Antony Barnett and Andrew Wan, Observer (London), Oct. 15, 2006
An internal police report has painted a graphic portrait of gang warfare spiralling out of control in London, with US-style postcode killings by rival mobs who post videos advocating gun violence and retribution on digital music channels.
The report, obtained by The Observer, was written in May and marked ‘restricted’. It is an admission of the almost impossible task the police face in getting to grips with the growing menace of ‘predatory’ gangs intent on ‘committing the most disgusting acts of violence’.
The report focuses on gang warfare in Hackney, where father-of-two Stevens Nyembo-Ya-Muteba, 46, was murdered outside his home two weeks ago after asking a gang of youths to be quiet.
Written by Superintendent Leroy Logan and circulated across the Metropolitan Police four months ago, it states that Hackney is ‘suffering from the highest rates of increase of gun and knife crime in London’. This, he says, results ‘in terrible acts of gratuitous violence and in some cases ending up in young people losing their lives or being badly injured, because they were visiting the area and were known by the local violent youth, showing the serious implications of district code warfare’.
Logan warns that despite a number of award-winning initiatives to help young people, the police face ‘a very critical time in terms of turning around a large number of areas’. He raises concern over the increasing use of gangs producing their own music videos that encourage violent revenge attacks against rivals.
One recent video obtained by the police features a gang known as the E5th Ridaz that used to ‘control’ the Pembury Estate in Hackney. This was on a DVD entitled Streetz Incarcerated and featured images of local police officers. A typical rap lyric was: ‘I’m only friends with the weak coz I give them a job/ I give them guns to hold/ Give them drugs to flow/ I make them soldiers.’
On the video the leader of the gang, ‘Gatsby’, turns to a policeman and says: ‘I told you not to come here . . . Get out of here man.’ He then raps: ‘Why police hunting me/ Why they can’t stop watching me/ Coz I’m on a crime/ Is it an atrocity?/ Leave me alone/ Coz there’ll be animosity.’
Although not mentioned in the report, one digital channel the police are concerned about is Channel U, which is broadcast on Sky and is said to glamorise gang culture. The channel has a large and loyal following in the underground urban music scene and plays videos of so-called ‘grime’ music, a type of urban rap music. Darren Platt, the director of Channel U, said: ‘We have tightened things up a lot and we reject videos advocating violence and showing guns. We do get a lot sent in but we don’t show them.’
Platt said that even if his channel did not broadcast them, the videos would still get seen. Many were available on the internet and sold on the street and markets.
Last year Channel U was fined £18,000 by industry regulator Ofcom for ‘repeated and sustained’ breaches of showing ‘sexually explicit material’.
The police report warns that if ‘gangster glamour’ cannot be ‘shattered’ it will ‘continually end up in predator-type packs of youths committing the most disgusting acts of violence and other forms of crime’.
One of the new initiatives Logan hopes will improve the situation is copying the US initiative of ‘street pastors’. This consists of volunteers from local churches patrolling crime hotspot areas while wearing very visible religious clothing. The report claims that research has shown that ‘black males between 13 and 19 are culturally aware to respect pastors and show a certain amount of reverence by not committing crime in their presence’.
This weekend Logan told The Observer: ‘The problem is serious, but we are adopting a multi-agency approach to prevent and deter young people from this activity. It is going to take a long time, though.’