Last night while out for a walk at around 8pm I noticed a number of groups of young people congregating on the streets. In all my observation I noticed a few features. There were two groups of young people present:
Group one – boys (6/7) aged 10-13 lighting fireworks in a bin at the park. The park is situated in an area where the school (primary) is in close proximity as is the youth club and a built up residential area with either single parent families and elderly people living with their partner or alone.
Group two – boys and girls (majority boys) none older than 15. First saw them while I was walking down the pathway and they ran around the corner almost knocking us over. I continued with my errand and spotted the same group climbing scaffolding and noticed a police officer was present.
This was unusual for Maghera and immediately highlighted that some degree of a risk must have been perceived. I recognised that a policeman in the community was an opportunity to do some research. I crossed the road to approach him but as I did so I considered the implications of this.
- If I was to approach these young people but be identified as having an alliance with the PSNI I may destroy my chances of building a relationship with them.
I identified leaders and ‘commanders’ within the group and am aware of previous hostility from them towards the police. Some of the young people come from families where brothers and uncles were killed during The Troubles so I was aware that this context may give way to a hostile attitude and that there may be resistance to associate or communicate with the PSNI and therefore with me if I was considered an associate.
I continued my journey home but before I came to the local Costcutters in the middle of the town I saw from where I was that the group had fireworks outside the chapel and were throwing them across the road.
I immediately felt unsafe and intimidated even though I had no sure way of knowing if they posed an actual threat. This gave me an insight into how members of the community might feel and I felt I could empathise with them. The feeling of insecurity was so great that my sister suggested we take a different, longer route home to avoid the young people.
On the redirected route, we again passed the policeman and this time I used the opportunity to gain his perspective. From the second I made contact with him (introduced myself and sister, gave background information and context: professional) it was apparent that he saw the young people as a nuisance and annoyance.
Carla: Excuse me, are you on duty
here at the moment?
Officer: Yes, unfortunately!
- We spoke about police interventions and he explained that he worked mainly from a law enforcement approach
- Clear that he didn’t see the situation in Maghera as a current problem but a potential one
- Recognised the positive processes at work within the group dynamic of such groups and more advantageous attributes but felt that society shouldn’t overlook the damaging, negative behaviour because young people need to ‘take responsibility for their actions’
- When asked what kind of interventions he felt could be useful he expressed the need to target the younger generation of ‘would-be gang members’ rather than young people already in gangs
- Noticed that just before the conversation ended the group stood outside a shop opposite to where we were and the policeman said ‘Oh looks like we’ll be wiping eggs off the cars and uniform tonight!’
- Young people kicked flat door in and emptied a wheelie bin on the street
- PSNI recognised the need to care for young people and if gangs’ mechanisms were broken down then the needs would have to be replaced in another way, i.e. youth clubs, schools, etc.
- Genuine care. Radioed in about young people climbing on scaffolding not from a law enforcement point of view but in case a young person climbed it, fell, and split their head
- After the conversation ended we walked back up home to be greeted by the young people with shouts of ‘tou's
My concerns had just been realised.