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Archbishop speaks out on Gun Crime and Gang Violence

Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

Friday 15th April 2011

Writing in the Evening Standard, the Archbishop's comments follow...

I am sure that most ordinary Londoners will have been shocked this week to read about the murder of a sixteen year old, Agnes Sina-Inakoju, as her murderers were convicted at the Old Bailey.

Agnes was a bright, hardworking student who was caught in the crossfire of gang violence as she queued to buy a takeaway. She had hoped to go to Oxford University, instead she found herself dead as a result of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sadly, I have seen so many lives ruined by the evils of gang violence. In many cases it is the innocent who are the victims of these vicious turf-wars .

I worked on the inquiries in to the 1993 racist killing of Stephen Lawrence and the stabbing in 2000 of schoolboy Damilola Taylor – and I was Bishop of Birmingham when Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare were murdered at a New Years Day party. All of these young people were killed before their 19th birthday.

What we need is a society where those that work hard and play by the rules are rewarded for their endeavours. But how do you best tackle gang violence? Is it in new Government edicts, or police action plans, or heavier sentences for those convicted of these heinous crimes?

Yes, the justice system has its place, but I would argue if you want long term solutions then you must instead look at the root cause of the problem.

Too often we create a moral panic in the media that generates fear, short-term responses and, most worryingly, a distrust of young people. As soon as the dust settles we forget all about the murders and go back to our older ways without first embarking on a long lasting culture change among the perpetrators.

I remember when Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare died, it was the young people of Birmingham who stood up and said this gang violence was unacceptable. It was the young people who had the passion and determination to look for a way forward. It was the young people who were the new generation providing hope and inspiration in dark times. They all cried out: "Enough is enough!"

As a society we have a responsibility to stand up and support those in need, and to offer alternatives to a life of crime and violence. We should be applauding the young people running projects in inner-cities and those who study hard so that they might have the chance to go to a good university and secure a rewarding job.

However, where does the responsibility lie for gang crime? We should not pretend that these crimes are caused solely by failures of society – these crimes are caused by the choices made by those individuals holding the gun. It is caused by families not intervening. It is caused by those who turn a blind eye.

The role of the family is key in tackling gang culture. Parents must shoulder the responsibility for where their children are, who they are with and what they are doing.

It is not for the state to instil values of kindness, generosity or purposefulness. It is for parents teach about morality, and what is right and wrong. Parents have a unique opportunity to encourage, to discipline, to lead and to love.

All too often we look towards the Government, or local authorities or external individuals and organisations to be responsible for the failures that begin at home. That can never be an approach which offers a long-standing solution.

Responsibility, civic mindedness and a care for others is learnt in the home. Yes, we can support those values on our streets, in our churches, in our schools and in our workplaces – but it is at home that the first steps must be taken. Habits of the heart are instilled at home and the re-enforced by relatives, friends and the wider society.

As a society, let us support parents making difficult choices in difficult situations. Let us stand up for those young people working hard and making a difference. Let us realise that even in the darkest situation, there is hope.

Let us together Bring Hope.

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