Craig Pinkney: Youth Violence Needs A Paradigm Shift - Part 1

The terms ‘Youth Violence’ and ‘Gang Violence’ after often used interchangeably in cavalier attempt to explain the symptoms we see around youth culture today. This lack of distinction betrays a deeper ignorance of the of nature of these phenomenons which too often result in futile interventions programmes best suited to meet short term political target figures. In a question and answer session with criminologist, and urban youth specialist, Craig Pinkney we asked him to explain in simple terms 'youth violence' and 'gun violence' as experienced in the inner city areas of the UK. His answers were frank and unambiguous .
Apr 2018

Youth Violence and Gun Violence

He first explained youth violent crime from a criminologists perspective.  He defined  youth violence as anything that involves  young people  (between the ages of 10-24)  carrying out violent acts. It includes aggressive behaviours,  GBH, acts of terrorism, acid attacks, assault when attempting to rob. Carrying and using a weapon (gun, knife  or any other implement). In general, he said, that any type of violent encounter where a young person is the victim or perpetrator is youth violence. In this  definition, youth violence is an 'umbrella' or a general term where “gang” membership and gun crimes are additional aspects of this umbrella.

Pinkney  also addressed a major misconception that crimes involving knife and gun fatalities are all' gang' related.  In fact this is not true as gang activity is present in only a small proportion of these crimes . He said,  “There’s gang violence, where gang members use knives and guns but there’s also knife and gun crime that individual young people engage in when committing a robbery, fighting following an argument or carrying out acts of extreme terrorism.

Perhaps the best way to explain 'Youth Violence' is that it is like an umbrella with different parachutes emanating from it i.e. gang violence. Therefore, gang violence is a subsidiary of youth violence.

It is well documented that youth violence tends to occur among marginalised young people; Those, young people, living in  poor housing in deprived areas that have no protective factors ( poor policing and poor law enforcement). Young people  with low school attendance, high levels of school exclusion,  limited educational input and low levels of attainment. They are socially excluded and irrelevant.

Why Do Youths Engage in Violence?

From his research, Pinkney  has concluded that young people have always been made to feel invisible. Discussions with youngsters has highlighted  invisibility and alienation as being  at the  root of youth violence.

Societally any group that feels ignored, and or alienated, will always find ways to make their voices heard. Agitation will and does lead young people to find methods that make them visible. Unfortunately, given their experiences, the  methods they choose are often unorthodox and fall outside of societies accepted norms.

In a corporate world where educational attainment is the accepted language of success, wealth and prosperity, young people with mediocre education have limited access . Their lives are  punctuated by  unemployment leading to increased poverty, poor opportunities and substandard housing in under resourced inner city areas.

Double Consciousness & Youth Violence

Craig Pinkney

Pinkney also talked about the concept of 'double consciousness '(W. E. B. Du Bois1903) where individuals  and communities  are conflicted and  face a constant ,internal, battle as they are made to see themselves through the eyes of a white culture.  A dominant culture that does not recognise their talents or their uniqueness. One that attaches only negative labels.  A society where it's beliefs and norms are  supported by a media that stereotypes people of colour.

A media that writes articles  and makes programmes continually portraying young black males as the ,predominate , perpetrators of gun and knife related crime with Asian males seen as the predominant perpetrators  in the sexual exploitation, of mainly white teenage girls, or as being responsible for all acts of terrorism.

As a criminologist, Pinkney dismisses these widely held views. He made it clear that in his research he uses statistics that say otherwise. Statistics that contradict what the dominant culture would have  society believe.

He inferred that statistics exist proving that far right [extremists] commit more acts of terrorism in the country than other groups and that black communities do not have the highest rate of knife and gun crime across the UK.

Unfortunately, Double Consciousness  means  some young people have accepted the negative perceptions and  engage in violence to gain visibility.

Perception of Youth Violence

“Stop and search [is] eight times more likely to target black people than white people.”

David Lamy

Pinkney argues that we needed to see social media as a game changer in terms of how young people perceive one another both positively and negatively. For some young people social media opens up entrepreneurial opportunities while  for others it is a gateway to committing  cybercrime.

Social media is an essential medium for most young people. It can inspire but it can also entice them to commit violent acts.
Some responsibility for narcissistic tendencies, within the 10-24 age range, can be levelled at the door of Social Media. This is because trends on  social media tend to amplify negativity.

To qualify this Pinkney gave the following examples:  in the old days altercations between people would be settled one-on-one, it would then be over. Social Media, on the other hand,  with 24/7 access means 'flames are fanned.' Nasty comments are left, others add their voices and the issue escalates. This could and often does lead to provocation and agitation which can result in violence.

Take also this scenario, a young person goes through his/her 'Instagram' feeds and see the nice cars, and houses owned by an Instagram  'friend' who maybe a cyber-criminal.  This young person may crave such possessions.  Without the legal means to obtain them, he/she may choose the criminal  route.

Pinkney explained that the criminal justice system is subtly responsible for the rise in youth violence. He said, “black young males are still the ones that are incarcerated much more than any other group and receive harsher sentences compared to anyone else.”

Pinkney believes we need to recognise and understand that violence is just a symptom of a deeper problem. From his perspective it is a problem that grown  out of a wrong that has not been properly addressed.

It arises from the historical trauma of groups of blacks. It is the post-traumatic slave syndrome experienced by their ancestors that were brutalise, oppressed, lynched and marginalised. It has been passed on through  generations to groups  who have come to accept violence and barbaric acts as a norm.

Our young people are part of that Diaspora, they are another generation affected by post-traumatic slave syndrome and the  labels applied by the media in relation to their history continues that oppression, negating their worth and,    making them feel invisible.

The David Lammy Report (2017) stated: 'Stop and search [is] eight times more likely to target black people than white people'

This alone is enough to spur some youths into violence!

In part 2 of this article we look at the solutions put forward by Craig Pinkney.

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About Craig Pinkney

Craig Pinkney is a Criminologist, Urban Youth Specialist, Lecturer at University College Birmingham where he is the Working with Gangs Programme Leader. He is also Director of Real ActionUK, a charitable, outreach organisation based in Birmingham (UK), which specialises in working with disaffected youth. Pinkney is well known for working with some of the cities most challenging young people, potentially high-risk offenders, victims of gang violence and youth who are deemed as hard to reach.