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© 2019 Dr. Charlie Howard

What can we learn from street gangs to help end youth violence?

October 17, 2018

 Since I wrote my last two blogs about the need to involve young people in the London Violence Reduction Unit, the Home Office has announced a £200 million fund for a long-term, public health approach to youth violence. But, whilst - in funding terms - we have gone from famine to feast in the space of a few short weeks, I am waiting to see what these proposals will mean in practice .

 

The involvement of young people in developing any public health approach will be crucial. To miss that would be to miss the point. And what can we learn from street gangs themselves to help us on this journey? I propose quite a lot.

 

Gangs are characterised by their fluidity. They are able to respond quickly to things that change around them. And their structures are flexible.

 

Their leadership waxes and wanes depending on who’s best for the task at the time. They tackle the things immediately in front of them. And there are no roundtables.

 

Sounds like a pretty efficient way of running things to me. Yet it’s the antithesis of where we often find ourselves, trudging through treacle, paralysed by bureaucracy.

 

If we are to take a true, public health approach to youth violence then we need to be open minded as to the form this takes. And it needs to evolve in response to what’s in front of us. We need to operate using the same fluid principles of street gangs.

 

Of course there’s stuff that might be less helpful for us to copy too.  Beyond the obvious violence and other forms of criminality gang members can be pretty unpleasant to one another. There’s infighting. Back stabbing. Snitching. And fallout.

 

But, if we’re really honest, aren’t some of those traits familiar to us too? In the Third Sector? Isn’t this also the bread and butter of modern day Politics?

 

In psychology, we call this “mirroring”. It’s when we subconsciously replicate what others do. Third sector organisations are part of the problem. A public health approach to youth violence will only work if we’re working together: with young people at the heart and organisations and leaders without egos enabling them. 

 

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