In response to a request we have opened a thread to discuss Black on Black serious violence and murder. While the term “Black on Black” is seen by some as controversial in itself, the serious violence and murder data particularly in London suggests that there is a real issue here.
If you scan the series of murder victims photos in the London Teenage Murder page, it is clear that the largest majority of the victims are from a Black African and Black Caribbean heritage; where offenders have been caught and prosecuted, the majority are also Black. Similarly, the profile of serious Youth violence also suggests a disproportionate number of Black young men are the victims of serious violence, and perpetrators of serious violence.
Based upon a Freedom of Information request to the Metropolitan police the Telegraph newspaper reported that:
“The data provide a breakdown of the ethnicity of the 18,091 men and boys who police took action against for a range of violent and sexual offences in London in 2009-10.
They show that among those proceeded against for street crimes, 54 per cent were black; for robbery, 59 per cent; and for gun crimes, 67 per cent. Street crimes include muggings, assault with intent to rob and snatching property.
Just over 12 per cent of London’s 7.5 million population is black, including those of mixed black and white parentage, while 69 per cent is white, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The police figures also show that black men are twice as likely to be victims. They made up 29 per cent of the male victims of gun crime and 24 per cent of the male victims of knife crime.”
While some of these figures can be contested, for example: they are reliant on who police took action against – which could be more about who the police tend to arrest and charge; most robberies are unreported – so any figures could be un-representative of the true robbery picture; the Black and Mixed race population for young people in inner London is over 23% rather than the 12% figure for all ages. I could go on, however even if you nit pick away at the data provided by the Telegraph, which unsurprisingly focused much of their story on the offenders rather than the victims, there is still pretty strong evidence to indicate a disproportionate representation in Black offenders and victims for weapon enabled crime and serious violence.
Before continuing this discussion, when I talk about young Black men this includes those of both Black African AND Black Caribbean heritage. I emphasise this as the greatest number of those teenagers murdered in London over the last 6 years have been from a recent African heritage…. yet much of the discourse in this area seems to be focused on Caribbean issues or heritage. Like London’s demographic it is time to move these discussions on so they truly reflect the changing cultures and communities within the capital.
Bad places often create bad behaviour
In an environment that you believe to be violent you are probably going to value those attitudes and behaviours that can deal with it. Many of these young men think they need to be aggressive to ensure they do not become the targets of aggression. And this cycle is likely to continue unless there is action to break it. So an awful situation will often create awful responses, particularly if there are very few opportunities to get away from it, say through acquiring sufficient resources to move out. London’s violent places have remained remarkably stable and even before any increase in Black communities within the area; places like Camberwell and Peckham in Southwark were pretty notorious.
So I think one of the first points is that many of these young men are living and relatively trapped within pretty violent and unpleasant places. They adapt to this by taking on the behaviour and characteristics that they think will enable them to survive it.
Poverty is not an excuse
Well poverty is partly an excuse. Poverty and deprivation have a significant role to play in creating unpleasant and violent environments, (in the teenage murder review it appeared to account for around a third of the variability in the expression of extreme violence). But those of us who have lived in poorer areas, or older generations who recall a time when many people were poor but didn’t seem to attack each other with such extremes of violence, know that poverty and violence do not have to go together, and they are right. There are many deprived communities but they have different levels of violence, particularly lethal violence.
There must be other factors other than deprivation involved and while a general trend exists between deprivation and violence. The rates of violence between similar deprived areas can be very different; also in a single area there are very rapid increases or reductions in violence, that cannot be accounted for by changes in deprivation which take many years, sometime decades, to change.
Protective Factors – policing and the criminal justice system
Before moving on to cultural or personal factors, I think it is probably worth emphasizing the role of policing and other enforcement or criminal justice factors that may contribute to the expression of extreme violence.
While those who live close to violent people are the more likely to be harmed by them, many feel that Black on Black violence is a feature of the poor policing as well. The arguments towards this probably need to be provided in more detail:
Some of these positions have been confirmed by the Home Office annual crime statistics report Crime in England and Wales 2010-11, where Mixed race and Black people report some of the lowest confidence in policing and criminal justice system (fairness and effectiveness) compared to other groups.
It may be useful to provide an example to demonstrate how some of these issues could escalate into violent situations – if you are robbed in your area, and you believe the police will not take the offence seriously (or even turn round and start harassing you), the anger and grievance you feel might make it likely that you go back to the place where you robbed, possibly with a few friends along with you as back up, in the hope of spotting the offender. If that offender is seen the chances are that he/ she will suffer a very severe reprisal.
There may be some truth behind some of this argument – although it is probably unfair to put it all at the police door, and police initiatives like Operation Trident (Black on Black murder team) were specifically developed to address some of the points made above. The reporting of crime is often lower within Black deprived areas, even for serious violent crime. And I think it is fair to say that over the last decade the police have made significant efforts (although not always particularly effective) to encourage crime reporting by Black communities. But suspicion of the police still remains and while they (the police) continue to be seen and present as a Force made up from, and perceived to be interested in the protection of the majority white population, then it is likely that Black people will feel that they are being policed against, rather than the police are there for them as well.
Self image and identity
There are features of a violent self identity that are useful, I have mentioned that they can be thought of as useful if you believe that you are living within a violent environment or you feel that protective factors such as the police or criminal justice system do not prioritise your protection .
The protracted history of violence within areas of London also demonstrates that cultures of violence are independent of race or national heritage and the expression of violence can be linked to issues such as deprivation and low opportunities.
However the expression of violence and particularly extreme violence can fluctuate very quickly and we should look at how individuals understand and interpret the situation they are in and their role within it, put another way – we need to understand the stories (or narrative) people tell about themselves and the places they live. And how these stories can come to dominate a group or community for a while and then fall out of fashion and be lost.
The stories of self really do have an effect on how we feel about a situation and as a consequence shape the behaviour we express. They often reside in an area of consciousness that we are not entirely aware of and can make us respond to things even before consciousness has had the opportunity to fully process a situation. They can develop over a long period of time or can be written almost instantly if you experience a particularly powerful event. Another feature of these stories is that they can be passed on to other people and if they seem to be a good or useful explanation for what is happening in a particular place or time, they can rapidly infect a group.
Infect a group is probably a very useful way of thinking about how these stories seem to be passed from person to person. And if we take the analogy further we can start looking at the processes and features that can either make you vulnerable or resilient to a harmful story.
The spread of infectious disease in populations is studied using simple compartmental (SIR) epidemiological models, where the population is divided into three main categories: susceptible (S), infected (I) and resistant (R). Susceptible are those at risk of infection when they come into contact with infected individuals. Infected individuals are capable of transmitting infection to others in the population. Resistant individuals have recovered and are immune to the disease.
to be continued…….