Radio Sandwell African / Caribbean News

Birmingham gangs 'have had their day'

2015-03-01 23:15:09

Craig PinkneyREAL ACTION: Craig Pinkney

At the end of last year there were rumours that rival gangs in Birmingham were joining forces to become part of a national 'super gang,' - something that has been dismissed as nothing more than an urban myth by city-based youth worker and criminology lecturer Craig Pinkney.

As someone who spends all his time with young people both with his own outreach programme Real Action, and as a lecturer at University College Birmingham, Pinkney should know.


And he also spends time with those in prison, some who have life sentences for their part in gang-related crimes going back decades. From behind prison walls they have plenty of advice for the next generation about how a gang lifestyle destroyed their own lives.

Pinkney feels the city's two main rival street gangs - the Burger Bar Boys and the Johnsons - have all but disappeared and says that when their names appear now in newspaper articles it's nothing more than lazy journalism.

Since the 2003 machine gun murders of Birmingham teenagers Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis in a drive-by shooting that shocked the nation, police, along with community mediators, have successfully adopted tactics which have virtually wiped out gang rivalries.

"Of course gangs still exist, but they are not as violent," explained Pinkney, who is also involved in the European Gangs Programme, which focuses on five countries - UK, Romania, Italy, Cyprus and Greece.

"There is a vacuum to be filled in Birmingham and young people have created their own small little groups, but gang-related matters are now almost non-existent. There are still cases of gun and knife crime but they are not gang-related.

"When there's an incident it's all too easy for the media to pigeon hole it as gang-related, making out this kind of thing is happening all the time.

"I totally agree that there is an issue with youth violence and young people carrying knives, but that is not gang violence - this is young people becoming violent. There's a difference.

"Sometimes it takes more courage for someone to run away when they are in a dangerous situation. It's hard to run when you've got people around you egging you on to do something. So option B comes in and they take out a knife."


But Pinkney says there is still a lot of fear in the community, particularly about postcode territories, now being generated by social media, which in turn creates what he calls 'a bogeyman factor' about going to a different part of the city.

He said: "Many young people in our communities are now invisible because they're not out on the streets and much of that is again down to social media."

Pinkney runs Real Action on a voluntary basis so he is not accountable to any particular funder. He meets many parents who are fearful for their children, but he pulls no punches on this one and often poses the question: 'Why let your kids use games like Grand Theft Auto and say you are concerned?"

He comes from generations of the Pinkney family who have devoted their lives to working within the community. His grandmother Mavis was one of the first people in Handsworth to open up her front room as an unofficial youth club for local youngsters. His uncle Hector has done so much he is known as Mr Handsworth, while his aunt Delores continues to advocate and support local people.

During a recent visit to HMP Oakwood Pinkney asked some of the men, many who are serving life sentences, to give the next generation some advice in a message.

"I asked them: 'what would your message be to a young person?' One of them said: 'A lot of people on the road act like they are bad but when they come into a place like this, they are soft.'"

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