons carried for self protection are to be reduced.
At the Damilola Taylor Trust we are using reformed
ex-offenders who have "street cred" to build a bridge
between young people and the safer neighbourhoods and safer schools
officers, to foster trust and mutual respect and allow them to
ask for help when they need it. This is proving very successful
but organisations like ours need help and money to roll this out
widely. Additionally, however, neighbourhood policing must be
backed up by better witness protection if this is to result in
better intelligence and more targeted, effective detection.
Police recruitment should include personality
testing which weeds out those with a tendency towards prejudicial
views or abuse of power. One police officer without the personality
for community integration can undo the work of so many other excellent
police officers. In such a key role, the personal fairness of
each officer is essential to community cohesion. Also officers
should be trained to develop the necessary social skills to successfully
engage young black people to foster the understanding that the
community and the police are on the same side.
8.4 Violent culture:
Programmers should be made responsible for the
content of the programmes they broadcast, not only in terms of
labeling it correctly with age restrictions but in terms of what
message it gives outwhat is the moral and lasting impression
of the piece. Why should products which reward amoral or anti-social
behaviour exist? What service does it provide to society or the
8.5 Career barriers:
The Damilola Trust gives a set of annual awards
to the Kings College Access to Medicine programme. An opportunity
for young people from more socially deprived areas to complete
a medical degree over six years rather than five, with mentoring
support and their own study room. This offers an excellent opportunity
to young black peopleallowing them a way into a lucrative
career path. Many of these are now in the top tenth percentile
of the college. This is underpinned by a schools programme which
engages potential next stage candidates and give them hope for
their career future.
This type of programme should be extended to
many industries to enable a more balanced workforce and a pathway
out of poverty. Employers should be encouraged to mentor potential
future employees from school age onwards.
8.6 Young black muslims:
Engagement with young Muslims, especially young
black Muslims is crucial to maintain social cohesion in troubled
times, even their community leaders are often cut off from them.
Social and Educational programmes should be developed
where young people mix in supervised circumstances and gain a
better understanding of each other and of adult support. An excellent
example of this is street football in Scotland where a fold up
football pitch is taken into inner city areas. Young people play
football but must adhere to strict rules of conduct. It is a proven
conduit to keep young people fit, help them to understand their
differences and teach them pro-social behaviour in a socially
fun and inclusive way.