Thursday, 9 June 2011

Lambeth shootings, Black community takes charge

Lambeth is in the grip of a vicious gang war that has escalated out of control. With Church congregations being shot at, little girls gunned down in crossfire, drive by machine gun killings and the latest assassination that took place in the Tulse Hill estate have left the community reeling in shock, anger and despair.
Last night I attended a meeting of Lambeth Police Consultative Group. I am board member of this group and all our members are anxious, worried and frightened for the safety of themselves, their family and friends. The worry is palpable with certain parks and public places being seen as no go areas at particular times of the day and night.

Lambeth feels like a city under siege and the recent escalation and terrifying display of wanton violence, a blatant disregard for public safety, combined with a open defiance of the law has drained away the last remaining confidence of a community who believe they have been comprehensively failed by the local council, the Mayors office and the Metropolitan Police Service.

Last night’s meeting signified a significant turning point for Lambeth communities. It finally dawned on people that the statutory authorities are paying nothing more than lip service to the issue of youth violence. The kind of “We feel your pain" warm words that are designed to patronise and placate angry communities were the order of the day. In Lambeth we have had more strategies to tackle this issue than sand on a beach. The Mayors much trumpeted determination to put this issue on the top of his agenda working night and day to put an end to the scourge of youth crime now seems like a hollow electioneering sound bite.

Whatever the violent crime statistics in other London boroughs Lambeth remains one of the most violent localities in the UK.

The Council stated that it was drawing up yet another ‘strategy’ the 10th in 8 years. It was preparing to ‘consult’ with communities and had established yet another “community reference group”. The meeting collectively groaned suffering what I term ‘consultative abuse’. This condition results from when a community is literally exhausted with repeatedly being asked what should be done only to have their recommendations ignored and then being asked to periodically repeat this process time after time. It’s a form of madness.

We heard that the Youth Offending Team cannot now manage its workload because of cuts. Over 200 dangerous and prolific offenders are being left unsupervised because of staff cut backs. These dangerous youths cannot now be supervised on a daily basis and are left to roam the streets.

We heard from a man who had sought to work with some young people on a local estate during the recent half term and during the current explosion of violence. He recounted to his great surprise that local youth and community centres on the two estates he visited in Lambeth were closed because of cuts. The Council was challenged about the decimation of the youth service at a time when youth violence was increasing.

Trident, people asked,  who is bringing in the guns and selling them to the youth and why are the police, with all their sophisticated surveillance equipment and detective know how unable to stop the guns and deal with a small bunch of out of control teenagers? The point was made time and time again these are not hardened criminals these are little boys with guns.

Trident complained about the lack of witness we complained about the poor quality of witness protection and the acute housing shortage that left potential witnesses living on the same estate as the accused. Their use of super-grasses in failed criminal trials came under fire and they were told that people would give evidence if they felt that they and their families could be given proper protection. Gangs will be ruthless in targeting anyone they believe is close to someone that is intending to give evidence.

This poses one of the biggest challenges to the judicial system and the gangs and the community knows that the system is not capable of moving large numbers of people into secure and safe accommodation. This means that threats can be made to friend’s cousins anyone who they believe may influence a potential witness decision to give evidence. It’s the single most effective tactic they have and they use it ruthlessly, The fact of the matter is the police do not have the resources to adequately protect potential witnesses and their families.

So the gangs rule with a climate of intimidation and fear and no one believes the police when they say come forward we can protect you.

The case of the young man in Peckham, who having agreed to give evidence about the gun running activities of a local gang was found shot dead and set alight in a car in broad daylight, was recounted to the horror of those in attendance.

The meeting spoke of the need for community leadership and parental responsibility. The conclusion was that the authorities could not be relied upon to effectively tackle this issue. The community had to take moral and political charge of proposing solutions and holding to account those whose responsibility it is to safeguard communities.

The community will be coming together to form a body that will push for a preventative, early intervention and diversion agenda. The community has zero confidence in either the police or the council’s ability to deal with the issues. In short the council and the Mayors Office need to give the power and the resources to the community and let is deal with establishing a moral campaign and manage the youth centres and wider services. That's the promise of big society isn’t it?

Lee Jasper

(First published at Operation Black Vote: The Home of Black Politics