What Is the Trigger for Gun Crime? BIGGER PICTURE as the Government Attempts to Crack Down on Gun Crime through Increased Police Visibility and Surveillance, Jo Ind Points the Finger at the Media and Asks What Role It Has Played in Exacerbating Violence on Birmingham's Streets

The Birmingham Post (England), September 12, 2007 | Go to article overview

What Is the Trigger for Gun Crime? BIGGER PICTURE as the Government Attempts to Crack Down on Gun Crime through Increased Police Visibility and Surveillance, Jo Ind Points the Finger at the Media and Asks What Role It Has Played in Exacerbating Violence on Birmingham's Streets


Byline: Jo Ind

It is the question to which everyone would like to know the answer - what is it that causes people to kill on our streets using guns?

There are many answers to that question and they have been rehearsed over and over again since the murder of 11-year-old Rhys Jones who was shot in a pub car park in Croxteth Park, Liverpool last month. Those answers are almost the same as the ones rehearsed since the deaths of Charlene Lewis and Letitia Shakespeare in Birmingham four-and-a-half years ago.

The usual explanations include irrelevant education system, a lack of male role models, parents who have not themselves been parented and inequality of job opportunities.

Rarely is the media sited as a culprit in the proliferation of gun crime - at least not within the media itself. It is more than time for a newspaper to turn the spotlight on itself and ask how our own industry has contributed to violence on Birmingham's streets.

Young people rarely use guns in isolation. Unlike the gun crimes of Dunblane, in 1996, or Hungerford in 1987 where a lone gun man slaughtered scores of innocent people, shootings are more likely to be from a group of people operating as part of a crew, or firm, related to dealing in drugs.

This phenomenon, which we tend to call "gangs" even though gangs can be positive friendship groups with no relation to crime, is becoming increasingly common.

The official story is that Birmingham is having success in bringing down gun crime. Following the deaths of Charlene Ellis and Letitia Shakespeare, West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council set up an initiative called Birmingham Reducing Gun Violence, which involved bringing together the probation services, housing services, training programmes and community groups.

And it has had some success. In the past year it has worked with 12 young men who have been released from prison following convictions for gun-related offences and helped some of them move on to a different way of life.

However, those who are working with gangs on the streets, tell a different story.

For the past couple of weeks I have been meeting with people directly involved with the problem - former drug dealers, policemen who work with gangs and gun crime, community workers who get alongside youngsters at risk of turning to violence - and they all say the same thing: the hostility and tension on the streets of Birmingham is worse than it ever was and the media has played a very direct role in bringing that about.

For example after the deaths of Charlene Ellis and Letitia Shakespeare one newspaper published an aerial shot of Birchfield Road in Handsworth and wrote, inaccurately, that the infamous Johnson Crew operated on one side of the road and the Burger Bar Boys claimed the turf on the other side.

This was simply not true. Birchfield Road did not demark the turf between the two gangs. What's more, the guys involved in the shooting which lead to the deaths of the young women, were not in definite groups.

But the newspaper's report became a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a result of the newspaper saying it was all down to turf rivalry on either side of the road, youngsters got bound up in the celebrity of it all and rivalries did indeed begin to form along those lines.

People began to describe themselves as B6 or B21 and the whole business of demarking themselves through post-codes began.

Apparently, the forming of gangs around organised crime has now spread into places like Chelmsley Wood and Coventry, where it was never particularly big before.

Who is to blame? The media, say those who know the scene.

Doubtless there is an element of scapegoating in this. As journalists, we are the only people who live off it but don't live with it.

We are the easiest people to blame because we write crazily about gun crime one week and then move on to write about climate change, housing and the length of the hemline the next. …

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