Ever heard of Kennington Black Mobb SE11? Or, Cripset SW8? Or, 031 Bloods? Thought not. And Google won't give you many clues either. Apparently, they're all gangs that are relatively local to the area that this blog covers, although only the Kennington Black Mobb SE11 are actually based within the postcode.
Thanks to Londonist for the Twitter heads up on somebody who claims to have accurately mapped all of the gangs in London. Lambeth, apparently, have around 24 gangs (which includes all of the subsets) and you can view them on a Google map here. Southwark, by comparison, appear to only have about 9, also mapped here.
In general, I wonder whether this kind of mapping will result in the creation of additional gangs? Will this information actually generate fear and cause people to stay at home? Will this data mean we keep pathologising / criminalising the young people in our communities? Rapid online communication exists for good and for ill. But what's remarkable is how little of the internet appears to be marked by gangs in the same way. It might be argued that perhaps I don't look at the correct forums, or I miss the markers. Recent emails/Twitters from local bloggers have led me to think that local gang members probably just comment on existing sites, rather than creating their own online sites... But, I'm still led to wonder whether there is something important about physical territory that allows it to be claimed in a way that virtual territory cannot be? Do we risk spending so much time online or performing "virtual" activities that we actually contribute to social unrest and stratification by refusing real-life flesh and blood meeting?
What has happened to the idea that it take a village to raise a child, and how does that apply to inner-city London? Certainly, the people that created the maps attracted the attention of a writer in the Telegraph, but if the tabloids pick it up, will they attempt to use the information to scaremonger? For generations now, young people, often (but not universally) men, have formed close friendships and bonded together to create an identity by choosing to wear particular clothing, adopting a languge and "marking" an area. At what point does this become a problem? Is this something related to class or race? Are local gangs split along classist or racist lines? To what extent do we criminalise local young people by referring to their form of assocation as "gang membership"? When young people at university create these kind of bonds, we call them "university societies" or fraternities/sororities. Now, I accept that most members of university societies are not going out and wreaking havoc on a neighbourhood, and causing trouble... But, really, how much is crime a badge of gang membership? Do we have turf wars on our hands, or are we just labelling people for the sake of it? Does having a gang near to where you live affect you negatively, or do you know the members as neighbours?
Rather than just criminalising young people, or writing them off as "gangs", I'd really like to know what the community could do on behalf of local youths, what kind of facilities they need, how they can be kept safe, whether they feel excluded or marginalised from mainstream education, and their reasons for belonging to gangs. I'm well aware of local civic organisations eg. Vauxhall Society, Kennington Association, and of TRAs. but I have questions about how much these organisations can represent the entire local community. It's easy for educated and connected people to form organisations, but are they made inclusive? How do we meet one another? Do we have spaces in which we could all meet together, and talk about being neighbours? Are you a member of a gang? Do you read local blogs?
I'm endlessly googled by readers, desperate to find out whether Kennington is dangerous. I have no idea! It doesn't feel dangerous to me. The longer I live here, in general, the safer I feel. But that's possibly because I'm not likely to be targeted by gang members...
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