Case study: David, 15, lives where gangs own the streets

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
There's a history of criminal gangs around here going back about 20 years, so there are plenty of drugs and weapons in circulation. A lot of teenagers are in gangs, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're involved in the serious stuff. Often a group of kids start hanging around together, and there might be one or two who want to get into bad things and they can influence the others. They start doing phone robberies and deal a bit of weed.

There's a lot of graffiti around with the names of these gangs, as they want to get noticed. They want to be somebody, but they don't know how to do it in the right way. Loyalty and being part of a group is important, and the members look out for each other. If someone gets into a fight, the others have an obligation to back them up, and things can get out of hand.

As gang members get older, they get more respect on the street, especially if they do a lot of business such as drugs and stolen goods. Business and respect go hand in hand. They often have a street name; it's always something that sounds bad such as "Scarface" or "Sniper", and that adds to their "rep" too. A gang member will often recruit a younger boy as a sort of protege and he'll get called "Baby Sniper", for example. He'll be protected, but also asked to do things for the older ones and get drawn into the lifestyle.

Territory is a big thing. If you're from Peckham, you don't go over to Brixton and say "Hey, I'm from Peckham" and start acting hard, or you'll get a kicking. It's always a macho thing. I don't ever see girl gangs, although some girls like to hang around with the boys.

I'd say about a quarter of people in teenage gangs go on to get involved in the serious stuff. I know 15-year-old boys who are dealing pound;400 worth of crack a day, and they have guns. Guns are really easy to come by. A shotgun will cost about pound;200, so someone only has to deal a couple of ounces of good weed to get enough to buy one. The thing that makes shooting less common is that it's hard to get hold of the bullets. Everyone carries knives. They do it to protect themselves, and because they're easy to get, as any kind of knife will do; it could be a kitchen knife or a bread knife.

I even heard of someone being stabbed with a screwdriver.

Around 60 to 70 per cent of my friends have been in gangs at some point, so I've been on the edge of it, but I've never got involved, and I'm proud of myself for that. I've known people who've been shot or stabbed, or jumped off a tower block because drugs have turned them into a paranoid schizophrenic, so I've seen the consequences. I'm cool with everybody and if anyone tries to make trouble with me then there's always someone who's got respect in the community who'll come and say "He's my friend, leave him alone".

There are some problems with gangs in school, but they're usually into fairly low-level stuff. Once people get into the criminal side they bunk off. They don't see any prospects for themselves so they turn to crime. And they're usually selling drugs, which takes up a lot of time; you have to be on the street all day.

At school, we sometimes discuss gangs in PSHE. But PSHE is useless, as it all comes too late. They wait until you've done all that stuff - sex, drugs, gangs - and then start to warn you about it. Year 7 is when they should be teaching you about the dangers. They need to get real-life gang members into school to talk about it, because if someone has been in jail and then turned their life around, kids will respect them and listen.

David (not his real name), 15, attends a south London comprehensive in an area with high levels of gang activity

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