By J L Samboma
Britain’s black community must look inward rather than to the wider society for solutions to the increasing black-on-black gun and knife culture and its growing toll on young lives, according to parents, young people and community activists at the recent screening of Bang Bang in Da Manor, a film on the subject.
The screening was organised by A Just Movement for African Unity (AJAMU) and the OMEGA Foundation Society. Speaking after the documentary show, which took place at the Park View Learning Centre in north London, one concerned parent* said: “We have to take a hard look within ourselves. We are catastrophically failing our young people.”
Bang Bang in Da Manor
Bang Bang in Da Manor, produced by riceNpeas films, is an hour-long social investigation into the calamitous rate of violence and murders within the UK’s black community. Through interviews with sundry players – young people, drugs dealers, gang members, victims, parents and educators – this hard-hitting film examines its subject in a fly-on-the-wall manner, without the go-between of an on-screen interviewer or “interpreter.”
The result is a raw depiction of the social realities under investigation – what some might call objective or “true” documentary style, which allows the various actors and stakeholders and their social milieu to express themselves, but gives little if any scope for the filmmakers’ subjective observations.
It locates the phenomenon of violence and drugs dealing firmly within the co-ordinates of family breakdown, a consumerist culture projected by the mass media, lack of opportunities and the failure of the formal educational establishment to engage young people. This definitely struck a chord with the audience of well over a hundred people, who showed their appreciation at the end with enthusiastic applause.
“Parents must take responsibility”
The subsequent discussion, opened up by Obiang Nsang of AJAMU, one of the organisers, was lively and could have gone on much longer had there been more time. Speaking on the recurrent theme that the black community had to “step up to the plate,” one parent said that the elders and parents had to take responsibility for the actions of their children and teenagers because their lives could impact negatively on those of other youths.
She said: “We’re not realising the interrelationships of how what happens to your child is going to affect my child; of how I interact with my child is going to affect your child.” She implored all parents to take personal responsibility for their children and to instil discipline in their lives. Failure to do so, she said, could result in a negative, perhaps catastrophic impact on the lives of other young people.
“We talk a lot,” she added. “We debate a lot, but we fail to join up the dots. And then we walk away and get on with our happy lives.” There was unmistakable irony in her voice when she said “happy lives.” This point was taken up by Nsang, who called for people who were interested in making a difference in the community to volunteer their skills and time to help young people.
He said: “Maybe you’re a teacher, a counsellor, a mechanic, a psychologist. AJAMU and the OMEGA Foundation work with young people in the community and we need more people, we need apprenticeships. We need plenty of things. As [the lady] was saying, we come, we talk, we discuss everything and then we go – empty. The last time we did this we got only two people.”
“People don’t want to snitch”
Speaking on the issue of reporting people suspected drug and gun dealing to the authorities, one man said that failure to inform the police was not helpful to the community as a whole. “This is our community,” he said, “so we need to take responsibility. Calling it snitching is not going to help. This silence is not going to help our youngsters, or our community.”
There was, of course, a contrary view. This was articulated by a young man, who spoke of the historical distrust between the police and the black community, many of whom see them as oppressors and invaders of their community space, not as saviours of their youths. This, he said, had turned many people away from assisting the police in any way.
“Part of not wanting to snitch has to do with the relationship that black people have had with the police,” he said. “We can’t trust them; we can’t put our trust in them. People say we need to go and talk to the police. It’s not as simple as that.” Instead, he suggested, people should “network” and if they see “Little Johnny” doing something he shouldn’t be doing, “they should clip him round the ear.”
This very pro-active suggestion raised quite a few brows and a lot more laughter from a bemused audience. It was promptly but shot down by Nsang who, calmly and rhetorically, asked: “Are we going to beat them up or are we going to talk to them.” He cited an example of how a local Muslim organisation in south London had rid their streets of drugs gangs by engaging their local community.
Perhaps the most confrontational moment of the evening came when a mother told of how her son had gone off the rails and she could not figure out what to do about it. “I don’t think I was a bad mother. I did my best but it was not enough. I was desperate to find somebody I could go to and say, ‘Please help me.’ What I needed was a friendly face, not the police. I believe lots of mothers are like me.”
“It will take the whole community”
Balderdash, said a very forthright man who said he’d had it up to somewhere with excuses. “You should have known what to do. You should know what to do. People are always trying to shift the issue somewhere else.”
The mother came right back: “There’s a saying that it takes more than one person to bring up a child. It takes a community. I did the best I could. However, there’s me, and then there’s the wider community, there are his friends; there’s the TV and the media. How could I on my own fight against all of this?”
But Mr Balderdash, forthright as he was, begged to disagree. From where he was standing, he said, there are always options to solve the problem of wayward youth. And it goes without saying that one of those options was the community coming together and organising to face this very potent threat which promises to tear asunder the fabric of Britain’s black communities.
As Sara Namutebi of the Omega Foundation society, said: “We decided tonight not to go home to watch TV or chase the dollars or whatever. We came out to actually do something for ourselves and for our community. We can’t just point to one person. It will take the whole community. It will take all of us to say, this whole black on black gun life of crime has to stop – not those big institutions.”
*The names of the participants in the discussion are unavailable.