The tragic murder of three teenagers in south London over the last fortnight has unleashed a wave of “soul searching” by the media and politicians alike.
Most have attempted to lay the blame for the killings on what they describe as the dysfunctional nature of the African Caribbean family.
Tory leader David Cameron called for urgent reform of “the law, and the rules around child maintenance, to compel men to stand by their families”.
John Francis, a senior pastor of Ruach Ministries in Brixton, south London, joined the melee. “Single parenthood and a lack of social amenities for the youth [are] causing them to become bored and wander the streets aimlessly,” he said.
Many black MPs and spokespeople have echoed at least some of these claims. But there are many who disagree with them.
“What has happened to those kids is deeply shocking, but most of these politicians and ‘community leaders’ are playing upon stereotypes,” said Janet Noble, a south London mother of three and Unison union activist.
“People should understand that only a very small number of young people are involved in gangs.
“What none of these ‘leaders’ want to talk about is why it is that some children feel that they have no future.
“Why do they value their lives so little that they would become part of a gang that uses guns?
“Why does no one want to address why there are so very few opportunities for our kids to get good jobs and houses?
“We’ve had 30 years of neoliberal policies that have told everyone to grab whatever they can for themselves if they want to be successful, and to trample on anyone who gets in your way.
“We’ve had 30 years in which society has effectively washed its hands of social problems and let the free market rip.
“Our schools reflect this ethos. The admission selection procedures that exist now mean that many schools want to exclude children who might not get good grades at GCSE level, or children who might have behavioural difficulties.
“That means young people today are growing up in a form of social apartheid that is as much about class as it is about race. Middle class kids are shipped off to ‘nice’ schools while poor kids are dumped.
“None of the politicians want to talk about the stress that their economic policies have put families and individuals under – because that would mean accepting some responsibility for what has happened.
“Instead the killings are being used as a means to tell black people that some strange combination of hip-hop and the breakdown of the family is the real cause of crime.
“Billy Cox, the latest person to be killed, came from a two parent family – but that doesn’t seem to be relevant to them.
“I remember when I was growing up in the 1980s. We had people like Bernie Grant MP who would tear into the institutionalised racism in society. Yet today’s leaders seem happy to go along with blaming the victims.”
Kerstie lives on the Press Road estate in north west London where gun crime has been a problem in recent years.
She explained to Socialist Worker why some people join gangs. “Lots of young people in this area feel they are not treated with any dignity,” she said.
“It starts at school, where you are made to feel worthless, then it continues if you get a job.
“And if you don’t get a job, then you’re made to feel worthless once every two weeks when you have to go and sign on at the dole office.
“If you come from this area, your life is full of barriers and school is just one of them.
“For some people, a gang offers a chance to get respect. For others, a gang is like their family – your gang are the only people who have got your back, who look after you.
“If you have nothing positive going on in your life, then a gang can be attractive.
“If the government really wanted to do something about this issue, they should come down here and talk to us.
“Instead of dishing out Asbos, they should make an effort to find out about how we feel and ask us how to improve things.”
For more on young people go to Unicef report: suffer the children