At birth, Jason’s first home from the hospital was a squat in the Woodberry Down estate, north London, moving shortly thereafter to a flat in Tottenham. Having grown up in Tottenham, he experienced many of the issues facing the youth of today in inner-city London. Sadly, these experiences included the loss of a number of friends and a cousin to gun and knife violence. Jason can relate to those entrenched in street life and has seen firsthand how destructive the lifestyle is.
I first exchanged ideas back and forth with Jason in 2010 via the website. We discussed the issues with responses to gangs at the time noting the lack of community involvement in some areas, and we agreed that ideally material, preventions and interventions dealing with gang members should be peer led. Ex bangers, to borrow an American term and those with experience of violent offending, should be delivering. There’s no point in getting someone without these experiences to deliver anything to this target market. All that young person will be thinking is, “you don’t know where I am coming from, you have not experienced what I live on a daily and if I was from where you are from I probably wouldn’t be doing this in the first place”.
The amount of money spent on “tackling gangs” in London has grown exponentially in the past several years and even since 2010, yet the focus is often misguided in its desire to eradicate ‘gangs’. We will never wipe out gangs in London, they are a normal cultural part of society that have been documented, both factually and fictionally, since Dickensian times when Fagin led his gang of children in committing street crimes. The Mohawk gang from the 18th century who disfigured male victims, the Hawkubites – a gang that terrorised the city of London from 1711 to 1714. Gangs are nothing new to London.
Whilst we may not eradicate gangs, a term that infamously lacks any definitional consensus, it doesn’t mean that we can’t change the behaviour or address the issue of violence. Imagine, ex-gang members and those with a history of violent offending, those with certified street statuses spending time in their communities on the ground level circulating the blocks and estates, providing a consistent presence to their younger peers with the aim of stopping the violence and killings that cause so much concern and heartache in our communities. Using their previously negative life stories in a positive light, reaching out and working with those many have written off as “unreachable”.
Throughout 2010-2012 Jason visited CeaseFire Chicago, a pioneering gang violence prevention project and secured International Replication Partnership status with CeaseFire.
CeaseFire (CF) is an interdisciplinary public health approach to violence prevention. CF maintains that violence is a learned behaviour that can be prevented using disease control methods. Using proven public health techniques, the model prevents violence through a three-pronged approach: 1) Identification and detection 2) Interruption, intervention and risk reduction and 3) Changing behaviour and norms. CF combines science and street o utreach to track where violence is heating up, and then cool the situation down.
An independent evaluation of the CeaseFire project by Dr. Wesley G. Sokgan, a professor at Northwestern University, ascertained that the link between CF and the decline in shootings was statistically significant (Evaluation of CeaseFire). Communities typically reported reductions in shootings in excess of -20% and reductions in retaliatory homicides as great as -100%.
Jason and his team visited Chicago to learn from the primary source just how the CeaseFire Model works and have brought to London that knowledge and experience with SOS – Surviving Our Streets, a charity seeking to engage those most likely to be involved in street based violence, either as perpetrators or victims. Through street-based networking and personal contacts on the ground level the right people have been identified as Violence Interrupters (street savvy individuals trained in high-risk conflict mediation) in a part of London, which has recorded over 1,000 stabbings, and shootings in the past three years (MetPolice data).
Those who are employed as Violence Interrupters have firsthand experiences of street culture, they are credible messengers with gang affiliation and/or violent behaviour in their past. This allows for a “real recognises real” approach which leads to a potent peer led programme. To answer the question, what makes this model different? The great thing about the CeaseFire Model is it’s the perfect marriage of scientific methodology and street work, data driven but peer delivered. Its time we look at violence through a new lens.
Click here to view contact details for SOS, or call +44 (0) 207 284 3322