You are currently browsing the daily archive for May 21, 2013.

The Guardian carries articles from their archives which make fascinating reading for those of us interested in history.

Their entry for May 9 was a 1956 item about London street gangs and recidivism. One woman described what she ran across as a school employee and volunteer for a local youth club. Emphases mine below:

… from my experience … nearly every boy at a school where I worked in London belonged to a gang, right down to the infants, and if they had had a chance to gang up in their prams they would have done it.

The lady describes the denial of the existence of gangs and, where members did admit they belonged to one, a bit of moral equivocation: ‘We’re not as bad as they are.’

As with any other sinful activity, getting out of a gang isn’t that easy. Even in the 1950s, court testimony was met with subtle intimidation from other gang members. Coming out of prison and travelling along the straight and narrow path was often an impossibility.

Secrecy was their policy, and we only got to know how very serious this was when we found that boys coming out of approved schools and Borstals and trying to go straight got beaten up and finally in despair rejoined the gang, and eventually were picked up by the police again.

In court if asked by the magistrate what had made them take to crime again they were silent. It was said that certain members of the gang attended the trial seated where they could watch the prisoner’s face; fastened behind their coat lapels were razor blades which were thumbed back so that they would catch the wretched prisoner’s eye.

Two boys we were very concerned about not only were beaten up but their relatives warned that they would suffer for it if they gave any information about these goings on. One intrepid old grandmother, who for her safety kept a long-handled axe behind her door, came to us and insisted that we go to see her grand-daughter-in-law, whose husband was in prison again as a result of this intimidation. The poor girl told us that some of the members of the gang had come into her room, while she was alone with her baby, and one had taken her to the mirror and said, “Look, there you are: say a word and you won’t know yourself,” and opening his hand showed her a razor blade.

We knew the other boy had been beaten up but he was too terrified to speak. His much younger brother told me about it: he said Will had taken a job in another part of London and would not be coming to the club any more. This as evasive action was not very successful. Will is now serving a sentence for robbery with violence.

No doubt this is why many local residents today refuse to help the police when it comes to investigating gang-related crime. Chicago’s Second City Cop blog features comments from a number of policemen complaining of this. Unfortunately, these same residents shout at the police accusing them of doing nothing, yet harrass them, yelling, ‘Solve the case yourselves — you’re the cops, not us’. Not the right attitude to take. Chicago’s policemen also observe that a number of local residents prefer to take the law into their own hands, preferring to deliver summary justice. Hmm.

Sadly, the Londoner writing in 1956 saw no freedom from the grip of street gangs. She concluded:

the boy newly out of Borstal will find his friends among the gang he used to go with, and will naturally, having had a try at going straight and finding it uphill work — with few friends,— return to his old ways.

True then, true now.


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