Despite the invitation, there was never a warm welcome to the Afro Caribbean community, when they arrived on HMS Windrush some 68 years ago. A sense of social injustice has been ever present since. With prison populations in London, Birmingham and Manchester being over proportionately black, there seems to be an alarming acceptance that this is the status quo. When a community has statistically more chance of graduating from the school playground to the inner confines of a young offenders institution than they have of achieving a place at university, there is something fundamentally wrong, isn’t there? The debate on this issue never moves forward. The lack of progress in establishing an effective solution is a stigma not only on the African Caribbean community, my community, but also on the academics, community leaders and politicians that are this community’s representatives – of sorts.
I have seen government ministers and high-ranking police officers try and circle this issue like a hippopotamus on ice skates. They imply, without stating, for fear of slipping arse over face into a race argument. I have uncomfortably watched black community leaders’ trigger-happy use of the term ‘racist’ when the truth hits too close for their convenience.
I shall not mince my words. The gang problem is predominantly a black youth problem. If black youths are not recruited as gang members they are potentially the gang’s main victims. My own brother aged 13, was robbed last week for his phone and wallet by a group of 18 – 19 year olds, who are notorious in their local area. There is an undeniable link between areas where there are a high concentration of black families and gangs. Gangs are most active in the areas where they live. The majority of their crimes are at the expense of their own community. As gang members become more seasoned they may move on to stealing cash in transit, smash and grabs from jewellery stores and drug dealing, but their intimidating presence is most felt in their ‘endz’. I now helplessly worry whether, out of fear, my brother will feel his only option is to seek protection by joining a gang as a ‘younger’. (Gangs have levels of membership. ‘Elders’ are generally the leaders and new recruits are ‘youngers’).
I believe until we, as a community, are prepared to hold, not only public officials, but also ourselves to account, no further progress can be made in addressing a problem that affects our young men and women. Our community can not stand idly by whilst our families are deprived of thousands of young men, who are sons, brothers, fathers and stake holders in the on going narrative of the first ethnic group to come to the UK in great numbers. We need to be quick in our condemnation of acts and deeds that cast our community in a negative light. We must not collude in the criminal endeavours of our family members. We should not turn a blind eye to young men peddling the class A poison that destroys lives, so long as our own lives remain unaffected. We should not put the problem and the quest for solutions at the door of the state. We need to take stock of what part we have played and show strength in offering a vision of ourselves that is more appealing than the superficial trappings of ill gotten gains.