Gangs of Hackney: two different ways out

A HUGE POLICE attempt to break up gangs in Hackney today 27 February 2013 comes days before the release of a film that records a less dramatic attempt at a solution.

In the raids, colourfully named Operation Haka and part of London-wide action by the police, officers searched 25 homes and made 15 arrests. More are likely and no details of charges are yet available.

The film, One Mile Away, documents a different approach. Director Penny Woolcock films the efforts of of gang members in Birmingham to forge a peace agreement between postcode districts. The men even get advice from a Tony Blair cabinet adviser who worked on the Good Friday Agreement to end the fighting in Northern Ireland.

The film aims to show how ordinary people can transform the problem of young males killing one another and, sometimes, females. Unfortunately, even though the outbreak of looting in August 2011 causes the malice to be directed outwards at the police rather than inwards at their own people, the unexpected truce does not become solidified. The would-be peacemakers meet with little eventual success even after two years.

One Mile Away tells unpleasant truths yet is suffused with hope. Viewers may nevertheless find it heartbreaking that the obvious lack of education of the participants hampers their understanding of what could be: it takes an articulate young woman to upbraid them and their followers for arguing over postcodes, marking land they do not own.

In another scene, a gang member starts to question to himself the suggestion of an elder that children be beaten to turn them away from gangs. Yet he cannot follow to its logical conclusion the biblical advice that violence begets violence still saying there is nothing wrong with “slapping”  a pickney — or “child abuse”, as it’s legally known.

Despite the “Go, go, go!” Hollywood style of the early-morning raids, Hackney police are not lacking in understanding of the difficulties of avoiding, let alone escaping, gang membership.

Chief Superintendent Matthew Horne, the borough commander, said that the gang members could get support via the force’s gangs unit if they wanted to quit. “I know it’s not easy to get out of a gang and I’m not naive,” he said, “but they choose not to leave and I understand why.” The only option left to the force was the raids on the gangs, which Hackney council helped to fund.

That may seem tough, but it is a more sympathetic view than the Met showed in the 1980s. Perhaps they could learn from the film, which has had a spin-off. It is now also, say its producers, a “developing social enterprise, working with schools to reduce gang culture in the UK”.

Loving Dalston wishes them well. It would rather report such optimistic trends than take photographs such as the one at right of a memorial to a young man, innocent of gang involvement but shot dead anyway opposite the Clarence Road grocery looted during the rampaging of 2011.

* One Mile Away will be shown at Rich Mix for a week from Thurs 21 Mar 2013, Hackey Picturehouse for a week from Fri 29 Mar 2013. The picture of a police raid today 27 Mar 2013 is by Gary Manhine.

* Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink that will open a separate window with further information, a service possibly unique to Loving Dalston. If a link no longer works, it is probably because the site’s owner has failed to maintain it.

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