Former gang members: Communities need to band together to stop ‘epidemic’ of youth gangs

(Left to right) Police Sergeant Charles Pilbeam, Police Sergeant Colin, Detective Sergeant Louise Horgan, Damion Roberts, Samir Khattab, and Jessica Edwards Pic: St Giles Trust

Former gang members talked about the myth, misconception and glamorisation surrounding youth gangs in a forum held by the Metropolitan Police, urging whole communities to get involved in tackling gang “epidemic”.

Samir Khattab and Damion Roberts, from the charity St Giles Trust’s SOS project that helps young people exit gangs, called for community actions in combatting youth gang problem. They also urged parents to understand what it is like to grow up in today’s world of social media and instant gratification.

Samir Khattab and Damion Roberts on the works of St. Giles Trust Pic: Nai-Yu Chen

Both former gang members, they talked about the myth and misconception surrounding gangs. Contrary to what young people at risk might believe, gang loyalty doesn’t last, the financial gains do not outweigh the losses, and the risks are always too high. The gang life culture is glamorised, they said.

Khattab said that they are taking a “public health approach” as if the youth gangs problem “is a disease”. He said: “It’s an epidemic, and it can only be tackled by a partnership approach. That’s everyone in the community. It takes a village.”

“People blame the police, or blame the government. But I don’t know why a 13-year-old, who’s never had contact with the police, is carrying a Rambo knife to school. It’s before that [police intervention].”

They were speaking at the Hackney and Tower Hamlets Gangs, Youth Violence and Knife Crime Community Event. It brought together local police, social workers, and the general public to discuss the importance of early intervention, holistic approaches and community participation in tackling youth gangs problem.

The event, presented by the Central East Crime Academy, a training arm of the Met, took place in the Aviva Digital Garage in Hoxton on Thursday, June 13.

Members of the Met and Hackney’s Integrated Gangs Unit (IGU), social workers from St Giles Trust and a representative of the local Youth Offending Team joined forces last night to share knowledge and experiences to practitioners, educators, parents, pupils and concerned members of the community.

Hackney IGU’s Police Sergeant Charles Pilbeam discussed how to spot common signs of possible gang involvement. He also talked about several organisations and programmes from which people can access information or support, such as Fearless, Crimestoppers, London Gang Exit, and Childline.

Jessica Edwards, from the Youth Offending Team, told Eastlondonlines they run programmes on weapon awareness and positive choices to reduce reoffending.

She said: “I have never encountered a young person that’s inherently bad.” According to Edwards, a lot of children they work with were excluded from education, while many has speech or language needs or are from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Hackney IGU, the first co-located Unit of its kind in the UK, was set up in 2010. It brings together the police, Council and other strategic partners such as St Giles Trust to divert people away from gangs. It currently works with 150 individuals who are at the highest risk of involvement in gang activity. Its Tower Hamlets equivalent was set up in 2018.

Gangs are a significant contributor to violence in London, and their involvement in homicides had increased between 2016 and 2018. In 2016, 29 per cent of homicides committed in London were gang-related, compared to 34 per cent in 2018.

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