Ending the cycle of violence: the youth-led bike movements of London challenging gang culture today

Ending the cycle of violence: the youth-led bike movements of London challenging gang culture today

A look at the recent surge in levels of gang related violence and deaths of young people in working class, BME areas of London , and the youth-led movements growing in response to it.

Bikestormz is a free mass cycling event started in 2014 by a small group of London based teens that attracts predominantly young working class men and boys from poorer parts of London. In response to soaring levels of knife and gang related deaths in recent weeks, including the brutal shooting and killing of 17 year old Tenesha Melbourne-Blake in Tottenham on Monday 2nd April, protest movement #BikesUpKnivesDown has taken off in a big way out of Bikestormz. On 7th April this year, thousands of mostly working class young people attended a mass bike-ride demonstration that brought central London to standstill.

The victims of gang related violence are overwhelmingly young working class black teens. The areas that are mostly affected by gang violence in London are overwhelmingly working class black, Asian and migrant populated communities. I grew up Edmonton, right near Tottenham and Wood Green where me and my school mates would usually hang out, in the borough of Harringay. In a recent report Harringay came 4th in a list of the top 5 areas of London affected by knife crime. As a teen it was normal to see other kids getting jumped in broad daylight, or know of kids from school whose older sibling was involved in a gang. Edmonton is also where 18 year old Michael Alexander Jones, a black teen from my school, was tied up to a chair in his own house and beaten to death at hands of his mother's ex boyfriend. The reason this brutal killing is notable in this context is because initially the local authorities were slow to act, as they assumed it was a murder related to gang crime. The media painted a similar picture at first until pressure from the community forced them to investigate further.

Considering the demographic disproportionately impacted by gang related violence is black, working class youth and young men, it is no coincidence that the state has done little to challenge the structural class inequality and institutional racism that underpin much of gang activity. Instead, bureaucrat leaders have fed racist and anti-working class assumptions about gang crime as no more than an expression of "black on black violence". At best it's ignored, a mere footnote in implementation of policy that calls for a vague promise to lower knife crime in London. At worst, it's treated as a symptom of "black, poor culture" that can only be remedied with more police on the streets. In response to recent waves of violence, London mayor Sadiq Khan promised to increase police powers to enable them to perform “targeted” stop and search. It shouldn’t take the wokest of us to understand what Khan means by “targeted”; the results of which will only add to the rise in tensions between police and young black and minority ethnic folk, and significantly continue to impact the self-esteem of the younger generation of working class kids who now more than ever need to feel valued by society. Our first Muslim mayor - who many in the Left celebrated as a positive representative of the working class and BME population of London - has since been making decisions that unequivocally fuck the material conditions of the very people he supposedly represents.

Just last week London police carried out a raid in south-west London as part of a major operation to crackdown on the recent surge in gang related crime. Scotland Yard Commissioner Cressida Dick claimed the operation was aimed at the leaders of “MDP”, a criminal outfit that has alleged links to several killings in London. However, this raid resulted in mass arrests including the youngest arrestee at only 14 years old. How anyone could conceive of a teenage boy playing a central role in such an organisation is beyond me!

Subsequently, a strong youth-led movement has emerged out of this abhorrent violence. Unfortunately, liberal media tends to latch on to protest movements that, if branded correctly, can have a palatable face in order to temper and maintain it, and stop it becoming radical. From the #BikesUpKivesDown recent protest there’s already an “iconic” photograph going viral showing a young cyclist popping a wheelie next to a police officer on a bike that’s being celebrated as unity against gang crime.

What this movement desperately needs is a strong voice to make the link between poverty caused by austerity, structural racism, and the lack of opportunity for young working class people in London that leaves them open to gang leaders ready to exploit their vulnerability.The rise of military style policing on the streets performing racist stop and search procedures will only further entrench this inequality. Systematic incarceration of young black and Asian men will undoubtedly fuel poverty, not stop gang violence, and so the cycle continues. The Left in this country needs to take grass-roots organising in communities seriously. If we had anything about us we’d be training each other in self-defence so that folk can protect themselves against gang opportunists and high profile drug dealers. More police on the streets is not going to solve anything, but arming members of working class communities with the means to patrol and defend themselves - as idealistic as that sounds - can.

The deaths at the hands of gang crime in London are not mere tragedy, they're the product of state sanctioned violence.

By Rosa Soros

Comments

jef costello
Apr 18 2018 08:22

Thanks for writing this up, very interesting.

I grew up in the area too, the borough is Haringey, Harringay is the area around Green Lanes, towards Finsbury Park. Where the Sainsbury's is used to be Harringay Dog Track.

Fozzie
Apr 19 2018 10:53

Yes this is great, Rosa.

My daughter is at the same school in Tottenham that Tenesha used to go to.There was a spontaneous march by kids against gang violence after she died and a second one was being planned on social media but didn't end up happening.

I agree that community organising is the way forward but mildly disagree that armed patrols is what is needed in the short term. I think before we get to that we'll need a whole level of structure and accountability that just isn't there at the moment.

I think this is an interesting initiative in Ruislip which doesn't seem to have emerged from the traditional left:
https://www.getwestlondon.co.uk/news/west-london-news/ruislip-residents-patrol-town-themselves-14315895

But it was notable from the footage on BBC news the other night that the community members were all white, so there are some obvious pitfalls that need to be overcome before arming people. (See also "The Enfield Defence League" community patrol during the 2011 riots).

This recent anti-dealer action by the IWCA in Oxford is also relevant:
https://www.facebook.com/IndependentWorkingClassAssociation/videos/1944535018952347/

Similarly, I agree that state violence is at the root of a lot of this, but your last line could be read as denying gang members agency.