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Matrix or made up? Does the Gangs Matrix have a purpose?

Race equality, or the lack of it, is high on the news agenda at present:

  • the controversy around ‘The Windrush Generation’;

  • the anniversary of  Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the documentary that highlighted the huge part institutionalised racism had to play in the failures of the case and;

  • the recent visit by the UN special rapporteur on racism and related intolerance

Adding fuel to the fire are the revelations of the ‘new’ gang matrix used by the Metropolitan Police!

What is the “gang matrix”? Well, this is not the first time I’ve heard about it!

In 2014 I was working with a young man who had been trying to turn his life around. As a teenager, after witnessing his best friend stabbed to death, he turned to a life on the streets and had been in trouble with the police. In his early 20s he became a father and decided that he wanted to be a positive role model for his children. He left life on the streets and turned to organisations like BTEG who support young people into employment or entrepreneurship.

When we met, as we were discussing his social enterprise ideas, he said was finding it difficult to move forward as he was on the gang matrix and was always being targeted by the police. The matrix, he explained, identified people who were associated with ‘gang members’. He said that though he knew of people who were in gangs they were not his friends, just people he said hello to if he saw them on the streets. This was enough for him to be added to the gang matrix. I was horrified at the thought of young people being added to this “guilty by association” list.

This year the gang matrix has been made more public. I find myself questioning its credibility and purpose. Listening to Vanessa Feltz on BBC London radio, I heard an officer of the Metropolitan Police say that this ‘new’ gang matrix was designed to protect those at risk and prevent young people turning to violence and criminal activity. If this is the case, they failed the young man I was talking about earlier. He was on the gang matrix. He was sadly murdered on the streets of London in 2015.

How exactly are these young people identified?

This is a huge concern, especially as we know institutionalised racism still exists in the Metropolitan Police, even after the Macpherson Report. According to BBC news, a report by Amnesty International found the Met's Gang Violence Matrix was “racially discriminatory and breaches human rights law”. Figures from July 2016 showed that 87% of the people listed were black, Asian and minority ethnic, and 78% were black according to the Amnesty report. This is absolutely shocking!

Does this leave us with much faith in the matrix?

I think not.

At a time when knife and gun crime is rife in the capital shouldn’t the Metropolitan Police be more focused on the right tools to tackle the issues rather than a matrix made up of people they believe are ‘at risk’? Amnesty’s UK Director Kate Allen said: ‘There is clearly a huge problem with knife crime violence at the moment in London, but the Gangs Matrix is not the answer. It’s part of an unhelpful and racialised focus on the concept of gangs. Put simply, it’s the wrong tool for the wrong problem.’

Surely at a time when young black men are losing faith and trust in the police, the Met should be working with these young men, repairing the damage that has been done and letting them know that institutionalised racism is being tackled!

So:

  • Does the matrix have a purpose?

  • Is it really going to be used to tackle knife and gun crime?

  • Or is it simply another tool used to racially profile young black men?

It appears to me that it is the latter!

Photo: Yukiko Matsuoka via Flickr

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