Monday, 4 July 2022 – 14:12

Opinion: Explaining Violence On The Streets Of London

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

In the first half of 2018, the British media began to report on the violence that was taking place on the streets of London. The articles that managed to find their way to social media described stabbings and shootings among London teenagers. It was said by many News organisations that violence was on the rise again and gang membership was seen as a driving influence behind this new surge of violent acts. The questions that follow are why? How? And who?

Who are the individuals responsible for this sudden surge of violent crime among teenagers?

What were the circumstances that lead to this resurgence of gang activity on the streets of this nation’s capital?

Why now?

The answers to these questions shall be explored in this following passage. To begin with, here is some context on gang activity in London. In the ‘noughties’ and the early 2010s, there was a citywide turf war between gang members. The borders in this war were defined by the postcode that gangs primarily resided in. A similar phenomenon occurred in America between the East coast and the West coast and most famously led to the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Christopher ‘Biggie Smalls’ Wallace. In London’s case, the turf war was cut down into finer chunks and involved a larger number of groups. In some cases, the turf war was broken down even further and became divided by council estates or road names. An example of this is in East London where gang members from priory court and gang members from the drive were at odds with one another. The most well-known case in the Postcode wars was the division between the two gangs in Lewisham and Peckham. Multiple UK artists have made reference to the dispute with some artists even creating entire songs on the topic.

The postcode wars are publicly believed to have ended after the occurrence of the London riots which took place in 2012 after protesters gathered outside a London police station asking for an explanation behind the unnecessary murder of Mark Duggan by Police officers who were attempting to apprehend Mr Duggan. The protest broke into violence and outrage after one protester was treated brutally by police officers when asking for an explanation as to why they had not been addressed by officials after hours of protesting. The act of violence carried out by police officials led to an eruption of further chaos as the already frustrated people of London were pushed over the edge. There are many reasons why the riots broke out, the most prominent being the multitude of drastic cuts by the newly elected coalition government. The people of London were disgruntled and a riot was inevitable. The decades of poor treatment of ethnic minorities at the hands of the police force was another strong factor.

The end of the riots saw mass arrests and a drastic decrease in reports on gang activity. It was believed by many that the postcode wars had finally ended. The new wave of gang activity that is currently being reported on in the news and on social media brings the threat of a new postcode war breaking out onto the streets of London. The residents of north London have already begun a movement to prevent the youth of today from participating in gang activity after a young girl was shot. The question that has yet to be asked is whether the postcode wars ever truly ended. There were fewer reports of gang activity in the media but that does not necessarily mean that there was a decrease or end to the gang wars in London. In his book ‘Between the world and me’, Ta-Nahesi Coates writes that “the violence is not new, it’s the cameras that are new”, something which can be interpreted as a commentary on social media and globalization. The evolution of communication technologies was driven by globalization to the point that everything becomes accessible to the public via the internet. As communication technology progresses so too does society’s awareness of ongoing events that would otherwise go unreported on in the traditional media.

The argument that is made by Coates in relation to societal awareness of violence is that it has always been there and has only become uncovered due to the new capabilities of the internet and social media.  The recent increase in news stories on knife crime in England’s capital is can be attributed to the evolution of communication technologies and the rise in their availability in some part. It is not difficult to combat knife crime, it is very simple. Gang violence and knife crime are a symptom of the vast gap between the classes, an education system that is failing due to constant reforms for the sake of reform, and the horrifically poor race relations in this country.  This conclusion is based on the fact that every government that has come into power has sought to bring about some kind of reform, going as far back as Blair. The failings of the education system on the working class and ethnic minority individuals can be identified as one of the main reasons why gang culture continues to thrive. Labelling theory suggests that ethnic minorities and the working class are expected to behave in a way that is deviant and that this leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. In order to combat gang culture, it is essential that the education system supports these groups as much as possible. 

Aside from the evolution of communication technologies, such as mobile phones with cameras and Wi-Fi, it feels as though the reports on knife crime in the capital came at a time that was convenient for the Prime Minister, Theresa May. In the first quarter of 2018, May was facing ridicule and multiple blows to her image due to her troubles with Brexit. During the period when knife crime and the protests against knife crime that followed, Brexit took a backseat to a moderate extent. The media seemed more concerned with reporting on gang activity and shootings than with the progress, or lack thereof, Brexit. Will it be the case that every time that our prime minister, originally an unelected official, messes up politically that we will see a rise in stories that are focused on gang crime and knife crime?


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