Churches and communities were encouraged to become involved in the struggle to combat deadly gang culture at a conference organised by the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Street Pastors in central London on 4 July.
This day-long 'Bite the Bullet' event featured a presentation by leading criminologist and youth crime expert Professor John Pitts, who has produced several reports about gangs in the UK.
Professor Pitts, based at the University of Bedfordshire, has identified more than 170 gangs currently existing in London. He also discovered that gang members are getting younger and younger, and the rise in gangs is partly fuelled by the drugs trade.
The Rev Les Isaacs, founder of Street Pastors, which works with young people in local neighbourhoods and to intervenes against violence, said before the gathering: “The problem of gangs is a subject the Christian community cannot ignore anymore."
He added: " It’s regularly in the news, and increasingly Street Pastors is having to deal with concerned parents whose children are either in gangs or intimidated by gang members and church leaders, who are having to devise new ways to reach out and disciple the gang members joining their churches.”
The Rev Wale Hudson-Roberts, Racial Justice Coordinator for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, declared: “Since the beginning of 2009 several young people in London have lost their lives through both knife crime and gang violence. In order to confront the issue head on, church leaders and youth workers firstly need to understand it.”
He continued: “The Bite The Bullet conference places the rise of gangs in Britain within a social context, and in doing so, provides the information needed on what steps they can take to deal with this menace that is having an adverse effect on our society.”
Alongside Professor Pitts contribution, the conference featured a panel discussion featuring members of the criminal justice systems, former gangs members and leaders of organisations doing key work in this area.