From the Editor’s Keyboard

UK: Gun Crimes and BME Mothers

2 July 2014 at 07:26 | 1146 views

By Mariama Kandeh, Guest Writer, London, UK.

Fanta is so used to shouting in the house that when I heard her shout on this day, I pretended not to have heard her. But on this particular occasion, there was
something different about her shouting. Her voice reminded me of the pain in the
voice of the mothers among which I grew up; it is the typical sound of a woman in agony, wailing over an issue she has no control over, the inevitable, death.

I jumped up from the sofa, hurried downstairs and I saw her hold both hands
over her head as we do in Africa when we cry and mourn the death of someone.

I was in utter shock. There were tears in her eyes. She couldn’t get her words out
clearly; all I could hear was ‘Mammy Cameroun’s son, Junior.’

‘What’s wrong with him?’ I asked. ‘He’s dead’ she said. ‘The poor boy was stabbed,’ she added, sobbing. ‘Oh God, poor woman,’ I lamented.

Fanta explained how she had received several missed calls from the boy’s mom, only for her to return the call and learn that the boy, a teenager, had been stabbed by two other teenagers, a boy and a girl.

When tragedies like this happen, it’s mostly it is the mothers who are left in pain and sometimes traumatized. I have lived in the same council estate of the boy killed.

Mammy Cameroun is a single parent whose husband, a wife beater who also used
very unfriendly words to his wife and kids was asked to leave the family by the
social workers for the safety of the children. Mammy Cameroun tried her very best to bring up her children in the way she understands but her efforts were not good enough.

Despite the support coming from the UK government’s social schemes, financially it was still not enough for her and the boys. On several occasions she has had other relationships with men, none of which proved fruitful. One of the men was blunt enough to say to her that he couldn’t bring up another man’s child, so if she was looking for a provider he was the wrong man.

On several instances, she came down to our flat to express her frustrations. ‘Sometimes I feel like going back to Africa or maybe I should send
the boys to Africa. It’s so difficult for me. School issue, it’s me, feeding, after
school club and so on. Aah, this world is a pain!’ she would say and cry like a
baby. She was not highly educated and wishes to go to college when the kids are
all grown up. She couldn’t take a job because she had a baby boy to look after.

In this part of the world, it is very difficult for a woman with kids to have a partner.

Most women from ethnic minority backgrounds find it excruciatingly difficult to
cope with their kids with the absence of a husband. It is just a cultural thing for
most- a culture that believes a man is security for the family. But this is not true for most families in London, once described as the divorce capital of the world. Single parenthood is widespread among ethnic minority groups.

Mostly, it is the women who carry the blame for trying to be too westernized. Most men desire to keep the status quo of their country of origin. This rarely works here.

As a result, women are left alone to care for their families. Some men would refuse to work so that they don’t have to pay child support to their ex-partner.

Apparently, some women would rather stay with a man who doesn’t fit the bill just to have that ‘protective’ figure around. I know of few families where the husbands are mere liabilities to their wives.

A Ghanaian lady once told me that she couldn’t take any action against her husband who is not being supportive to her and the kids, simply because her
children love their father. ‘They would hate me, if I send him away,’ she said.

Africans and other ethnic minority groups have carried their culture with them
to the West, the culture of silence. A lot of women are going through hell in their
relationships or marriages but do not feel strong enough to come out and speak about their problems. Even where counselling services are available, it is not the culture of the African mother to go to a counsellor and speak ‘evil’ truth about their husbands, it is a taboo.

I have seen how drugs and the lack of opportunities for minority ethnic populations are destroying families. On my first winter in London, I experienced a fire incident. Some boys were celebrating Halloween and sent through our window what I believed was some sort of fireworks stuff. The fire was put out before it caused any serious damage. Two weeks later, one of the boys who lived
at one of the top most flats of the building was killed in a gun battle in his flat. I
learnt later he was murdered by rival gang members. The next day, his mom came yelling and shouting, looking at her dead son as the paramedics came to do their investigations.

The full impact of gang crime in London was earlier this year revealed by Metropolitan police with figures showing 6,600 violent offences committed by
gang members in three years.

The crimes included 24 murders, 28 attempted killings, 170 firearm offences,
as well as stabbings and kidnappings. Other offences include grievous bodily
harm with a weapon and also robbery. Each of the violent crimes was carried
out by one of 3,484 gang members logged on an official MET database. It included two 13-year-old gang members, another 24 aged 14 and nearly 550 older juveniles.

The average age of gang members is 21. Virtually all are male, although 38
females are on the database. The figures show 2,154 violent crimes committed in the 12 months up to February this year. More than 1,000 of the London’s gang members have been jailed and a multi-million pound anti-gangs campaign was launched by the Home Office after the London riots.

While this shows crimes at a very high level, it is disheartening to note that most
of these crimes are committed by youths from black and other ethnic minority
backgrounds. Marginalization, racial discrimination and other forms of societal
ostracizing of young people from these groups play significant part in the
increase in crime rates in the city. Most of these boys, who have limited opportunities, decide to join gangs and other drugs related and terrorists groups and have become a menace to society.

Apparently, over 400 British citizens, mostly youths, have left the country to
engage in fighting in Syria and Iraq. What does this mean for the security and
safety of the British public? When a terror attack occurs, it does not discriminate
neither do gang attacks.

At the estate I lived, from time to time I saw young boys sitting on the stairs,
smoking weed and singing hip hop songs. I wished I could send them away but I
couldn’t. I was always scared for my own safety. Residents were even afraid to
call the police for fear of any reprisal from the boys.

One day, I heard one of the boys saying, ’If people think you are not good enough for anything in society, you do what you think is good.’

Sad as it may sound, this is what society has turned BME youths into. When they go to school, they are told they are not good enough.

Often times they are tagged as bullies and other negative attributes that lowers
their self-esteem. I remember a Black-English classmate once told me that black
people are naturally not intelligent. I asked her where she got that idea from and
she only responded with a shrug of her shoulder. Unfortunately, born and groomed in England, that is exactly what my dear friend had been taught to believe; anti-black indoctrination.

For some BME (Black Minority and Ethnic) mothers, the churches, especially Pentecostal churches, have been their form of comfort and their only hope for a bright future for their children.

Reports have also shown that Nigerian children are doing well in Mathematics and Science and most Nigerian mothers owe this achievement to God through their church.

But this report only explains for a handful whereas the majority of other BME
children have been dragged into deviant behaviours. A typical example are the
two British born Nigerians Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolaje who
killed British army officer Lee Rigby. The failure of the authorities to provide equal
opportunities for BME youths give others such as terrorist groups an easy way to
indoctrinate these youths because they are vulnerable and terrorist gangs are
exploiting on their vulnerability.

If the boys I saw on my stairs at the council estate could have been professionals working in firms in the city. But institutionalized racism and negative notions of children from BME communities some of which portray them as shoplifters, gang members, prostitutes, drug addicts and robbers have left the young ethnic minority generation in a state of pandemonium and the actual victims of this menace are their mothers. London reports over 1000 gun crimes every month. Most of the culprits are ethnic minority youths.

The government, NGOs, CBOs and community leaders must put their shoulders
to the wheel to ensure a crime free London and to upgrade the status of children from BME communities.

Issues regarding the wellbeing and safety of youths cannot be dealt with haphazardly. There is a need to infiltrate ethnic minority communities to get these issues discussed and dealt with holistically. Understandably, it is very difficult to get women from these communities at community meetings as it is done at their countries of origin. Here, long hours of hard work would not permit such meetings.

However, a house to house meeting with these women or reaching them through
churches, mosques and other religious places could be of significant help. Even
though they are very hard to reach because of the nature of things here, they desperately need the support of other women.

Such help could have saved the life of Mammy Cameroun’s son and the children of many other single parents who toil really hard to put a smile on their children’s
faces but lose the same children to bad friends, gangs and terrorists groups.