Forget the Godfather, as far as London’s gangs go, organisation is fluid rather than hierarchical. The Red Gang, a group operating in the capital, has been the subject of a new study that looks at how gangs really work.
For the duration of one year, researchers interviewed gang members and ex-members aged between 12 and 18. The questions focussed on drug dealing and organised crime. Red Gang members saw themselves as a loose social network which attracted people through friendship. Members drifted in and out of the gang rather than being subject to a rigorous recruiting process.
‘Our research, as well as other studies in the UK, doesn’t really define people as a gang member or not, as often people drift in an out of “association”,’ says researcher Daniel Briggs from the University of East London. ‘The gang is not so much of a structured concept; there is no hierarchy – or not one so visible as it has come to be found in many studies undertaken in the United States.’
Leadership roles in the gang came about through personal traits rather than selection from above, while drug trafficking was left to the skills of individual members. In fact, drugs were not even central to the gang’s activities.
Meanwhile, the authorities perceived the gang as a hierarchical organisation driven by a strict code of conduct with an aim to recruit vulnerable young people.
‘Our study has not traced the history of drug dealing in London but we suspect that it has always been associated loosely with particular families, organised crime operations and/or “gangs”. It's likely that drugs pass through all three at some point, with the former two probably dealing with the organisation of shipments,’ says Briggs.
Briggs interviewed people at the bottom of the ladder, involved in street trading and earning £1,000 in a good week, although £250 to 500 was the more usual amount.
‘Our work shows that rather than competing in the same area for a “slice of the cake”, and jeopardising their safety and territorial relations, young people travel out of London to deal,’ adds Briggs.