Corridors of crime

24th October 2008 at 01:00
Scotland's leading expert on violence among young people believes Scotland can learn from Chicago. Emma Seith reports

Two pupils a week have been shot dead in Chicago since term started last month.

In 2005-06, eight school students died in gun-related homicides, the following year the number leapt to 29 and last year there were 35. If the murders continue at the recent rate, 60 pupils will be dead by the end of the year, predicts Claude Robinson of Uhlich Children's Advantage Network, an organisation which runs programmes in the city designed to "educate, heal trauma and prevent violence" in young men.

Overall, however, Chicago has seen its murder rate fall from more than 600 in 2003 to roughly 450 a year. It is a downward trend Britain would like to emulate, which is why the Foreign and Commonwealth Office paid for Mr Robinson and so-called "gang buster" Kenny Ruiz to visit Glasgow and London last week.

Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, head of the Violence Reduction Unit, which hosted the Glasgow visit, acknowledged that Chicago's shootings might be thought to bear no relation to Scotland's problems, where the weapon of choice tends to be a knife. But young people across the world wanted the same things, he argued, and trying to effect change through positive male role models was an approach he would like to see Scotland explore further.

"We don't have the levels of murder or access to firearms that Chicago and other American cities suffer, but what we have got is still intolerable," he said.

This year, said Mr Ruiz, head of the YMCA's "street intervention" programme in Chicago, his team had "detached" 18 young men from gangs. Some even escaped without a "punishment" - beatings that can last up to five minutes.

The key to the team's success has been building relationships, Mr Ruiz believes. "These young people can't think of you as just another person doing your job," he told delegates. "You have to get to the point where you go beyond that and you are there for significant emotional events in their lives - when their friend gets shot or stabbed, or the time they get locked up."

Workers must also be prepared to share their own stories, he says. In his past, Mr Ruiz was sexually molested. He was also responsible, he says, for destroying his first marriage and causing his children a lot of pain. "When I show you my pain, it makes it easier for you to say something about yourself," he said. "When you are mentoring, you're not trying to replace their dad - just showing them a positive way of being."


It was September 25 and Claude Robinson was driving his eight-year-old son home from school when they got stuck in traffic several blocks away from Corliss High in Chicago - "one of the worst schools in the country".

The police were there and a crowd of around 300 people had gathered. Then a young man pulled out a 9mm and "started letting it go".

No one was killed but everyone was traumatised.

"This is a typical night in Chicago for many of the 440,000 students in the third largest public education system in America," he said.

Young men are "acting out" around the world, he continued. He blames "patriarchy" - teaching boys to adopt a macho attitude and not to express their feelings.

Patriarchy was "soul murder", he said. How many of the men in the room remembered the last time they cried, he asked. Most did not. "Stuff has bothered you to the point where you wanted to cry, right? We go to change that, y'all!"

To keep on the straight and narrow, and build meaningful lives, young men need to have Daniel Goleman's seven key abilities: to hope, to empathise, to delay gratification, to persist against frustration, to control impulses, to regulate moods, and to motivate themselves.

His organisation works with young men weekly to get them to work out their purpose in life.

An ageing criminal serving a life sentence for "shooting a man dead" and a "lovely, caring" social worker were the two mentors that helped Allan Weaver from Saltcoats turn his life around, he told the VRU seminar.

Mr Weaver, now a criminal justice social worker, led quite a different lifestyle up until his mid-20s, carrying out the "full penal apprenticeship", culminating in spells in Barlinnie Prison for "house-breaking, vandalism, assault and mayhem". He said his criminal behaviour stemmed from the domestic abuse he saw as a child.

Today there were youngsters with minor offences like vandalism in the criminal justice system who should not be there, he claimed.

"We're talking about not letting them drink until they are 21 but we are more than happy to put them through the criminal justice process as adults."

(So You Think You Know Me, Allan Weaver, Waterside Press).

A mentoring programme for five to 11-year-olds is coming to Edinburgh. The Chance UK mentoring scheme is being introduced to the city by the Pilton Community Health Project. It identifies youngsters with be-havioural problems and pairs them with a volunteer mentor for a year. Mentors see their young charges for around four hours each week.

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