Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

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.


  2.1  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 black—which 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.


  3.1  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 financially—this can result in carrying weapons for self protection and adoption of gang culture as a protection mechanism.


  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 people—police 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 criminals—this further alienates them from the authorities set up to help them.


  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.


  6.1  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 skills—they are still disadvantaged.


  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 barriers—they 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 example—a 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 society—whatever their behaviour.

    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 them—therefore 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 them—rather it is something they have achieved.

  8.2  Young black people in the education system:

    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 out—what 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 viewer?

  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 people—allowing 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.

September 2006

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