Town's black youth feel 'under siege' and risk being left behind
PUBLISHED: 07:30 10 April 2019 | UPDATED: 08:53 10 April 2019
The latest instalment of our series on multicultural Ipswich looks at the concerns young black men in the town were vulnerable to being drawn into gangs.
The marginalisation of young black men in Ipswich is pushing a generation towards a life of crime and violence, community leaders fear.
While many of the town’s minority groups are said to be enjoying successful lives following years of work to improve integration, its black youth population is said to have been left behind.
Imani Sorhaindo, of the Suffolk African History Collective, said the disproportionate use of police stop and search on black youngsters made them feel unfairly targeted, while cuts to funding and youth club closures had removed a vital support tool.
She said many black boys lacked a “sense of belonging”, which left them vulnerable to being groomed by criminal gangs pitting different parts of the town against each other.
There’s training in gang culture to separate different post codes against each other,” she said,
“That’s how they operate. Young people who are being propelled into that find they cannot cross these lines, just like they wouldn’t’ in London.
“As an adult we might not be aware that it’s going on but it’s happening to our young people, to the point where some people have family in another post codes and they can’t see them any more.”
She said one young person had been unable to take part in a course in Murrayside, because he feared “he might be killed”.
“It really saddens me that we’ve got this far,” she added.
Ms Sorhaindo said the disproportionate use of stop and search on young black boys led them to feel “under siege”. “They feel they’re not understood,” she added. “There’s no relationship with young black men.”
After years of austerity, she said race relations were not as high on the agenda as it had been. “People think everything’s OK, but it really isn’t,” she said. “When we look at exclusion rates, higher levels of unemployment, we need to be asking why this is affecting black males, particularly when black women, on the whole, seem to be doing OK. You really have to drill down into the detail before you realise there are still certain groups who are not getting a fair chance. And that’s maybe where the resources need to be directed.”
While she acknowledged authorities had provided more youth activities, particularly in response to the criticism of cuts and closures, which followed the murder of Ipswich teenager Tavis Spencer-Aitkens last June, she said more was needed.
“With every shock and trauma, there’s a reaction and money is pumped into an area, but then there’s another area that has the same issues and the same potential needs, which also have to be addressed otherwise you’re still creating this ‘us and them’ view.”
She said the investment needed to be more sustained,
“It’s about building self-esteem,” she said. “Creating cohesion and trust, which has been fragmented.”
“Now that we don’t have the Caribbean club, or our own place to meet socially, there’s a drive to build a space where people can relearn some of those skills that kept their communities strong.”
As a former youth worker with the Ipswich Caribbean Association, she said she saw young people gain many young people gain new schools and feel they had a place where they belong.
“They don’t have that any more,” she said, “That’s what’s need to build strong, confident, moral young adults and we don’t have it any more.”
“By cutting out all the youth clubs and just directing resources at one-to-one support, it breaks down the social cohesion that a young person really needs.”
When youth clubs were open and there were youth workers from the same background as the young people, with the same cultural understanding, she said families engaged in a way they no longer felt able to.
“We put on culturally relevant programmes for them, we did work around stop and search where young people learned to debate and ask questions about their rights,” she said. “There were some fantastic projects and then all that just disappeared.
“I’ve no idea where those young people are now and the impact that’s had, but Tavis would have been one of them.
“If young people don’t have a sense of belonging then they are vulnerable and that’s what attracts them to gangs.”
Hamil Clarke, who came to Ipswich from Barbados in 1955, and is a member of the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, agreed that youth clubs had made an important contribution to the town, which was sorely missed.
“That’s where young people, not just black people, gathered and they integrated well,” he said.
“It’s one of the reasons Ipswich had its good reputation as being easy going, with few problems, because lots of different groups pulled together.
“And Imani is quite right, youth clubs have disintegrated, young people don’t have anywhere to go and that’s who you get gangs forming.”
Chris Cumberbatch, ISCRE’s chairman and a solicitor, said the closures did not just affect young black men; it could also push Asian youngster towards extremis and white English children towards the far-right.
“It’s something we’ve been worried about for a while because we have our share of correspondences from the far right, ever since I was on this board,” he said. “If you’re a regular white couple, you raise your boy and don’t expect him to be up in his room staring at his computer and being sucked into indoctrination. But actually it’s a really big risk. Because a lot of these people are very sophisticated, well-funded propagandists who are sucking in all sorts.
“It’s very easy; young men of a certain age are very susceptible. They can be lead in any number of direction, whatever their colour, denomination or class.”
Police and councils highlight their work with young people and diverse communities
Authorities in Ipswich say they engage with young people and minority communities to overcome challenges.
Suffolk Constabulary acknowledged stop and search figures showed the powers were more likely to be used on black people but said the reasons were “subject to continuous analysis”.
Police said disproportionality was calculated using 2011 census data, which may no longer give an accurate reflection of today’s community. The force also claimed small numbers of searches on people from minority backgrounds in rural areas could significantly affect statistics.
In order to improve its stop and search policy, officers say they work with diverse communities and the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality. Police also hope to increase recruitment from BME communities.
“Stop search remains an important tool and it is essential that is applied fairly and responsibly,” a police spokesman added. “We are committed to dealing fairly with all sections of the community and are determined to further increase trust and confidence in policing.”
Suffolk County Council (SCC) responded to concerns about youth club closures by highlighting a variety of activities provided by its voluntary sector partners, as well as in schools, to help young people “achieve their best and go on to lead positive and fulfilling lives”.
SCC said initiatives in Ipswich included activities at the Murrayside Community Centre led by YMCA Trinity, Positive Futures and Ipswich Boxing Club. SCC also works with academies on school holiday activities such as Ipswich Fit and Fed.
Ipswich Borough Council (IBC) responded to concerns over the closure of the Caribbean Club, which happened in 2010 following a shooting at a private function, and the withdrawal of £50,000 funding from the Ipswich Caribbean Association. A spokesman said the decision had been taken by the former, Conservative/Liberal Democrat administration. It is though the association’s members found other places to socialise, such as the Manor Ballroom. Since then, IBC has carried out initiatives for young people, including organising sporting events and offering free icards over the school summer holidays. A borough spokesman said other youth projects had been supported with area committee funding.