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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gang videos

This morning's Observer contains a plea from a government health minister to ban video clips glamorising gang culture from internet sites such as YouTube.

Ivan Lewis made his call after two local gangs, the Croxteth Crew and the Norris Green Strand Gang - also known as the Nogzy - posted online video of members touting guns. Clips from other gangs, such as the MI6 from Manchester and Soi from Birmingham also feature prominently on the site.

'These videos are clearly an extremely malign and dangerous influence on young people,' said Ivan Lewis, the Health Minister, who has responsibility for intergenerational issues and was the victim of a young gang recently when he tried to stop a crime in his constituency. 'The companies have a responsibility to do everything in their power to prevent young people from being exposed to such imagery and glorification of violence.'

John Carr, an internet expert with the children's charity NCH, last night backed his comments: 'It's very worrying that these sites offer these children their 15 minutes of fame. They are making things worse not better. There must be a rapid way of removing these things.'

Carr said companies such as Google, which owns YouTube, were aware of public concern over the way their sites were providing a forum for gang culture to flourish. 'The political pressure is really ratcheting up,' he said. 'There is going to have to be some movement by the companies on this. Otherwise we'll get kneejerk legislation.'

I do have a lot of sympathy with this view. It is clear that videos like this can create unsavoury role models for some youngsters as well as foster macho gang rivalries. However, I am not convinced that banning them will be possible, simply because there are so many other outlets for this sort of media. Whatever their influence, these videos are the symptoms not the cause.

I was interested in the explanation given by so-called 'supporters of YouTube'. They told the paper that deciding what content should be removed is complex. 'YouTube is a global community and has a single global content policy. In countries like the US, where citizens have the right to carry guns, images of people carrying weapons is not as shocking as in the UK.'

This for me is part of the problem. We no longer have an exclusively British culture. Ever since the Beatles were first influenced by records coming in from America via Liverpool Docks, (and most probably before that) there has been a cross-fertilisation of cultures across the Atlantic. The arrival of mass-media, 24 hour rolling news programmes, instant live footage of breaking news straight to your desk and phone, the internet, the ability to create personal media content and to diseminate it and mobile phone technology have all combined to create an international culture beyond the control of national governments.

Thus the American gang culture, assisted by the right to bear arms, guaranteed by the US constitution, has infiltrated our inner cities. Gangs in metropolitan areas and elsewhere have realised the power they can wield in their own neighbourhoods. They have got involved in drug dealing and protection rackets and are using guns to protect their territory. It is not a new phenomenon, but it is an escalation of an existing one. The larger tragedy is that children are getting involved at a much younger age because of the cultural influences they are subjected to and as a result we are getting awful tragedies such as that in Liverpool last week, in which an innocent child is murdered on the street.

In many ways it is too late to shut the door now. These YouTube videos are a malign but superficial manifestation of what has been going on beneath our noses for some time. The danger is that government will wage a war against these internet sites in the belief that they are taking effective action, when in fact they are merely treating a symptom. The videos will make an appearance elsewhere.

What is needed is effective government action: a dedicated police unit in each force committed to rooting out and breaking up these gangs; even more stringent laws controlling guns; positive action to engage with young people earlier backed up by substantial resources for proper youth centres and workers in each community and many other measures.

We need to try and change the culture and give young people other points of reference by which they can define themselves. If we put the same sort of resource into dealing with this problem in a holistic way as we do in fighting terrorism both at home and abroad, then we could make a difference.
Its not a gang, its a family! Think about it!
Ooh, lets play 'blame the Americans'.

Except that the facts don't fit. In the US gang violence takes place with illegally held firearms. Such as in Chicago where the gangs use hand guns a lot, except hand guns are illegal to posess.

It is not the culture of arms ownership which drives such violence, it is most prevelent in places of poverty where there are no opportunities and where the state quashes opportunities through licensing and regulation which prevents people from starting out on their own.

As for what is posted on Youtube, that is Google's business and theirs only. At least it would be if we had freedom of speech and expression (you cannot draw a line if you want free speech. Instead of banning the showing of the crime, prosecute the crime)
Here is an example of a different "point of reference" for youth to define themselves:


In the barrios of Guayaquil, Ecuador an amazing transformation is taking place. Through the efforts of one woman, rival gangs have formed truces, turned in their weapons and have started working together to rebuild the community.
Actually there is a REGULATED right to bear arms in the USA, which varies from state to state, can vary from county to county, from city to city - just like the laws on driving talking into a cell phone (currently legal in VA, but illegal in DC), it is very easy to be obeying the law one minute and to be in violation of the law upon crossing a bridge over the Potomac River between Arlington (VA) and Washington DC. On one half of the bridge its OK to speak directly into the cell phone and on the DC side it is illegal to hold and speak into a cell phone while driving.

There's Federal Law (an aspect of which is my specialization) and there's state law. Where state and Federal laws collide, Federal law supersedes state law.

For example, if memory serves, in Chicago it is illegal to carry a concealed hand gun without a permit. The City of Chicago is not in the habit of granting permits - so unless you are a State, City or Federal agent authorized to carry a hand gun you are likely to be breaking local law unless you are one of the "lucky" ones to have a gun permit. Regardless of the "right to bear arms" Mayor Daley is not fond of hand guns on Chicago streets - hence the relunctance of the City of Chicago to issue hand gun permits. It's kind of funny because I got used to some of my law school class mates who carried hand guns - they were state or city cops. I have never seen any civilian in Chicago (and I lived there for about 4 or 5 years) carry a hand gun.

But felons often carry hand guns (usually concealed) just about everywhere in Chicago - but they are breaking the local laws - but they probably don't care about that, it is ordinary Joe who don't carry hand guns on Chicago streets because they respect the laws governing the carrying of hand guns.

In Fairfax county Virginia anyone can carry an exposed hand gun, but you have to have a permit to carry a concealed hand gun. Thus, the law on hand guns varies from state to state and even from county to county and even between cities. There's city laws, county laws, state laws, Federal laws. Where conflicts occur, Federal law trumps state laws trumps county or city laws.

Incidently, the regulated right to bear arms was brought in response to British troops shooting people on what would become American soil. Likewise the law on becoming an American upon birth in America in response to English law which dictated nationality on the nationality of the father - if the father was British, the American baby was British regardless.
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