The other day I had one of those staring-out-the-car-window drives when East London seems to unfold like a one-shot movie. At the Cat and Mutton pub at Broadway Market two men stumbled into the sunshine, and one climbed into a waiting cab and passed out. The cabbie, realising he possibly wasn’t going to get paid by this bloke, asked his friend to settle the fare in advance. His friend opened his wallet, pulled out a thick wad of notes and flung a twenty in the general direction of the cabbie before staggering back to the bar and his next drink.
The next scene was further down the road, where fifteen or so young, hooded black kids were lined up on the low wall of an estate, listening intently to an older white bloke giving a rallying speech. His voice was raised, his arms were waving and he had their undivided attention. I don’t know East London’s gangs well enough to know which one this was, but I’ve been thinking about gangs a lot this week, since the shooting of sixteen-year-old Agnes Sina-Inakoju in a takeaway shop in Hoxton. This is a terrible way to die, and you can’t begin to imagine the effect on her family – her mother was quoted as saying ‘I wasn’t there for her’, but how could she predict such a thing would happen?
I went past the site on Sunday. It is covered in flowers and photos, with many local people stopping to read the cards and chat with others. It was apparent from the tense, subdued atmosphere that Agnes’ death has affected people deeply. The takeaway shop owners, who only just took over the business, are not expected to reopen.
What also became apparent was that everyone knew who did it, and why, and how events had unfolded. There is a lot of anger that these kids behave without any fear of the consequences. The fact that a 21-year-old man has already been caught and charged with her murder seems to show how reckless the killing was, and how the murderer was so seemingly unconcerned with the consequences that he was immediately identified. Labour MP Diane Abbott commented on this recently in a transcript I read via Blood and Property, an excellent East London blog.
We all know about schoolboys fighting and, perhaps, about gangs, but what in the culture of this city makes gangs of schoolboys and schoolgirls feel able to stab each other in plain sight during the rush hour? Does that not suggest that we have moved on from the situation 10 or 20 years ago to a very different and alarming situation in which people’s loyalty to their gang, their determination to gain respect and their disdain for wider society overrides the caution that kept young people from having knife fights in plain sight, even a decade ago?”
Abbott also makes a point that one problem is the lack of male role models in schools, saying “ I have visited a number of primary schools in my constituency in recent months and, with some exceptions, there is an absence of men in the classroom. All the evidence suggests that young black men, particularly – and, I suspect, working class young men more generally – need to see men in the classroom; men taking education seriously. Even if teachers cannot be recruited, men could come and read to them, making a marked difference to their aspirations and their notions of masculinity.”
You can read the full transcript here
I also recently came across Gangs of London, a website maintained by anonymous experts, who compile news reports about local murders and information about the dozens of gangs that operate in London, all pinpointed by area on a Google map. It’s an amazing resource accessed by gang members (I assume) as well as police, journalists, academics and social policy researchers. It also highlights the relative lack of open, accessible, non-inflammatory information about gang culture in London.