Sheldon Thomas: Oh No Not Another Report
Having gone through this report, I will say it is very well written and researched, but there are a few things I believe that are missing, but I believe it is not done deliberately, but unconsciously as most of the professionals that had an input on this report were white professionals which then makes me think what will be the difference when the last 10 (if my memory serves me right), government led reports, which all failed to make any difference on the streets. Whilst I acknowledge, the usual scenario, we were informed by many young people throughout this process with various forums and study groups, the last 10 reports also laid claim to the same notion.
We Are Not Being Honest
Whilst it continues to baffle me why in London and Birmingham where we know, if where going to be at least honest as a community, namely the black community in London and the black and Asian communities in Birmingham, that most of the violence which I believe is directly linked to gangs, is a problem that our community have failed to address, and no matter what new approach this report wants to do, including this new health approach will not make any difference as long as the community keep failing to address the real issues and professionals who often put their faces and titles to these reports and are usually the ones leading, do not come from our communities, then how will it work? if all the others government led reports in the past have failed, when this report have employed exactly the same strategy, white professionals lead and only use the so called BAME as way of getting information but not leading on the issues. It has been statistically proven that gang violence (serious youth violence), disproportionately effects the black community in London and the black and Asian communities in Birmingham.
I know there will some that will take issue with what I am writing, but unlike other organisations and individuals I am not trying change what I believe just to get a name check on a report. I have not changed my view on gang violence since I left that lifestyle in 1986 after serving 10 years first fighting racists police and the National Front before becoming an enforcer in the gang that I led for many years.
Everyone now wants to call it knife crime. And why is that? simply put, they do not know what to do about gangs and have failed to address it, and its only addressed when it comes to countylines, why? because it’s now effecting middle whites and so now, it’s a problem, when infect countylines as they call it, as been operating since the early 80s with the Jamaican led gangs and the first generation black gangs from London, Birmingham, Liverpool and of course Manchester, this new emergence of street gangs brought extreme violence, the choice of weapons at the time were guns, I should know, I was part of a Brixton gang during the gangs wars of the 80s and 90s, and the early 2000s, which spilled over into the dance halls, I lost 9 soldiers, all shot dead during a 5 year period.
These gang wars never made front page, and no one was really interested, as longs as it did not go over into leafy England. So how is this health approach going to really work, if you are afraid to call the epidemic what it really is, gang violence. Again, I would say this is what happens when you have professionals who do not necessarily come from the background they are claiming to have researched or as usual, they are fed information from individuals and organisations who were not even born when gang wars exploded in the dance hall scene during the 80s and 90s, and whilst we are in the climate of Black Lives Matter, which for me started in 1981, as I and many other frustrated black youth, burnt Brixton down as our way of saying we have had enough, and yet those very white professionals at that time were the first to condemn us, why? because they did not understand us.
COVID-19 Exposes Systemic Racism
If anything, that COVID-19 has done, is highlight what we in the black community have been saying since we landed in 1948. The section in this report which highlights inequality, you’re not telling us anything we did not already know, but the Conservatives and Labour have both failed to address this issue and white Britain (those in positions of power) have become complicit, but yet time and time again we see these fantastically written reports always led by the same sort of professionals, whether it be a professor from some university, an MP, or an ex white police officer trying to address an issue which they have all failed to address in the past because they do not understand us as a race of people and so they just lump us all in the same group using the initials BAME. This is there justification that we all have the same problems, this is so far from the truth. The truth is, black men and women have more serious and different problems living in the UK than any other ethnic group, but it far easier for white government officials to lump us all together so as to not to address the issue of structural racism, which clearly impacts the black communities more. If you want to address why we have violence in some of these communities, let’s start with the topic of black boys being expelled at an alarming rate in schools, which is highlighted in this report.
Schools and Academies
Over the last year I have been in over 500 schools and academies, delivering gang prevention workshops, more than half of which some 250 or more schools and academies have over 75% of its students coming from the black or black and Asian and mixed race communities, but the schools and academies have 85% white teachers in those same education facilities. Black boys or girls are in schools that does not reflect them or in most cases cannot really deal with them, this means in a lot of cases this will lead to white teachers feeling threatened anytime they get into a difficult situation with a black child. Simple question, why in 2020 are we still unable to find a school that reflects black kids in its teaching staff? You keep telling us what the problem is, it’s as if your trying to say you have just found this out, when infect we have been telling you this for years, but what is the white establishment prepared to do about it? if you continue to employ school principals, assistant principals, heads of year groups, teachers and school governors, that does not reflects black kids sitting in the class room, then the chances of them being expelled and joining gangs will always be high, as white teachers do not understand us and that has not changed since we arrived in the UK all those years ago.
Let’s look at other topics that was not covered in this report, what is the black community stake in this, since the early 80s, black families are more likely to be headed up by a single mother, in poor white communities they too experience absent fathers but they also experience generation of fathers and in some cases mothers too, who are or have been involved in criminality or have been a part of a gang and some in cases organised crime/crime families, which then is continually perpetrated and is replayed in their children’s lives. Over the last 30 years the black community have not addressed the issue of why black men find it so easy to remove themselves from the family home and take no responsibility for their children, especially the boys, so for me, no matter what this report claims it’ going to do, it will not make any difference in the black community, as they are many in our community who do not want to face the truth about ourselves. So, the saying is, if you can’t admit to being an alcoholic, then you cannot help an alcoholic, and with recent studies from Dr Martin Glynn on the phycological effects of absent fathers, and Dr David Sortino, who written extensively on absent fathers and young boys joining street gangs, I am continuously dumb struck of how black professionals never want to address the elephant in room.
Demonization of Black Men & Systemic Racism
We can attribute 60% of the blame, to the demonization of black men in society which in my opinion and through my engagement with gang members and black men in general, I believe leads to trauma, depression, other mental health issues in black men, as well those that choose to join street gangs, which has led to a major increase in black men entering the criminal justice system, which we know is underpinned in systemic racism, as well as being admitted or in some cases forcibly admitted into mental institutions, and when you go a bit deeper, all black men are trying to do, is just trying to survive in London and in other major cities, trying to get a job, dealing with being stereotyped, racially profiled, degraded by the hideously overpopulated white media, both press and TV, bullied and targeted by the police, and almost locked out of any senior positions within local government agencies, local authorities, the prison service, the police and the NHS, which then makes many black men become defeatist and then compound that with the challenges of parenting, how are you going to fix that? If the black community does not even want to address this destructive violent behaviour within their own communities, and the absent of father figures, which are often replaced by older gang members who come across as surrogate fathers, hence why so many gang members come with that lie, that they are a family, which is so far from the truth, which in my opinion can only be fixed by the black community and the undoing of systemic racism and creating a society where black men don’t feel demonized and don’t feel they have got to fight every day mentally just to survive and to be treated equally on a daily basis, you surely could not be wondering why so many black young men in London and Birmingham not only turn to gangs and the selling of drugs, but refuse to be a part of a society which continues demonize them. Again, I ask what is white Britain going to do about that? As the problem of systemic racism is your problem, which white politicians have not even begun to address.
A male adult living in Custom House in 2007 (East London) told me they would rather live with gangsters than call the police, think about that statement.
It’s not Serious Youth Violence, It’s Gang Violence
You write about serious youth violence and you want a new health approach, then be honest about the diagnosis, the problem is gang violence, which when you look deeper into the roots causes, structural racism clearly is the underlining reason why so many black males do not want to be a part of this system, as it completely undermines there dignity and pushes black women to literally fend and struggle for themselves. How are you going to fix absent fathers? which has significantly impacted so many young black men who end up falling into or groomed into gang’s? Without the community leading on such an important point.
A Brixton gang member in 2008 told me that if you don’t raise your kid’s they will
Trap & Drill Music
Gang violence becomes even more problematic, when you look at the role of trap and drill music, which clearly conditions the mind set of young people especially white kids. From the work I have done engaging with gang members in trap houses and one on one situations over the last 4 years, I can say with near certainty that 70% of this music promotes this gangster drug dealing and calling out Opps, which has caused a serious increase in violence, over the last 4 years, but some in the music industry are refusing to acknowledge this, as a serious problem. These industry individuals have no interest in saving lives but only financial gain and self-preservation and the only way they know how to do this, is to try and justify violent music which directly effects black kids and poor white kids in the disinfected communities which often explodes into ride outs against rival gangs, after seeing the latest YouTube video taunting and cussing rival Opps.
When you have white kids listening to this music that literally promotes this gangster lifestyle and because most of the drill artists are black, some 95%, and the use of the N word has now become the norm and pointing of fingers in the shape of a gun, they begin assimilating what they believe is black culture when listening to trap and drill, acting black and even using the N word to each other, but yet this report does nothing in how they are going to tackle these issues and now that drill music is in the homes of middle class whites via there phone, and with the work I am currently doing across the UK, I have now seen a significant rise in middle class white girls not only dating black gang members but opening up a new market for them, we now see government heads of departments scrambling around the UK looking for solutions and you find what you think is the answer, Scotland. Just like to point out, Glasgow was all white gang members, London is not, just throwing that out there.
The real solution is listening to black professionals and stop leading on issues in London and other cities that have similar experiences to London and give up your position and let black people lead from the top down. I think it’s really disheartening that in 2020 white professionals are still intimidated by black professionals who know more than them on this particular subject but are always never good enough to be paid to lead.
David Lammy stated a few weeks ago that we do not want another report on looking at racism, we want action, I am saying the same thing, we do not need another report about serious youth violence, white politicians are the issue, who do not have courage to call it has it is and look at themselves has the ones that are hindering the progress of change. if black men were visible in all walks of society from the lowest paid jobs, to the highest paid jobs and black led organisations who engages with these communities were funded to tune of £500,000 per year for 10 years and white politicians starting with the police, I believe they should issue an apology for their role, in there racist verbal and physical abuse of power towards black boys in the 70s, 80s and 90s, this I believe will go a long way of healing the hurt and pain that many black boys at the time and now adults went through. This might seem really extreme, but why do you think that the black community will never trust the police, the police have never taken accountability for their past actions and now we hear, that Cressida does not believe the police is systemically racists, is like saying, Lloyds of London, the city, the Catholic and the church of England had no role in the slave trade and colonialism, then I believe she should resign her position.
The facts are there for anyone to see, systemic racism and bad parenting (absent fathers), are the reasons why we are in this position and if you believe that another report and a new direction is going to make difference when black men are forced into the parallel world of gangs because structural racism co-exists in the fabric of British society, which is compounded by white politicians who are complicit in perpetuating systemic racism and always trying speak on our behalf by suggesting we live in a multicultural society and things have got a lot better for black people, then you are the problem. The fact is, black people do not live in this multicultural society that many whites politicians like to claim and even some academics, where we are constantly second guessing ourselves in our place of work, talked down too in meetings by other senior white workers, if we try to report racist behaviour by our white colleagues in the police, the local authorities or the NHS, we then run the risk of either not gaining any promotion or become the victims of bullying and in some cases forced out, this is how we are demonized on a daily basis and this does not include being followed in shops, constantly stopped if we are driving a nice car and also black youth being stopped and search, so please if you want to address serious youth violence with this new health approach, then white politicians and academics need to address themselves and their role, because the answer is quite straight forward, you hold the finances and you have the power to step down, but you won’t, because giving an organisation £100,000 to do one year’s work, you know is setting them up
to fail, when you know that financially the head of some of these VERUs as well as other government heads of departments salaries, are over £80,000, per year, who have gained employment with very little or in most cases no understanding of white gangs let along black gangs and gang violence, this tells me that systemic racism is in full force, by the same token, black men or women would never be given a role with little or no experience to head any VERU, or any government department and when you do find a person that have all the right experiences, that black worker is often bullied by other white senior professionals in meetings, put down and even ignored.
You want to stop serious youth violence, then stop recruiting white professionals who cannot relate or understand the community there are supposed to serve, in top positions, and this includes the prisons service, just because you want to feel comfortable with who you’re working alongside, employ people who not only understand the community but can relate to the community, but also have a real record of engaging black gangs and white kids in gangs from disinfected communities such as Toxteth, Croxteth, Norris Green, Salford, and obliviously London.
It really concerns me how the police, the local authorities, the prison service, schools, academies, and the NHS have not made any significant changes on systemic racism, over the last 40 years, and now you have written this report on serious youth violence, my suggestion would be for you to write a report on how you as politicians and academics are going address and end systemic racism and put real finances behind uplifting the black community, because to stop gang violence, we do not need another report or to be told what we already know, we need you to take action as white politicians in how you’re going change society in how it treats and sees black people.
Sheldon Thomas is a consultant, trainer, author and blogger and founder of Gangsline