- Tracy Ollerenshaw
- BBC Newsbeat
“If you don’t show your worth, they are going to trample you. You can’t be good for nothing.”
Yusuf has been in a gang since he was 15 years old. When he leaves the apartment he shares with his mother, he puts on a stab-proof vest and sticks a knife in his underwear because he fears that he will be killed if he has nothing to defend himself.
“I prefer to be judged by 12 to be charged 6,” he launches, referring to the lyrics of a song by American rapper Roddy Ricch, which serves to express his point of view.
Both homelessness and domestic abuse have been very present in Yusuf’s past and he considers it likely that Her future be it jail.
At just 17 years old, he is one of London’s best-known gang members and spoke to the BBC’s Newsbeat program from a youth center in the British capital.
Sitting in a plastic chair next to his social worker, Yusuf mentions some of the crimes he has been charged with: attempted murder, possession of acid and be armed with a knife.
It is the first in a series of talks we had with him, in a total span of six months that we spent within a unit created to tackle gang crime in East London.
As we knocked on doors, accompanied by social workers, and toured properties in Hackney, east of town, with cops who they are about you to you With the gang members, we began to discover what life is like for these young people.
“Knife, blood; a couple of points”
They told us about stab wounds, fights over “inherited troubles” and the meticulous planning of getting around while avoiding running into rivals.
“I go to the store with my colleague and the minute I hear they stabbed him“says a 15-year-old young man.
Like Yusuf, he is used to wearing a stab resistant vest under his clothing. He tells us that he rarely goes to bed before 3 a.m. and has a hard time getting up early.
“Every two days the police knock on the door of my house,” complains an 18-year-old.
He was recently arrested for murder, but was later released. He bluntly describes how he was stabbed in the leg.
“It was like a knife. Knife, blood; a couple of points. “
Throughout our chat, he doesn’t stop answering text messages and calls on two different phones he has. Then we found out that he was put in jail for drug trafficking.
He tells us that he would like to return to the past.
“I would go back in time. I know how is it going to end this. I am here in my yard, which is safe. Out there it is not. “
But how did these young people get to this place?
Yusuf says that most of the classmates he started high school with are now gang members.
“I gave up”
At some point in his life he dreamed of being a footballer, but assures that the school and a government that “only cares about itself” did not support him.
“They don’t talk to people in the poor neighborhoods, they speak alone with the people of Chelsea (one of the richest neighborhoods in London) “.
In reality, Yusuf didn’t have to look very far for a different path.
“I gave up. This is life in these kinds of neighborhoods. You don’t need to look (for a path), it’s there.”
What is a London gang unit like?
The idea behind the Hackney Integrated Gang Unit, created 10 years ago, was to bring together all the people who work with gang crime.
They all share information: the police, probation officers, social workers and mentors, who are often formerpandilleros. They all sit in the same office.
There are also people from the Department of Work and Pensions, who help with jobs and benefits.
Unit staff offer all kinds of support to young people in the community, from accompanying them “hand in hand” to a doctor’s appointment to booking taxis to take them to schools.
He wants everyone to know that he is very aggressive
Jamie Preston, a police officer, notes that teens who end up in gangs often come from poor families, but this is not always the case.
“Usually they don’t have much family or money and they live in London, where there is wealth everywhere. Grich entity, cars ostentatious, all these guys want that too, “Preston explains.
“There are young people who grew up in social housing, probably living on the income of a single parent, and living in horrible conditions, with no money. They see these older men with thousands of pounds in their pockets, who ask them to do something and give them money for it. “
“It is obvious, of course they are going to do it and that is how they are exploited,” he continues.
Yusuf’s mentor, part of the gang unit staff, tells us some of his background.
The young man has been run over by a rival gang, arrested carrying a sword and wasfoundin a house where drugs were sold in Devon, in south-west England. He has been arrested several times.
“He’s put himself in the spotlight, he wants everyone to know that he’s very aggressive,” says social worker Damion Roberts.
“I feel like Superman”
Yusuf tells us that he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but that he wouldn’t hesitate to stab someone if he feels like he needs to.
“Nobody carries (a knife) for fashion, it is not to show it. For me it is to defend myself and if the moment came, I would be 100% prepared to use it. Is it me or them“.
“I’d rather be in jail than dead, that’s the reality,” he adds.
The young man admits that carrying a gun makes him feel powerful.
“Like Superman, until the time to run“.
Yusuf’s gang is his family and he would do anything to protect them.
“I’m not saying that I stabbed someone. (But) in the future or whatever, they’re counting on me.”
Having close ties is one common feature in The gang, explica Preston.
“The gang is like a family for them. You have no family, you have turned to government entities to take care of you, nobody has cared about you and you have a group of men who take care of you, fight for you, give you money : it’s like a family. “
“That’s what they really want, someone to take care of them. And obviously they can make a lot of money at the same time.”
Damion agrees with the agent and says something similar.
“It is a sense of love and friendship that is supposed to be in the home, but it is outside the home.”
“They shoot them, they stab them, people die”
Yusuf describes the clashes with rival gangs as a “war”.
“They shoot them, they stab them, people die. You just have to think about it like this: ‘I’m a soldier, soldiers do (they kill)If a soldier can do it, I can too. ‘
It ensures that you only feel safe at home or in the youth center. His days are full of “hypervigilance” and “paranoia.”
“You never know what you are going to hear or who is going to be the next to die.”
You see threats everywhere.
“I don’t like normal cars or high-speed cars, I don’t like cars going the wrong way, or black cars or old cars, or noisy cars. I don’t like license plates that look unreliable.”
“You want to get out. It’s a sad life. There is nothing glamorous about it, people die, people die, you know. Everybody wants to quit. It’s just a matter of time”.
For Michael, that moment came after 12 years in and out of custody for drug and robbery crimes.
He was first sent to an institution for juvenile offenders when he was only 13 years old.
He is now 26 years old and considers that crime was “only A lifestyle“And when asked if he ever felt bad or sorry, he replies,” No, I need to eat, that’s what you think. “
When we met him, he had a 9-5 job and had been released from jail eight months earlier.
“Running drugs, running from the police. I can’t be doing this. I can’t live on the run.”
Now she realizes that she can’t believe how much free time she has, since being in a gang is a 24/7 job.
“I feel more comfortable now.”
Drugs and poverty: the main causes
Michael has changed his life, but he knows that it is not easy for others to do the same.
He explains to us that the kinds of things designed to keep gang members off the streets, such as mentors, day trips and outings to restaurants, didn’t stop him from selling drugs.
Agent Preston puts it simply.
“As long as there is drugs and povertyWe will always have a gang problem. “
At the gang unit, analyst Mani says helping people get out of that lifestyle is “long and hard work” and can take years.
“It is a difficult lifestyle to leave once you are fully immersed. In fact, what we have to do is tell that young man: ‘We are not going to abandon you.’
That’s what happened to Michael, who confesses that he owes a lot to the unit probation officer who helped him.
“Things are going well and I still have her … I still have her by my side. She’s like my family … I can’t even argue with her, man.”
Michael now wants to tour prisons to talk to young people like him.
Our last talk with him was before he was sentenced for taking a knife and acid to a government building.
He tells us that his way of thinking has changed.
Now in college
“The way I think is different. (…) I have other ways of feeling safe: planning what time I go out and which route I take. My decision-making now is different, I’m going to be smarter.”
“They can’t keep stopping me carrying a knife or that kind of thing, that’s past.”
Six days before Christmas, he appears before the magistrates in a suit that was given to him on an outing with his social worker, hoping that if they put him in jail he will get out before turning 18.
He told his mother not to come, he doesn’t want her to see him like that, but she doesn’t stop calling him.
The magistrates decide that he remains under the supervision of a team of social workers for a year, and he calls a friend.
“Come find me, I did not fall.”
A year later, Preston confirms that Yusuf has not been arrested since. He is still in the gang unit and will remain there until December.
According to Preston, officers will visit him once a month to see how he is doing and “ask how the go“.
“He’s enrolled in college, I think he’s attending regularly and doing well,” he adds.
“It seems like he’s turning his life upside down.”
Some names have been changeds to protect the identity of taxpayers.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.