Lambeth is currently in the grip of a vicious gang war between three rival gangs. Every week there are casualties and the local police have imposed utilised borough wide section 60 stop and search powers in response to a huge escalation of youth violence. This has resulted in daily tit-for tat attacks that are becoming increasingly brazen taking place in public and often in broad daylight.
This huge escalation is likely to cost innocent lives and last night a five year old child was caught up in the cross fire and lies critically ill in hospital fighting for her life. In addition a man also caught in this cross fire between rival gangs has bullet shrapnel lodged in his brain.
As the Lambeth community reels with shock at such a wanton act of reckless and extreme violence, the question has to be asked what Lambeth Council is and the Mayors Office doing to respond to what is a massive increase in gang activity in the borough?
There is no funded police community partnership to tackle and confront gun and knife crime. There is no sign of the much-hyped Mayoral initiatives designed to tackle these issues despite the heartfelt pre-election promises of the Mayor, Boris Johnson to make this his number one issue.
Where are the boxing clubs? Where are the youth workers? Where are the mentors? Three years on from his election and all Boris Johnson has done is massively increase stop and search rates on black youth, without any lasting effect and at the cost of alienating large sections of the black community (and make amusing speeches). We have news for Boris: gang violence is no joke and this is no party political point.
The local Council seems equally clueless about how to respond and the reality is that we are seeing a decimation of youth services and voluntary sector projects aimed at diverting youths at risk of joining a gang. Community centres are closing down and youth workers are being sacked. There is no clear strategy for tackling gangs and even less resources to target prevention and diversion work. Steve Reed Leader of the council, along with the Tory Mayor, Boris Johnson are responsible for grievous neglect with both bloody and murderous consequences.
This latest tragedy is the latest of a series of vicious attacks that have taken place over the least month with increasing intensity. Attempting to tackle this issue through enforcement alone will not work. That’s been the main strategic approach of the last three years and we are still seeing a rise in youth violence, violence generally and it is my belief that there would have been more deaths except for the proliferation of bullet and knife proof vests and the skills of our surgeons.
The police can only do so much and they are frankly at breaking point and will do even less with fewer officers. Lambeth cuts means that out of around 400 prolific offenders, cuts to the Youth Offending Teams means less than 150 will now be managed and supervised on a day to day basis. Gang members are becoming increasingly aware that their supervision orders are meaningless as the cuts kick in.
To suppress and reduce gang violence all evidence points to the need for an effective community partnership such as those we have seen in the US. The community has to be fully involved in a partnership approach that works on prevention as well as enforcement.
In the current climate black communities are being abandoned in their fight against gun and knife crime. All the promises of community partnerships have come to naught and as police officers numbers reduce and community funding dry’s up the gangs become ever more reckless and the lives of the public are put at risk.
The fact is that things will now get worse as we approach the summer and the lighter nights. We will see more victims, more injuries, more body bags and more innocent lives lost.
The Mayor and Lambeth Council have to take responsibility as their failures have resulted in the lives of members of the public being at risk.
Chair of London Race and Criminal Justice Consortium