I AM SHAUN BAILEY ..continued
Where they’ve been in that time is no man’s land. Barran Hulme thought I could help them . He initially found funding from the Government sponsored Drugs Action Team. I faced some extreme cases from the start. One was a boy bigamist who had got married three times by the age of 21 to help feed his drug habit. Another was a girl, already herself a prostitute, aided and abetted by her boyfriend. She was using her young sister to lure punters back home to attack and rob them. Many of the young people I saw were regularly robbing, three, four, five times a week easily. Burglaries were just off the hook because potentially, if you burgled the right house, you could make a real big score. Then there was the other end of the game – people who were fences because they had the connections to sell the gear.
Then it was bad. But life over the last four years here has got more extreme, and the levels of violence with drugs, guns and knives amongst the younger kids, much worse. Eight years ago it would have been fantasy stuff to car jack. Four years ago maybe you would have found one person who’d entertain it and everybody would have thought he was a lunatic. Not any more. Now I could show you at least 15 people who would consider it, 10 or 15 who would do it and five who have actually done it. Those numbers are growing.
Kids are carrying guns now because guns are linked to bigger crime. They are selling crack because crack has a shorter turn around and a higher profit than the likes of weed and heroin. People who smoke crack are so desperate they’d do anything for the money. And the dealers get high on the power. I know one guy who’s only 17 years old and is a very successful crack dealer. “It’s not so much the money Shaun,” he told me, “it’s the fact that I’ve got people who work for me”. He was enjoying the fact that he was controlling people. For rock he was able to get people to wash his car, clean his house, beat people up, steal stuff for him, send them on missions and tasks just ‘cos it made him feel powerful. That’s a worry.
I come from this place. There is a real feeling of inevitability of crime amongst young people. It’s not a surprise to me now when you live in this place that you will be involved in crime. It’s just what type of crime you will be involved in. And crime starts younger, spreads wider and goes further now. The real issue is the number of kids that are “growing out of” crime is getting smaller than it used to be. It’s why we get this horrible stuff with guns and knives: the serious nature of their offences is growing as the percentage of kids staying in crime is growing. The terror they cause and the amount of stuff they are into has a disproportionate effect way beyond what they do. The real scary thing is the young age at which it happens. Serious criminals used to be in their late twenties. If you went to Feltham now, or came into my area and interviewed my boys, they have been involved in quite horrible stuff and they are not yet 16 or 17.
Born on the North Kensington Estates, this was an area where poor white people were sent who couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. But the estates have also become home to London’s largest Moroccan enclave and to Jamaican, Portuguese and Spanish communities. Bt racial tension is not a feature of life here. When they found he bombers on our estates, no form of war took place.
Although we have been housed in our racial groups, we do not pursue each other because someone is of the wrong race. Over in the Suttons –which is a mostly white area and where there has been a lot of beef they will still define the Moroccan boys as being from Lancaster West rather than by their culture. The estates form their own community. It’s the kind of community where people, particularly kids, hang in and around the block. If you are the younger end of an overcrowded family you share a bedroom with your older brother. Maybe there are three of you in one small bedroom. You have no privacy so you come out of your flat for privacy. If your big brother is in and you don’t want to do what he is doing, you are sick of him or your parents are in, that’s where you come. You stay on the block because it’s the only sort of place that you were allowed. It’s the next closest thing to your house so you are comfortable there. It becomes your extended bedroom.
We are all too close to each other. On top of each other. We don’t have any space at any time. That’s why the parents can’t love their children. They are too busy surviving. As time has gone on, on these estates, the people who hang around the block have aged. They’ve turned from cute little five year olds to 10 year olds who were riding their bikes to 15, 16, 17, 18 year olds, in some cases 20 and 21 year olds who are still hanging around. On one of the estates here there are 1,600 young people and kids under the age of 19. The sight of a big group of young people just terrorises most people. This is where it starts. The kids are perceived as a threat. They are dealt with in that manner. Then they take on the role they were handed. Put that with difficult parenting conditions and you’ve got a problem. On the street the peer group has far more influence than the parent, who just has no idea what the kids are up to.
Clicks and Gangs
A child is known by the estate he comes from. The problem of having estates with names is that people become very territorial. Kids will literally fight with other kids just because they are on their road. It comes from a “this is our estate, this is our castle” kind of mentality. So you get clicks which generally are about the boys who live say in the Suttons, the boys who live on Golbourne, the boys who live in Lancaster West. It’s a case of we’re familiar to each other because we live together. You kind of defend your “ends”. Because you don’t want your “ends” – that’s your locale – to be seen as where the pussies live. You don’t want to be taken advantage of, so you club together loosely to make sure you stand up for each other.
A gang tends to be an advanced click – they’ve made a decision we’re going to do this, we’re together. Anyone who interferes with you, we won’t even question you; we’ll just go and deal with them. That sort of gang is very advanced. Some gangs have names – there is “the biker crew” because they used to speed about on mopeds and that kind of stuff, “the cold hearted crew”, “the heartless crew”. The names are very ‘hip hop-esque’ – always about being mean and tough. It is always about tough, tough, tough; another gang is called “Cutlass” and there’s a group called “Beg for Mercy”. Sometimes you’ll name your gang after where you come from so you’ll get “HD” – Henry Dickens – then you’re an HD man. You can have an estate with two or three gangs. A good percentage of the kids on an estate will belong to one of the gangs.
The estates with the most and with the least anti-social behaviour have gangs. If their gang is very effective and if they are involved in serious crime they won’t shit on their own doorstep. But you still get a few horrible incidents where they’ve smoked a lot and they are a bit mental and they come across an adult they’ll bully. They will pick one adult in particular because they get a bite from that adult. It’s very frightening.
Imagine you are a nine year old boy living here. What happens is you see these groups of boys – they are who you aspire to be. They seem to be tough. They seem to be having a good time. Nobody interferes with them. And when you are boy, with that whole wanting to be man, these appear to be men to you. If anybody messes them, they can fix it. There is a good camaraderie in it.
When you are poor, you see people on telly with stuff, phones, cars, iPods. To you, this gang is normally the best way of getting stuff because they steal, they rob. They do stuff that is perceived as cool – they’ll get cars and drive you around. They’ll look after you. When you’re young there is nothing better than feeling like I can bully the people in school because my gang will come and back me up, my brother and stuff.
There are plus sides – it can stop inter fighting on the estate because they know each other. If you have a big fight with someone in your gang you risk splitting it up, falling out with people. It acts as a loose set of rules. It can police the situation. But if you happen to be on an estate where the people are particularly bad, you are trapped. You have to become one of them for your own safety. You probably want to become one of them because you’ve seen at school that the kids that avoid gangs tend to be the really quiet, lame ones. If you are lame, it means they won’t let you join. Newer members of the gang bully you to up their status. To avoid that, you tend to keep right out of their way. You have to hide. You can’t hang around on your estate if they hang around on your estate. You probably end up staying in your house unless you have a mother to escort you. Your parents will keep you in.
If you are really lucky you’ll have a sibling who is older who is involved who will think, “bloody hell I can’t have you in this”. He’ll keep you out of it deliberately. That is where the gang is doing some serious stuff. But it tends to be the other way round. A boy gets great cachet from bringing a sibling in. It’s almost like securing the future of the gang by bringing a younger member in.